Impact Stories

Angel Shabazz on Turning Pain into Purpose

marzo 12, 2024

In an interview with Angel Shabazz, we discuss the wisdom she has gleaned providing critical, culturally responsive grief support to mother’s grappling with the death of their child.

When Angel Shabazz’s son, Davarie Jahlon Armstrong, was tragically shot and killed in 2020, she recognized a desperate need for a space where mothers could openly express grief, share memories, and lean on each other for support. Driven by her grief and fueled by a fierce determination to transform pain into purpose, Angel created “A Mother’s Love,” a sanctuary, offering a compassionate refuge where bereaved mothers can find comfort in a connected community where their feelings are deeply understood.

In this piece, Angel shared the wisdom she has gleaned as she provides critical, culturally responsive grief support by harnessing the healing power of connection.

Tell us more about “A Mother’s Love.”

Part of the Davarie Jahlon “DJ” Foundation, “A Mother’s Love,” was started in remembrance of Angel’s son, DJ, who passed away far too early.

“Davarie was a phenomenal person, of course, because he was my son, but also because of the way he showed up every day at school, in the community, and on the football field,” says Angel.

She explained that after Davarie’s death, the community surrounded her and shared how he made them feel respected, honored, and valued. “My purpose originates from him, and for moms who are going through the same trauma I am going through.”

The foundation is inspired by DJ’s giving spirit and is a powerful tribute to his legacy.

 “[DJ] always told me that when he became famous … he wanted to give back to the community and start a scholarship to help other athletes like himself. He told me he wanted to start a program where kids could play football,” says Angel.

DJ saw his mom give back to the community as an employee of Girls, Inc. “He was always like, ‘Mom, you do all this cool stuff for girls; when I grow up, I am going to do the same thing but for boys.’ So, my foundation is now focused on helping provide scholarships to student athletes.”

Angel hosts an annual fundraiser with a goal to raise a thousand dollars for every year her son would have been alive. In 2024, Davarie would have been 21, meaning Angel’s philanthropic goal is to raise $21,000 to give back to the community and specifically to graduating student athletes.

In addition to providing scholarships, the DJ Armstrong Foundation contributes to the Denver Office of Community Violence Solutions, working to develop a violence prevention model that can address and prevent instances of youth violence.

Angel tells us that A Mother’s Love was born out of necessity. At the time of Davarie’s death, Angel connected with five other mothers grieving a child’s loss. In her efforts to cope with the isolation of losing a child combined with separation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Angel reached out to these mothers who could relate to what she was going through.

“Since then, we have gone from a group of five to around 27 ladies,” says Angel. She is intentional in bringing the group together and providing a haven for shared experiences. Angel ensures that the group commemorates significant milestones such as birthdays and anniversaries while also coordinating support for court dates or funeral arrangements.

“I connect our moms to resources and to one another in a safe space where we do not feel judged or like our story is redundant,” says Angel.

“At the end of the day this is a sisterhood,” says Angel.

What has been one of the most profound takeaways from the support groups offered through A Mother’s Love?

“I didn’t think something like this would have such an impact, but it really does,” says Angel. “The most profound takeaway I have is in having something come out of my own personal feelings become something that is needed.”

Angel explained that by trying to cope with her devastation and loneliness after DJ’s death, she found the comfort in community and connection. She sees this as one of the greatest takeaways—the need to assemble in our times of loss, to come together in our pain and suffering, and to find support in the shared understanding that grows in the presence of those who have experienced the ultimate loss of a child.

How can we partner to provide better resources and assistance to mothers in your support group and others who know their pain?

“Of course, there are the resources Judi’s House provides when it comes to grieving, but also helping to provide connections to therapists of color, who can understand where we are as a community,” says Angel.

Partnership means training therapists who understand the nuances of cultural, familial, and societal factors that influence the grief experience. It means developing culturally responsive resources that allow for individual grief expression to reduce barriers to grief care access. By embracing differences and working to meet the needs of diverse communities, grief care providers can co-create supportive and empowering environments that value unique grief journeys.

What are your hopes for the future of A Mother’s Love and how do you plan to continue supporting group members in their grief and healing?

“I want to make this a larger entity so I can be connected to a larger scale of moms, I want this to be available for all moms going through this,” says Angel. “I want to provide a space for moms to come to.”

Angel hopes A Mother’s Love can extend its network across Colorado, providing support to mothers throughout the grief journey from making arrangements for funeral/memorial services to holding hands when the hurt persists many years later. She aims to empower other mothers to establish similar networks, fostering a legacy of compassionate support for bereaved mothers.

 “Something that helped me was turning my pain into some kind of purpose, one that will leave not just some legacy for my son, who I do this for, but for other mothers to have that template to execute this in their own vision,” says Angel.

What is the number one thing you want to share with those grieving a death loss?

“Grief looks different for everybody. And the path they are walking on does not have to be the same path as everybody else’s. So do not try to mirror someone else who might be handling it in a different way than you are.” says Angel. “Handle your grief in your own manner so it can serve you, so you can grieve gracefully for yourself.”

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