Dorothy Holmes [right] with her son, Ronald Johnson III [left], who was killed by a Chicago police officer in 2014 // photo courtesy of Holmes

Dorothy Holmes is the quintessential Black matriarch. In the living room of her Roseland home, each wall is adorned with photos of her late son, Ronald Johnson III, and other family members. The two-story home also is abuzz with the sound of Holmes’ five grandchildren playing and, occasionally, running to her side to tattle on each other.

After Johnson, her only son, was gunned down by Chicago police Officer George Hernandez near Washington Park in 2014, Holmes made it her mission to raise awareness about the wide-ranging effects of police brutality on the families left behind. For Holmes, one effect is that her five grandchildren, Johnson’s children, are forced to grow up without their father.

Father’s Day has become a yearly – and painful – reminder of that.

“This year will be four years that my son has been gone,” said Holmes, who was prepping her home for her niece’s prom send-off later that evening. “So with his sisters and his kids, it kind of eases the pain, but it doesn’t take the pain away.”

This weekend, Holmes will host a Father’s Day celebration, called “Remember Me: Father’s Day 2018.” The weekend begins Saturday, June 16, with a dinner banquet at Trinity Episcopal Church on East 26th Street. On Sunday, June 17, in partnership with nonprofits Black Lives Matter Chicago and Justice For Families, Holmes will throw a cookout in Washington Park of 53rd Street and South King Drive. She’s inviting other mothers of Black fathers killed by police across the country to join her – including Toni Taylor whose son, Cary Ball Jr., was fatally shot by St. Louis police officers after he crashed his car in 2013.

The Father’s Day cookout is something Holmes started three years ago. It’s one of the many ways she honors not only her son, but also the memories of other black fathers killed by law enforcement. Holmes says coping with her son’s death was difficult in the beginning.

“At first, it was really hard because I found myself at the cemetery everyday. I was over there [on 53rd Street and South King Drive], where he got killed, everyday,” Holmes explained.

During one of her visits to the site of Johnson’s death, a neighborhood kid approached her. He wondered why she visited the site so frequently, Holmes recalled. After explaining that her son was killed at that very spot, the boy asked if he could give her a hug.

“So I gave him a hug and he was, like, ‘You still have a son. You got me,” Holmes remembered.

That moment encouraged Holmes’ community involvement and activism. She joined the activist organization, Black Lives Matter Chicago, for marches and to organize toy drives to give back to children at schools and child-care centers across the city.

“I [started] turning my pain into something positive,” Holmes added.

At this year’s Father’s Day celebration, Holmes hopes to build a strong coalition of mothers who are fighting for justice for their sons and working to prevent future losses of Black men to deadly encounters with police.

Additionally, she hopes the event serves as a way for children to honor and remember the lives of their fathers lost to police brutality. When Johnson was alive, he spent every Father’s Day with his friends and children. Holmes wants her Father’s Day celebration to be a continuation of the relationship her son had with his kids.

“He was a fun person to be around,” Holmes said about Johnson, who she affectionately calls “Ronnieman. “His kids were his pride and joy.”

To donate to “Remember Me: Father’s Day 2018,” click here to visit Holmes’ fundraising page on GoFundMe.

Details for “Remember Me: Father’s Day 2018”

Saturday, June 16:

“Remember Me: Father’s Day Dinner Banquet” at Trinity Episcopal Church (125 East 26th Street). Begins at 6 PM.

Sunday, June 17:

“Remember Me: Father’s Day BBQ” at Washington Park (off 53rd Street and South King Drive). 11 AM – 4 PM.