The last time Cynthia Bruce saw her son, Marcus, alive he was sitting on his grandmother’s neighbor’s porch holding a little girl in his lap. Minutes later he was dead.
I met Cynthia through Mothers of Murdered Son and Daughters (MOMS) just months after Marcus was murdered. The new members of MOMS always stand out at the meetings. They wear a mask of pain and fatigue. Cynthia’s depression and exhaustion were palpable, but even more disturbing was the nearly plastic state of shock. Cynthia looked like she was trapped in the moment where she learned about Marcus’ death.
Cynthia is a primary school teacher in Baltimore. She is the epitome of strength and gentleness. She speaks with confidence, warmth and force in a slow melodic cadence with just a hint of her Jamaican roots.
Her mother came to the United States and worked as a domestic to save money to send for Cynthia in Jamaica. Like all mothers, she wanted a better and safer life for her children and she thought the United States was the promised land. She was concerned about raising young black men in Baltimore. She tells me, “Marcus was a good boy. He was never involved in crime or drugs, but that doesn’t stop a mother from worrying. I tried to protect him.”
Cynthia moved with Marcus to a rural community north of Baltimore. She bought a beautiful large home in an area without any crime. She never imagined that violence would strike just feet from his grandmother’s home.'Mom, I’ll be sitting right here waiting for you. I’m not going anywhere.’ Minutes later, her son was shot 19 times. #BehindTheStatisticsClick To Tweet
Cynthia was with Marcus the afternoon of his death. Before she left him on the neighbor’s porch, Cynthia pulled her black Mercedes up to the curb and called to Marcus three times. “On the third call, he turned to me with his big warm smile and said, ‘Mom, you ready?’ I told Marcus that I was headed to a viewing for my former principal’s sister, and that I would be right back to pick him up. He turned to me, with his big smile, looking like an angel and said, ‘Ok, Mom, I’ll be sitting right here waiting for you. I’m not going anywhere.’”
Shortly after she left, Marcus was shot 19 times in broad daylight on a street he considered a safe haven. Marcus died 11 days after his 23rd birthday on July 26, 2014.
Cynthia promised Marcus that once she retired from teaching they would head to Los Angeles so he could pursue his dreams of acting. He was featured in many Baltimore theatre productions: Cats, Macbeth, The Wiz, Once an Island, The Lion King, and Little Shop of Horrors. He was a talented and amazing young man and his mother did everything to support his passion.
Cynthia blames herself every day. “If only I said, ‘Marcus, just come with me. Come with me to the viewing.’ He would be alive today.” Cynthia and her mother worked tirelessly to provide a better life for their children. Cynthia never imagined that the last time she would see her youngest child alive would be steps from the home her mother bought to provide a better future for her children.
Marcus Tafari Samuel Downer: July 15, 1991- July 26, 2015
Written by Liz Banach, Executive Director, Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence