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Meet Denise Whitley of Let The Healing Begin in Hyde Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Denise Whitley.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Denise. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
In 2009, Let The Healing Begin, Inc. (LTHB) was founded hoping to create a bridge on the path of mothers uniting to address a shared crisis of violence and youth incarceration plaguing Boston communities, primarily Dorchester, Hyde Park, Mattapan and Roxbury. Whether it’s the incomparable grief of homicide or the immeasurable aguish inherited from a youthful offender’s actions, distress is not mutually exclusive. LTHB strives to help encourage and enable all stakeholders in hurt to become shareholders in healing by playing an ongoing role in taking on this massive social problem.

LTHB began as an informal support group, for mothers carrying the weight of having lost a child to violence or incarceration, that transitioned from meeting in my home and church provided space to becoming a modest 501c3 nonprofit organization hosting large public events uniting families of all affected.

In 2006, my then teenage son committed a nonfatal act of violence against a young man. The emotional grief and devastating social impact on all affected is rarely adequately expressed in words. During the lengthy legal process, I became close with a prominent Boston peace advocate and many others that had experienced similar ordeals. I had long strived to play a meaningful role in community service and had been honored with career and outstanding community contribution awards, but my focused turned to supporting families affected by violence and youth incarceration. I founded LTHB in 2009.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The plight of those dealing with traumatic criminal justice situations is viewed indifferently by some, but no family is immune from violence or having youth become offenders in a time of social challenges stemming from addiction, poverty and too often moral deficiencies and immaturity. Since inception, LTHB has called for media discretion in how families of homicide victims and youthful offenders are portrayed. LTHB has continuously expressed our concerns in newspapers, on the radio and in the community. Unfortunately, a social stigma is too often associated with supporting families affected by violence and criminal justice issues. Some corporations and individuals make clear that they have no empathy for the population LTHB supports, which makes fundraising more challenging.

LTHB developed from an informal support group to a nonprofit organization through the efforts of volunteers and charitable contributions. Each year LTHB host’s a Pre-Mothers’ Day brunch. Initially, it was free and held on church space with about 50 in attendance. As attendance approached 200, we had to lease banquet halls, ballrooms and golf club venues, which necessitated LTHB formally becoming a 501c3 nonprofit organization, enabling us to get tax deductible donations from local hospitals, banks, professional sports teams, corporations and others in the community.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Let The Healing Begin – what should we know?
LTHB strives to make a positive difference, for all affected, where there are tears and tarnished lives resulting from violence and youth incarceration. LTHB supports mothers in and out of court, arranges by referral volunteer transportation for grandmothers to visit incarcerated youth, provides holiday gifts as well as book bags with school supplies to children in victims and offenders families, enables sharing personal stories in an annual fundraising event booklet and advocates the concerns of all with elected representatives, public safety officials and the media. We also stress offender responsibility because a moral debt to society can never fully be repaid. LTHB promotes healing by engaging those affected in ongoing efforts to address a shared crisis.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Success is helping to encourage and enable others to enhance support of essential community needs by urging that they strive to be the Maya Angelou of altruism and the Coretta Scott King of commitment. In other words, promoting serving worthy social causes in their own way with the passion of a poet Laurette and the purpose of a social change icon.

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