ABOVE PHOTO: Victoria Greene (second from left) and her daughters. (Photos courtesy: EMIR Healing Center)
By Constance Garcia-Barrio
Almost 26 years ago, Victoria Greene was lying in bed, suicidal after her son, Emir, was shot and killed in a street dispute. Then she had a vision that changed everything.
“Emir came to me and said, ‘I’m gone. I’ve been murdered.’ He was telling me that I had life, that I should go on,” said Greene, adding that Emir was just 20 years old when he was murdered.
That vision roused Greene to action. She turned Emir’s death into a path for healing for hundreds of Philadelphians who’ve experienced the murder of a loved one.
“I got the idea for my organization, EMIR (Every Murder Is Real), a 501(c)3 nonprofit, from the grief assistance program I attended at the medical examiner’s office,” said Greene, the founder and director emerita of EMIR. “We offer support groups in person and via Zoom. Sharing with people who’ve had a loved one killed helps, especially since some people avoid you after a family member’s murder because they don’t know what to say.”
Founded in 1997, EMIR Healing Center is headquartered at 59 E. Haines Street in Germantown. The center celebrated its 25th anniversary last year.
Thanks to word of mouth and the police in the early years, more and more people learned about EMIR. The organization also gained recognition through conferences Greene led in 2001 and 2003 on drug-related homicides.
“Judges, homicide detectives, victims’ families and others took part [in the conferences],” she said.
In the early 2000s, Green Street Friends Monthly Meeting, a nearby Quaker group to which Greene belongs, became an EMIR sponsor.
Nowadays, Greene is alarmed that Philadelphians need EMIR more than ever.
“We’ve definitely noticed an increase in the number of people contacting us,” Greene said.
Aja King, EMIR’s community engagement director, agrees.
“Our victim services department mentioned that there has been an increase in services [due] to the high numbers of murders,” King said. “Also, there has been an increase in providing assistance and counseling to non-fatal shooting victims.”
EMIR’s services cover three main areas: education, support, and advocacy, according to Greene. Free grief counseling in peer support groups for families and friends of murder victims stands at the heart of education and support.
Participants meet every Tuesday and learn about the difficult feelings and physical reactions people may have when grieving, Greene said. Nutrition counseling can also help the bereaved avoid dietary troubles that sometimes arise due to grief.
“The grief support groups include concrete, practical, and compassionate steps for navigating grief,” Greene said. “Men, women, and children meet separately because each group has different needs.”
EMIR also provides help with victim compensation forms that reimburse funeral costs as well as assistance during court proceedings. When one faces the accused killer, it can take a huge toll, Greene emphasized.
“The fact that an actual person decided to kill your child is horrible,” Greene said, recalling court proceedings during the trial of Emir’s killer.
“The young man who killed my son had a small daughter, and my son’s girlfriend was pregnant,” said Greene, who helped to track down the young man who shot her son. “The judge was angry on the day of the sentencing. He told my son’s killer, ‘You’ve made two orphans…Such a waste.”
EMIR’s support includes connecting participants to community resources, as well as deliveries of food, when warranted.
Greene has heard hundreds of murder stories over the years.
“God gave me the ability to listen to them,” she said.
She feels heartened by the 18% decrease in the city’s murder rate compared with this time last year. However, she believes that a strategic change in educating children would lead to a lasting drop in gun violence.
“I will never forget the time when I was in a workshop with men on probation and parole,” said Greene, who is also a former social worker in the Philadelphia Prison System. “One man said, ‘This culture, this city, think that we ain’t s**t.’ That man and many others don’t have a sense of self-worth. They need to know about Black people’s inventions, our achievements. They don’t know what we have done. It would help to have Black history classes while the men are still in prison as well as after they’re released.”
The earlier parents and schools teach children about the accomplishments of African Americans, the better, Greene said.
“Start teaching Black children, and for that matter, white children, from kindergarten on. That knowledge will help African-heritage children to value themselves and [to] also give white children a truer picture of Black Americans, she said.
“In school, I studied George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parks. That was it! Kids need to know about all our inventions. For example, they should know that Garrett Morgan invented the traffic light.”
While Greene stresses educating children about Black achievements, she doesn’t shy from discussing violence with young people.
“Sometimes we go to schools and talk with children about violence,” Greene said. “I remember an eighth grader at one school who talked about fearing for his life both going to school and coming home. This city must protect its young people.”
EMIR has broadened its scope, partnering with Swarthmore College and Farmer Jawn Community Greenhouse to “transform the greenhouse into a memorial to victims of gun violence,” King said.
Like many groups, EMIR lost volunteers during the pandemic. It’s climbing back from that decrease but would welcome more helping hands, King added.
To learn more about EMIR’s services or to donate, please call: (215) 848-4068, email [email protected], or Google https://emirphilly.org/about-us/. For information about volunteering, please contact Aja King at: (215) 848-4068 or [email protected]