Grandmother uses her voice to help save lives, end gun violence in Washtenaw County

Posted at 6:54 PM, Nov 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-09 18:54:25-05

YPSILANTI, Mich. (WXYZ) — "I used to tell him all the time: 'LeRonte, you need to get a handle on your anger because if you don't, you know, kids out here are playing for keeps now. Somebody's going to take you out," Mary Phillips-Smith said about her grandson.

On March 4, LaRonte Benion-Phillips was shot and killed in an Ypsilanti neighborhood.

LaRonte had just turned 18 in January. The two suspects were two classmates at Ypsilanti High School.

"Before LaRonte was killed, a lot of his friends had been killed right out here in Ypsi. And he was struggling, he was struggling with that," said Phillips-Smith, a retired parole officer who spent some of her career as a corrections officer in Michigan prisons.

Her husband, also in corrections, and one of her daughters is a federal agent. They thought and hoped their guidance could help keep LaRonte on a good path and away from trouble.

"I thought he was safe — I did," Phillips-Smith said as she stood near a large mural in downtown Ypsilanti.

The Remembrance Mural features a large black rose and the names of people, including LaRonte's, who have lost their lives to gun violence in Washtenaw County.

"It's a way for families to be able to grieve, remember their loved ones and let them know that they're not forgotten," said Jamall Bufford of Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper.

Bufford is a member of the Community Violence Intervention Team that was formed in the summer of 2021 after a string of killings in Ypsilanti.

Lois Richardson was mayor and she convened the diverse group of community members to come up with ideas that could help stop the violence and save lives.

The Remembrance Mural is one of their initiatives that will be formally unveiled Saturday at 10 a.m. with LaRonte's grandmother and others who have lost loved ones to violence.

The mural was designed by 16-year-old DeShawn Chambers and he helped paint it with renowned muralist Curtis Wallace.

In the video player above, hear from LaRonte's grandmother and Bufford as they talk about their hope of saving lives in their community.

The mural is located on the side of the Corner Health building at 47 N. Huron Street.