Tina Ford knows the pain. She knows what it's like to wake up on Mother's Day and her son no longer be there. It's a pain that is unimaginable, and one she shares with others.
Ford's son, Armani Ford, was murdered in 2019, just a month before Mother's Day that year, when he was ambushed and shot to death.
The pain she felt that day is a pain nobody can understand unless they experienced the same heartache. Sadly, there are many others who have experienced that heartache as well.
That is why she started an organization, MOM's Group Inc., just a few months after his death in her hometown of Clairton, Pa., where her son was murdered. It's a group of women who have been through the same pain of losing a child to violence.
"I know people in my neighborhood who lost their loved ones," said Ford. "I got the women together. The first meeting was like eight of us. We all talked, and the ladies felt like they needed that. I wanted to start it to know the levels, to know where I would be in six months, in two years, to have someone who lost their son 28 years ago. I wanted to keep my son relevant. I wanted to create a legacy.
"It helps to have the support so much, knowing you can literally walk in somebody else's shoes. We get it. If I want to call one of them and talk about my son when he fell at five, and I might repeat that story again and again, we get it. Sometimes you talk to a friend and they don't even bring up how are you doing. I don't hold that against them, but to talk to someone going through what you went through, it helps. We are there with you. If you need us, we are there. If you want to go to a gravesite, we are there with you. These are things we do for each other that we don't have anybody else that does it with us."
On Friday night, the group got support from an unexpected source, Steelers tackle Zach Banner. Banner had dinner with the group at the University Club in Oakland, listening to them and giving them a relaxing night where they could continue to support each other and get outside support, while sharing a rose with each of them to give them the love they need during a tough time.
"It's such a sensitive topic, it's such a relative topic to myself," said Banner. "Growing up I know moms just like them back in Tacoma who lost their sons to violence in our inner-city neighborhoods, and you get desensitized to it, until you are around something like that.
"I told them when I first saw them it made my heart hurt. I was able to send flowers to my mom for Mother's Day. I told them I am not only handing you these flowers in a humble way to make you smile. I understand you aren't able to get the same thing from your sons. We started off that way and for the rest of the two hours.
"I just sat and listened. There was a lot of smiling, a lot of crying, a lot more smiling, and a lot more crying. I had to keep myself together. That stuff is real. Unfortunately, a lot of people will say their kids were involved with things, put themselves in that environment. One, people don't understand that's the environment we were born into. Number two, not all of them had a problematic child. Some admitted their kids weren't into good things, but others, that wasn't the case. There are so many stories, but people on the outside looking in want to judge us.
"It was really good to make them smile. At the same time, we understand their organization and mission to help save a life in the future is so important. Instead of waiting for the children of our community to be in the news shot and killed, we want them to have better."
Banner gave the women a chance to truly open their hearts, because what is mainly in their hearts is the desire to not let this happen to other kids, to other mothers moving forward. All they want is to not see another mother bury their child because of violence.
"When I got the call, I was like hard work really pays off," said Ford. "I was like this is my journey from God. From the time my son was shot, I started running, not walking. People asked if I grieved because I try to make others comfortable. I think that was my journey. I was like what is my purpose, that is to help the women.
"When I got the call that he wanted to help us, I thought my voice is being heard. I want to have a bigger voice. They hear us, but they don't really hear us. When I heard one of the Steelers players to support us, I knew it was going to be something big for us. I want people to know we are here if you need us. This is reality.
"We have to keep reminding people our children are human. This is the face behind the story."