The question for Rosilyn Temple is the obvious one:
How much can she take?
How much pain and suffering and torment can any one human being absorb before she collapses under the weight of it all?
Temple, 53, is the head of the Kansas City chapter of Mothers in Charge, a crime prevention and family support group that helps those who’ve lost loved ones to violence. As such, Temple has emerged as the city’s comforter-in-chief, the woman who’s one of the first civilians on the scene after another homicide, whether the latest killing occurred at 7 p.m. or 3 a.m.
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She’s the one who reaches out to family members who are often too stunned to comprehend what’s happened. She hugs. She listens. She explains. Most importantly, she fills that enormous emotional void that police officers often struggle to fill as still more parents endure their darkest moments.
More than anything, Temple feels their pain. That’s because she knows exactly what it’s like to lose a son to violence. On Nov. 23, 2011, Temple’s own son, Antonio “PeeWee” Thompson, was killed in yet another senseless shooting. Even now, more than six years later, Temple sprinkles references to PeeWee in almost every conversation. You can’t help but think: She’s still grieving. And she grieves all the more every time police call her to another scene.
That’s why people worry about Temple. She’s a perpetual motion machine who talks so fast your ears can’t keep up. She’s the survivor of a major heart attack, and she’s determined to reach out every time. When PeeWee died, no one was there to hold her. She’s never forgotten that particularly cruel brand of loneliness. No one, she decided right then, should have to endure what she did.
So she goes and goes, holding, clutching, crying, driving all over town, going to court, bringing flowers, providing food, giving speeches, delivering eulogies. She amazes herself sometimes with all she does, with what this one-time machinist’s life has become.
On Saturday, she led the praying. In a visit with the mother of 9-year-old Dominic Young Jr. in the Ruskin neighborhood, Temple clasped hands and asked God for help.
“We ask that you lift her up right now,” Temple intoned. “We trust you. Give her strength that she doesn’t even know she has, God.” Dominic, who liked skating and bowling, was killed by a stray bullet in a rolling gun battle last month.
But ask Temple again if she’s holding up, and finally, she’s had enough. She looks down the road and with some steel in her voice, she lays it out: There’s no limit to the number of homicides she can attend. There’s no limit to the amount of consoling she can do. Mothers in Charge has turned into a calling for Rosilyn Temple and has given her more purpose than she ever imagined a job could provide.
“If I wasn’t doing what I’m doing, I’d be dead,” she says.
In fact, she gets a little irritated that people keep asking her that question. She doesn’t say it this directly, but the sentiment is clear: Get out of my way. I’ve got work to do.
Kansas City needs her to do that work — and for a long time to come. She says she’s taking care of herself. Let’s hope she’s right about that.