By Howard Dukes South Bend Tribune
Bullets have the power to take and change lives.
Tiara Williams and Loria Perez know that because both have lost a loved one to gun violence, and both have had their lives forever changed by the experience.
Williams’ brother, Brandon Williams, was shot and killed last summer, and Perez lost her son, Anthony Mobley, to gun violence in 2017.
The two women did not know each other, and there is a good chance they never would have met if Brandon Williams had not died tragically on June 23, 2019. That tragedy, however, brought Perez, who has tirelessly worked to bring peace to the streets since her son’s death, into Williams’ orbit.
“Loria had come to my brother’s vigil and spoke,” Tiara Williams said. “After that, we connected at numerous events and we have been working together ever since.”
Perez invited Williams to participate in Bullets 4 Life, a program in which those touched by gun violence make bracelets, key chains, necklaces and other accessories out of bullets that have been donated by people who want to remove the ammunition from their homes.
Bullets 4 Life was started in Florida in 2016 after a 6-year-old by was struck by a bullet while walking home from the store, Perez said.
Williams finds healing in changing a bullet’s purpose from killing to serving as a work of art.
“People don’t really understand,” Williams said. “They think, ‘How can you wear a bullet when your brother got killed by a bullet?’ But it’s not like that. We’re taking bullets away so that people are not using them to kill. They are using them to wear.”
That is one bullet that will not be used by a person to commit suicide, or for an act of retaliation or even an accidental shooting, according to Takisha Jacobs, who along with Perez, is a representative of the Indiana Bullets 4 Life chapter.
Jacobs lost her son to gun violence in 2017. Abdul Cross was just 15 when he was shot multiple times by three people while getting his cellphone from a car. The shooting occurred in Indianapolis on July 4, and he died on July 12.
Jacobs got involved with Bullets 4 Life when Perez started the local chapter in July 2019.
“I was like, ‘If somebody had been collecting these bullets off these streets, maybe my son wouldn’t have been shot,’” she said.
Perez, Jacobs and other volunteers have collected more than 1,500 bullets since July. Their goal for this year is 3,000.
That still leaves a lot of bullets on the streets, and there have already been five homicides in South Bend this year.
“It’s frustrating, but we keep going,” Jacobs said. “And when people see you, they respect what you are doing and they want to help.”
That help comes in the form of boxes of donated bullets. Perez and Jacobs know that Bullets 4 Life is having an impact because the people who bring the boxes have stories.
“People will say, ‘I love what you are doing. Here is a box of bullets,’” Jacobs said. “‘My son or daughter is upset and I don’t want them to use these bullets to hurt themselves or someone else.’”
Bullets 4 Life holds a monthly pop-and-heal event where victim families, friends and survivors of gun violence are invited to “take the life” out of bullets by removing the projectiles and gun powder, cleaning the shells and giving them new life as pieces of jewelry or key rings.
“We heal by making an accessory, so they get to go home with an accessory and they make one for another survivor,” Perez said.
The events are often emotional, and attendance is by invitation only. Mental health specialists such as Heather Holleman, psychiatrist and owner of Reflections Counseling, are on hand.
Holleman said many of the participants — particularly those in their teens and 20s — have experienced significant trauma and making the bracelets also allows them to talk about what they are feeling.
“We get 20 of them together to discuss what trauma is and the different kinds of trauma,” Holleman said. “I think we are making progress in making them understand themselves.”
Williams said transforming a bullet from something that destroys a body to something that decorates a body is a form of therapy.
“When you got that bullet and all that gunpowder comes out, I felt relief,” she said. “I felt like all that pain went down in that bowl.”