It started off like any other evening. A mom was making burgers in the kitchen wondering how many folks would end up around the table for supper. But the course of the evening that followed was far from any other evening as it would change the course of Brenda Moss’ life forever: Moss’ 34-year-old son wasn’t coming home for dinner.
The birth of the Shawn Moss Wellness and Growth Foundation (SWAG Foundation) was the result of the death of Shawn Moss, who was brutally murdered in Lynchburg, Va.
On that August evening in 2014, after a few harrowing hours of chasing ambulances and trying to find her son, Moss received the worst news a parent could ever receive.
“You see it in movies, a doctor comes in covered in blood and they’re explaining things to a family, but this I knew was different because someone else was with the doctor – and it was the chaplain,” recalled Moss. “They said, ‘Your son is dead, and because it’s a homicide, you can’t see him.’”
Moss witnessed the earth-shattering impact of gun violence first-hand, but she’s not the only one. According to Everytown, Black Americans are disproportionately affected by gun violence – experiencing 10 times the number of gun homicides and 18 times the number of assault injuries.
“You wonder how do you function, how do you move forward, how do I get up? How do I understand that Shawn won’t come up the steps to look into my room to make sure I’m OK,” Moss said. “There was no denying Shawn. He was 6-foot-7 and his smile lit up the room without even saying anything. He knew when I was working through something and he’d always come to me to say, ‘There’s nothing you can’t do.’”
Those words echoed in Moss’ head in the days, weeks and months that followed Shawn’s death, and it was what drove her to establish the SWAG Foundation in the name of her son – that even in his death, motivated and drove his mother to take her next step forward.
“I had two choices, I could lay down and just take what happened and deprive my other two sons of the love they deserved, or I could fight,” she said. “I got up and I began to fight. The statistics show that the Black and Brown community is the most highly-affected community when it comes to gun violence – education and resources are two big factors. If we can’t get that education and those resources back in the community, we’ll always be the highest.”
Today, the SWAG Foundation provides services to disproportionately-affected communities that have been impacted by gun violence. The long-term vision of the foundation is to find a brick-and-mortar space to provide holistic education for Black youth in Lynchburg, to include education surrounding financial literacy, health and wellness, art, technology and career skills development.
In the meantime, Moss is building relationships and partnerships to ensure education doesn’t stop and that those life-saving resources and educational moments are continually integrated and reiterated in the community. During the holidays, the SWAG Foundation hosts an annual Angel Tree event, where the community can support their neighbors by purchasing wish list items off Amazon. But most recently, it has ramped up its educational access efforts to ensure Black youth and young Black adults have the tools they need to succeed.
“We hosted Laptops to Lynchburg, where we raised enough money to get 10 laptops for the community; I also recently partnered with the City of Lynchburg to go into recreation centers to speak to the kids, to talk about self-care and wellness,” Moss said. “We’re also working with a group that does The Duffel Bag Project, which gives foster youth a bag with personal items, pillows, sheets, toothpaste, scriptures. We’re going to be incorporating a duffel bag for every youth on our Angel Tree list this year.”
The goal of the SWAG Foundation is to help set up Black community members with the education and resources they need to succeed, delivered to them by people who look like them.
“Sometimes we’re not told that we’re valuable in the Black community – we get lost in the cracks,” Moss said. “I want to build hope and set you up for success, not only in community, but in life and leave a generation with a wealth of knowledge so we can change the status.”
To this day, Shawn’s voice is still a driving force in her work and the mission of the SWAG Foundation.
“When I think of Shawn and I hear in my head, ‘There’s nothing you can’t do,’ I know I will not quit.”