On September 11 2014, Sherry Baltonado was at work at Civic Center Secondary School when she read in the newspaper about the fatal stabbing of a 20-year-old in the Mission District. The mother of her own 20-year-old the news item shook her.
Later that day, when the police called, she learned that the young man killed at the corner of 24th and Capp was indeed her son, Ronnie Goodman.
Since that moment, Baltonado’s life has been transformed. Her daily existence is defined by the loss.
“How do we go on when we feel our world has stopped,” said Baltonado this week. “For the rest of the world it’s been eight months, but for me it feels like hardly any time has passed. It’s May now for everybody else, but for me, it’s like January.”
Baltonado describes life since the death of her son as a boxing match—“every day is me and Mayweather”—the pain manifesting itself as anxiety, physical exhaustion, and anger. She has taken a prolonged medical leave from work and is in counseling for post traumatic stress. But in the grieving process, she has also found a new community and new purpose through an organization called Mothers in Charge.
Mothers in Charge organizes women who have lost children to violent homicide. A national organization, based in Philadelphia, it functions as both a support network for families dealing with trauma and an advocacy organization for various connected issues. They partner with gun control activists and lobby for funding for victims services.
On Mothers Day, the Bay Area chapter of Mothers in Charge is hosting a rally at San Francisco Civic Center with speakers, music, and various other performances. But more than anything, it’s a space where mothers who have experienced tragic loss can come together and not be alone.
“These group of women that have lost family, they become our family,” said Mayline Baltonado, Sherry’s daughter and Ronnie Goodman’s older sister. “When you go through something like this, you learn that there are some people that get it, and there are some that don’t.”
“If you never lost a child, there is no way you relate to this,” says Sherry. “The circle that I have now are the mothers who have lost someone.”
“These women have real compassion for us, since they’re going through it too,” said Mayline.
At the community room in the housing complex where she lives in Berkeley, Sherry says she once hosted Puerto Rican dance groups, now she’s hosting grief support groups for mothers like her.
“I used to dream of being a dancer, now I’m dream of being an activist,” she said.
Almost immediately following the death of her son, Sherry got connected to Mattie Scott, Mothers in Charge’s San Francisco chapter leader. Scott, whose own 24-year-old son was killed in 1996, offered Sherry support and helped her get access to various victim services.
She also recruited Sherry to be part of the network of Mothers in Charge and get involved.
“Ronnie isn’t the first young man to get killed in San Francisco, and he isn’t the last,” said Sherry.
Following January’s quadruple homicide in the Western Addition, Sherry was one of the many women from the non profit who helped served food at one of the victim’s funeral receptions.
Sherry says that getting involved has “been part of the healing process.”
And it’s a process that has been far from easy. Since the arrest of Javier and Luis Gutierrez, the two brothers suspected of Ronnie’s murder, Sherry and her daughter Mayline have made frequent visits to court during the trial’s discovery phase.
For the most part Sherry and Mayline have yet to learn what was possibly motivating their son and brother’s killers or many details surrounding his murder. Sherry said her son never got in fights and wasn’t involved in any gangs. The Gutierrez brothers have pled not guilty and it’s the beginning of a long trial process.
“We get tested when we go to court, you’re face to face with these people,” said Mayline.
As an employee of San Francisco Unified School District, Sherry knew the Gutierrez family prior to her son’s death. When she saw Luis and Javier’s mother in court for the first time, she saw the agony on her face and gave the other mother a big hug.
“They came from good family, but it was a terrible choice they made,” said Sherry.
Daily reminders trigger Sherry’s trauma, such as ambulances, hospitals, and police. And she says that holidays bring up a lot of anxiety. She says she’s looking forward to Sunday’s event, but it won’t be easy. She says it’s all part of the process.
“I wore black for six and half months,” said Sherry of her life right now, fluffy up her brightly patterned scarf. “At a certain point you just can’t do that anymore.”
Mothers in Charge will host a rally at 10:30 a.m. on the steps San Francisco City Hall on Sunday, May 10.