Tashawn Strother first learned there was a shooting near Temple University’s campus through an early evening text that she received as an employee of the school. Five minutes later, a doctor called her with the news she’d long feared hearing: The gunshot victim was her son, Walter Willis.
Willis was lucky; he survived. But that instant began a harrowing, painful, traumatic, and not yet complete journey of recovering — physically, emotionally and psychologically — from the bullet that ripped through both Willis and his family.
Strother bravely and emotionally tells the story of her son and family in an hour-long audio documentary, Stronger Every Day: Healing After Gun Violence, out last week from the Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting (PCGVR) and Kouvenda Media. The piece was part of PCGVR’s Credible Messenger Project, which pairs people who have experienced gun violence with professional journalists to tell their stories to a wider audience.
Strother compels you to listen, to hear her example of the havoc wreaked on real families every single day in our violence-plagued neighborhoods.
Emily Previti from Kouvenda worked with Strother on the documentary, interviewing her over Zoom for one hour a week for several weeks. Together, they produced the piece, with help from Kouvenda’s Stephanie Marudas. The documentary also features Dr. Jessica Beard, a Temple University trauma surgeon who was Willis’s doctor and is also director of research for PCGVR.
The story begins with Strother learning about her son’s shooting. At 6pm on New Year’s Eve, 2019, Willis was near the Fresh Grocer on North Broad Street, doing a little shopping while waiting his turn for the barber, when three men pulled a gun on him. She then recounts her family’s struggle to recover in the two years since.
Strother, Previti notes, is a natural storyteller, and her experience, sadly, is not unique. It’s shared by thousands of Philadelphia gunshot victims every year. Strother compels you to listen, not just to the upheaval of one of too many families caused by gun violence — but also to the deep love and care of a mother believing in her son.
“This has been a challenge way more than anything I could have expected,” Strother says near the start of the documentary. “I’m so glad he lived. But it’s surviving, but it’s not living. He’s not able to have that normal day to day.”
Listen to the podcast below:
To hear more, listen to The Citizen’s 2021 podcast about gun violence in Philadelphia, Philly Under Fire.
Header photo by Dan Colavito