Commentary

A mother’s grief spurred advocacy against gun violence. Will others listen?

October 27, 2022 12:02 am

A memorial gathering for Namel Prince Augustine. (Courtesy Candace Blue)

When Candace Blue became part of the club no parent wants to join, she faced a stark choice: 

Totally shut down following the shooting death of her only child, 25-year-old Namel Prince Augustine

Or transform that mindless violence on a Chesapeake sidewalk in 2018, so that parents and siblings confronting similar circumstances could find support – and a reason to keep going. 

Blue chose the latter. But it took time, perseverance and help from friends and people she met who had suffered murders of their own children.  

“I just go and talk and try to encourage kids,” she told me this week, “and seek out what they’re in need of.”   

I learned about Blue at an “Evening of Hope,” a Norfolk event where the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, chorale members and nonviolence advocates comforted the relatives of those slain in shootings. Organizers also honored first responders.  

A photo montage of those killed in Hampton Roads shootings included Sierra Jenkins, the Virginian-Pilot reporter slain outside a restaurant-bar while caught in the crossfire.  

However, it was impossible to ignore that nearly every photo was of a Black male. Homicide victims and suspects across the country are disproportionately African American men and teenagers. 

Namel Augustine and his daughter. (Photo courtesy Candace Blue)

The Hampton Roads slayings, then, were a disturbing representation of that trend in miniature. 

“When are we going to get a handle on this?” Blue challenged the crowd of 1,000 that night. “I didn’t ask for it, and my son didn’t ask for it.”  

“Don’t let another mother suffer,” she continued. 

Augustine was getting ready to start a new job, and he planned to attend Tidewater Community College in an automotive program. He wanted to get his own place for himself and his then-3-year-old-daughter, Samorah.  

He was found on a sidewalk near his grandmother’s home, where he lived. Blue said Augustine was returning from a convenience store, and she believes it was a robbery. 

Det. Alison Robare, the Chesapeake Police Department’s cold case detective, told me Wednesday the case is still open and being “actively investigated.” No one has ever been arrested. 

“I do believe he knew the suspect,” she said. “The likelihood is it could’ve been a robbery or a physical altercation began.”  

Anyone with information can call Robare at 757-382-8246. 

Within a year of the slaying, Blue started an anti-violence foundation named after her son. The nonprofit Namel Prince Foundation holds peer-led support group meetings for parents of slain children. Participants work through their grief and try to move forward.  

The foundation has raised money to award about a dozen scholarships for college expenses. It has worked with Shark City Drum and Dance Corps, a local youth organization that performed at the Norfolk event and had folks in the crowd bobbing their heads.  

The orchestra concert occurred a day after Gov. Glenn Youngkin journeyed to Norfolk to announce “Operation Bold Blue Line,” his administration’s plan to invest in policing around the state to reduce violent crime. The proposal includes accelerating the payment of $75 million for equipment and training to state and local agencies, and a $30 million campaign to recruit officers from in and outside of Virginia. 

It’s heavy on law enforcement efforts. That’s understandable, given a recent increase in homicides and violent crimes in the commonwealth. Some police agencies are having a hard time filling vacancies, a problem exacerbated since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. 

Yet it’s also important to bolster foundations like the one run by Blue. They’re on the ground doing time-consuming work that’s difficult to measure. They’re run on a shoestring. They’ve received only dollops of state funding; many rely on private donations. 

Several nonprofits were started by family members of people gunned down in domestic violence, street crime or random shootings.  

The fiancée of Quincy Jones started the Abu Unity Foundation after Jones was shot dead while waiting for a cab in 2003 in Newport News. It provides mentoring, workshops and performing arts to children and young adults.  

Carol Adams, a Richmond police officer, began her eponymously named foundation in 2014 to assist families facing domestic violence and other traumatic crimes. Her mother was killed in a domestic violence shooting in 1980 when Adams was 17.  

Starting the organization was “a part of God’s plan,” Adams told me this week. “Working with the children is really, really important.”  

Monica Atkins founded Stop the Violence: 757 after her adult son was killed in a drive-by shooting in Portsmouth in 2014. Its website notes: “It’s not enough to talk about it. We need to be in the community to save our future.” 

Blue, who spoke at the concert, splits her time between her day job supervising the city of Virginia Beach’s housing programs, running the foundation and helping raise her granddaughter, who’s now 7. It’s a sad fact that so many grandparents are thrust into that latter role after violent slayings of their own offspring.  

“I hope and I pray that she’s able to maneuver this cycle of her life,” Blue said of her granddaughter. 

Tending to the next generation gives her purpose – and hope. “You have to build,” she told me. “We want to show there are opportunities for better things.” 

I pray more people hear her message – and heed it. 

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Roger Chesley
Roger Chesley

Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018. He previously worked at newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Detroit. Reach him at [email protected]

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