LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — There have been more than a dozen shootings in Lexington since March 1, with at least five ending with lives lost -- a pattern two Lexington men partnered together for a Mother's Day dinner event to try to change.
Damion Riley grew up in Lexington and went to Lexington Catholic, but found himself involved in drugs. He said he hit a low period.
"I mean going to jail, that was like rock bottom for me. And I was like 'OK, this is, not the life I'm supposed to be living.' So when I got out I was like I need to change because I don't want to kill my community with the drugs or the violence that we're seeing now. So once I got out, I hit the ground running, put my thinking cap on and everything else came to fruition," Riley said.
At the time he was living in Evansville, Indiana, and he showed up at the coroner's office asking for a body bag.
"I was like, 'Is there any way you can help me? I want to borrow a body bag.' And when I went in, he was like, 'Sure,' didn't know me from Adam and Eve, he was like, 'just put me out of business.' So after that, that's when Project Bodybag was born," Riley said.
Since 2014, Riley has been traveling the country speaking to thousands of young adults and kids about changing their story from a life that could end in early death.
"I do this hour-long presentation where it shows them what to do, how they can end up," he said. "And then ultimately redemption -- how they can change their life and come back for from it."
He explained Project Bodybag is about making life outside of crime seem achievable and putting an end to "Black-on-Black crime."
"We just tried to get involved with them in trying to understand, you know, what they're going to what challenges they're facing from day-to-day so they don't fall into the life of prison, or the graveyard, or selling drugs," Riley said.
The gut-punch of his presentations comes at the end when he pulls out the large black body bag.
"We ask volunteers kids to come up and we put them in this body bag, and then we shut it, we close it, and I tell them while they're inside of it, to just close their eyes and imagine," Riley explained. "When they get out I ask them questions like, OK, 'what did you think?' and then after that, we put a mom or two in the bag, and make them realize, OK, 'maybe I need to change my life before my mom ends up in this bag or I end up in this bag.'"
After Riley moved back to Lexington about a year ago, a friendship dating back to Little-League baseball, rekindled.
"I've [known] Damien, a long time," said Demetrius Taylor. "We used to play baseball against each other as boys. We've always been friends ever since then, since childhood."
Taylor founded Families And Children Together, an organization that has been trying to bring the Lexington community together.
"Not only been just the young ones, you know, young adults too, you know, in the 20s. At all ages, and even families trying to bring them back to become tighter because when I say family I mean, everybody, you don't have to be kin to somebody to be considered family," said Taylor.
He explained F.A.C.T. is about meeting kids where they are at and pulling them out of a downward spiral.
"We want to try to catch these kids and give them a better understanding some better way to live, it's OK to live," said Taylor, "You know, there's nothing cool about dying young, and when your mom has to feel that hurt forever. So, we trying to give these kids another out of the den."
To reach those kids, Project Bodybag and F.A.C.T. partnered together to plan a Mother's Day dinner event set for 5 to 11 p.m. on May 1 at the Clarion Hotel in Lexington. The founders hope that mothers can help them bring their kids into the conversation.
The May 1 event will honor mothers who have lost children to gun violence in Lexington but Riley and Taylor say all are welcome. Taylor explained what the goal is.
"These mothers to be able to bond with each other and start a relationship, so we can possibly be able to get all of these kids together in the same space, and it won't be no animosity," Taylor said. "They can give each other a handshake, they can hug each other and tell each other 'I love you' at the end of the day, there's no need for us to want to kill each other for no reason."
"It's gonna be a sad moment because we're gonna be honoring your child, but at the same time, you know, it's always life after death, and we wanted to get give these mothers some comfort we just want to -- as many I want to get as many as many as I can today to just to cater to the women that day," said Taylor, "you're not just a mother from one day you are a mother, every day of the year."
Riley said he feels starting with mothers is going to be impactful.
"It's gonna bring other mothers together, that they don't even know each other, but it's just the point of bringing them together, and letting them kind of grieve and console each other and talk about, you know how the kids were. It's a big event, it's gonna be special," Riley said.
Taylor summed their Mother's Day event up: "We want to give them some positivity from our aspect. We done been out there in the streets before we've done lived that life. We was able to be able to survive and be able to tell our story. And now we want instead of us being a problem that we want to be part of the solution."