Dozens of candle flames flickered in the humid breeze as families and friends of homicide victims walked through their lighted path to honor those they love.
Loss survivors, families, students, advocates and law enforcement officers gathered from all over West Tennessee to honor lost loved ones last night at the eighth annual Remember Me Commemorative Walk.
“It breaks the isolation and stigma that ‘I am alone,’” said Nita Mehr, professor of social work and loss victim. “There is an overwhelming sense of community when you walk in that makes you feel understood. It’s the power of mutual aid.”
Many Jackson law enforcement officers were in attendance, including the entire Department for Major Crimes. The Jackson Major Crimes unit received one of two Champion of Victims’ Rights Award.
“We often hear from families how important these officers are to their confidence and hope for justice,” Terry Blakley, professor of social work, said. “They are critical to the well-being of families of lost ones.”
Before the candlelit procession, President Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver prayed over the attendees and announced that Luther Hall will become a space for the university’s Center for Just and Caring Communities to host support groups, research and advance programs like the walk.
Hal Poe, Charles Colson professor of faith and culture, gave the keynote address and shared his own story of the loss of multiple friends.
“There’s more to their life than their deaths,” Poe said. “What I like to do in remembering my friends who are now gone is count the happy times, count the funny stories and count what they meant to me.”
The walk is put on each year by students from Union’s Social Work department. These students serve as witnesses for the families and friends, holding candles along the journey to show their love and support.
“It’s a whole different experience because you don’t know the extent of their pain but you can empathize,” Michael Messmer, graduate social work student, said. “You get to be a part of their walk for just a little while, and it impacts you in a very meaningful way.”
The walk started several years ago through a homicide support group that Blakley and Mehr started. Today, the walk is put on through the Trauma, Faith and Resilience Initiative under the department of social work.
“We can combine our faith with our social work and reach out in a very dark and seemingly lonely place,” Blakley said. “We can go in with light and offer comfort, compassion and hope in Christ. This walk is is truly where faith meets practice.”