It’s hard for Pamela Bosley to listen to music anymore. Her son Terrell loved to play the bass guitar, but after the 18-year-old was shot and killed outside of a South Side church in 2006, she turned the radio off. Through her pain, she found a new mission in life: to end gun violence and improve conditions for youth in Chicago.
“Before Terrell died, music was our world,” she says. “After Terrell died, music ended for me too. I’m getting better at turning it on and listening to it more and more, but that piece of me died because of Terrell’s death. Now, I’m an activist all day and all night because I can’t understand how someone could just come by and shoot and kill somebody.”
In 2007, Bosley co-founded Purpose Over Pain, an organization that advocates for stricter gun control and provides support for parents of murdered children. The group has done everything from lobbying legislators in the nation’s capital to providing a safe place for neighborhood kids to hang out on Saturday nights. To honor murdered children, on Mother’s Day the group wrote their names on red flags and displayed them on the lawn of The ARK of St. Sabina.
Soon after Terrell’s death, she created the Terrell Bosley Anti-Violence Association. She works at St. Sabina, the well-known Catholic church in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood. Also at St. Sabina, Bosley works with a youth group focused on developing leadership skills and is involved in a free after-school program that serves 120 children daily. Bosley’s passions lie in keeping her son’s memory alive by working to make Chicago a better, safer city. The Reporter caught up with Bosley at St. Sabina to talk about family, “Chiraq” and her life’s work.
What is the mission of Purpose Over Pain and what does the organization do?
We reach out to parents in this unfortunate situation and then we offer the initial support. The second thing we do is demand common sense gun laws. If we had common sense gun laws, we’d have our children. So we go to Springfield, we talk to representatives here in Chicago, and we even travel to D.C. The third thing we do is try to work with our youth and be preventative.
Give me a little background on you and your family.
I was born and raised on the West Side and now I’m on the South Side. My husband and I have been married 25 years. I have three sons — Terrell is still my son, so I have three sons. My other two boys now are 17 and 21. [Terrell] would’ve been 27 this year. My youngest son is a youth ambassador, he’s in the youth group, and he’s always at leadership events. His goal is to be an attorney. My oldest son is in college and he’s doing well too. For a while my sons suffered because they lost their brother to violence, but they’re striving to make the world better so nobody has to go through what their family is going through.
Tell me about Terrell and how you were inspired to found Purpose Over Pain.
I was in banking for over 20 years. After the death of Terrell, I started work at The ARK of St. Sabina. I started doing this work because of what happened to Terrell. This is something I never did — I always worked with dollars, money, but now I’m working with youth and trying to give them the guidance they need.
Terrell was my oldest son. He was always really active. In grade school he was the lion in The Wiz. He never had small parts, he was always right in the front. When he went to high school he played football freshman year, then sophomore year he decided to pick up the bass guitar. He played his bass guitar for a lot of gospel artists in Chicago, the Chicago Mass Choir, different churches, my church, and he played everywhere because he was good. Terrell was killed on church grounds. He was helping carry drums inside the church on 116th and Halsted, and somebody came out shooting. To this day we don’t know what happened. Terrell’s case is unsolved and that’s a part of me I want to be solved.
Tell me about the origins of the name, Purpose Over Pain. How did it come to be and what does it represent?
We talked about what we were looking for, and we had to come up with a name. So someone was like, “My pain is bad, my pain is bad.” She kept talking about pain. We were like, “We got a purpose. Now we just have to figure it out,” so we ended up with Purpose Over Pain. Before, we all had our own [activities], and then we thought if we come together and do it together, it’s so much easier on us. It’s already hard. When we do it together as a group, it’s easier.
Earlier this month, Spike Lee attended St. Sabina’s annual block party amid opposition to the reported title of his upcoming film, “Chiraq.” What do you think about the name Chiraq?
I’m okay with Chiraq. It was Chiraq before Spike got here. If anything, Iraq should be upset with us for calling ourselves Chiraq because we have more people being killed here in Chicago than they have in Iraq. I just went to a funeral, and there were so many youth there. There’s one young man that said, “I lost four friends this week.” People are upset about Chiraq? You’re trying to fight about the title when you should be fighting about getting our streets clean. Why don’t you use that same energy fighting the governor for jobs, resources, better education? I lost my son to Chicago. Just across the street from St. Sabina, just a couple days ago on Friday, a young man was shot. If that’s what’s happening here in Chicago, don’t try to brush it under the rug like it’s not happening. It’s happening.
Besides stricter gun control legislation, what other steps can be taken to curb gun violence?
We need more resource groups and we need funding. We also need a better education system and we need jobs for our youth. We need expungement. We have so many young men with records and they can’t get jobs. If you don’t wipe their records clean they can’t get a job and then they’re going to start selling drugs because they’ve got to eat, and then it continues and is a cycle. The system is set up to be a failure to them because it’s a revolving door with the prison system. I don’t know much about the prison system, but I think they need to do something to keep the people murdering our kids off the streets.
In your work, you speak about the details of your son’s death often. How does this affect you?
When I wake up every day, when I open my eyes, I think about Terrell, so it doesn’t matter that I have to talk about him, because he’s there. That part doesn’t bother me. The first year after Terrell was murdered, I tried to take my own life twice, so I don’t want another mother to try and do that. Terrell wasn’t in a gang and didn’t sell drugs. I never, ever thought I would be in this situation, but I am, so my goal is to change other people’s lives. There are four people that I need to call today because they lost their children and they don’t know what else to do. It hurts when I talk to them, but it hurts anyway. I got to keep moving and helping other people. My goal in life is to help others now.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.