Why we began the Angel Picnic by Aleida Garcia, M.Ed. CoFounder of the #NHJA

Kathy Lees’ 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 after my son Alex was murdered on January 24, 2015. She was a pillar of support for me. We often attended support meetings for grieving mothers of homicide victims. After one of those meetings, as we were driving home together, we passed by the Liberty Land Park in 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 it be to have a gathering of our survivor community here in this space to remember our angels?” Liberty Lands Park is privately owned, but 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 an Angel Picnic? After 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 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, dreary, black and white film. I no longer saw colors or felt joy. On one occasion, our group of moms went out to dinner at Applebee’s. It was my first time out to dinner since Alex had 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.

Sometimes I wonder why I continue to seek out the community and fellowship of other survivors of gun violence and those people who work to end it. Simply put, it feeds my soul. To be among people who 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 a 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, resource sharing, and words from our special guests, PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Council Person Kenyatta Johnson, State Senator Art Haywood, and former Philadelphia ADA Carlos Vega. We will also have information about trauma and self-care. 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. To all the mothers and family members of murder victims, I would like to invite you to participate in this years’ 5th Annual Angel Picnic (Virtual Style).

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]

*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.