5th Annual Angel Picnic (Virtual Style)

Kathy Lees’s son Justin Reyes was 17 years old when he was murdered on Friday, June 10, 2011, in front of a corner store at 6th and Norris Streets in North Philadelphia. Kathy was one of the first mothers that I met when my son died. She and others supported me after my son Alex was murdered in his car, on January 24, 2020. Kathy and I often attended support meetings for grieving mothers of homicide victims and after one of those meetings, as we were driving home together we passed by the Liberty Land Park on 3rd and Ontario Streets in the Northern Liberties. As we passed the well-kept garden and green space, we could feel the peacefulness of the park and I commented. “How great would be to have a gathering of our survivor community here in this space to remember our angels? The Liberty Lands Park is privately owned, so after our request for permission to use the park was met with a graceful and welcoming, “yes”; the Angel Picnic was born. The vision led to the dream and the dream led to action. The First Annual Angel Picnic, the signature event of the National Homicide Justice Alliance (#NHJA) took place in June of 2016.

Why a Picnic? After my son, Alex’s death, I grieved, cried, and struggled with anger and hypersensitivity. I didn’t feel like smiling, much less laughing, or doing the things that I had enjoyed in the past. I felt guilty for living after my son died and I refused to permit myself to enjoy life again. The remnant of my life was now lived in what I felt was a dull, old, black, and white lackluster film. I no longer saw colors or felt joy.

One an occasion, our group of moms went out to dinner at Applebee’s. It was my first time out to dinner since Alex died. We all sat at a booth, ordered some drinks and dinner, and then we started talking about topics that were unrelated to grief and suffering. This was something that I had not done for many months. Before I realized what was happening, one of the moms told a joke and I was laughing. When I realized that I was laughing, I caught myself. It was a moment of self-awareness, and I realized that within this group of mothers who had also lived this horrible experience, I had permitted myself to be myself, to be “normal” for a moment or two. To all the mothers and family members that are going through this terrible experience, I would like to invite you to participate in this years’ 5th Annual Angel Picnic (Virtual Style). There will be activities, information, and support for survivors.

The Angel Picnic has become more than simply an event, it is a special place and time for those grieving and remembering the life of a loved one after a murder.

The experience builds community among survivors and provides an opportunity for survivors to reconnect with friends made along the arduous journey to establish a new normal after a catastrophic loss.

Sometimes I wonder why I continue to seek out the community and fellowship of other survivors of gun violence and those people that work to end it. Simply put, it feeds my soul. To be among people that have experienced the same tragedy as I, means that explanations are not necessary and we can get the right to communicating with each other as our authentic selves. Since often, survivors become educators for the public that has been fortunate in not experiencing a homicide or gun violence among their family or friends, we are not free to be ourselves because we are in a role that demands certain demeanor and professionalism. When solely among survivors and those who understand us, we can set aside the pain and have a light conversation, even joke and laugh, without feeling guilty or judged. The Angel Picnic has become a yearly event with space for us to remember our loved ones, cry, laugh, and be together in a supportive environment and feel validated.

We hope you’ll join us for our 5th Annual Angel Picnic Live on ZOOM, Saturday, June 20th starting at 1 pm and ending at 3 pm, eastern time.

We’ll enjoy 2 hours filled with music, fun stories, group activities, resources sharing, and words from our special guests Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Council Person Kenyatta Johnson, State Senator Art Haywood, and former Philadelphia ADA Carlos Vega. We will also have information about self-care and trauma.

Please register using the link below and share this special healing activity

with others. You are invited to a Zoom meeting.

When: Jun 20, 2020, 01:00 PM Eastern Time (the US and Canada)

Register in advance for this meeting:


After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Feel free to reach out with any questions by emailing [email protected] or [email protected]

*The National Homicide Justice Alliance's mission is to empower families of homicide victims through community building, advocacy on laws and policies that affect us, and the provision of information and education for families and professionals that work with survivors. We believe that information and access empowers families of murder victims to seek justice and effectively work with law enforcement and prosecutors.

©2020 by National Homicide Justice Alliance.