‘I do it with tears in my eyes’: Savannah woman loses son, dedicates life to activism

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – In the battle to stop violence in Savannah, Julvonnia McDowell is always front and center. Most of the time, she is joined by fellow mothers. Other times, she is joined by her close family.

“She is consistent, she is courageous, she is kind, she is loving and she is fierce,” said Linda Wilder-Bryan, a close friend and Savannah alderwoman.

When you see McDowell in action, you see that fierceness in her march through city streets and in her leadership during small planning meetings. McDowell’s activism is a force to be reckoned with.

If you did not know her story, McDowell says many would not know she is fighting through emotional pain.

“Sometimes do it with tears in my eyes,” she said. “Just to reach out to the community, just to educate them about the importance of saving lives.”

McDowell’s relentless passion was launched in 2016 by a single bullet. A family member found an unsecured gun. In an instant — and by accident — her 14-year-old son Jajuan was gone.

“After his death, I started looking at the news and saw stories that mimicked my own and I knew that I wanted to make a difference,” said McDowell.

At that point, McDowell decided to join Moms Demand Action to fight for what she believes are common-sense gun laws. Her fight takes her to Georgia’s capital every year to demand action from legislators and to fight against legislation she vehemently disagrees with.

McDowell is also a spokesperson for Be Smart for Kids to teach people how to safely store guns and to teach parents how to be an active force in their children’s’ lives.

“To have watched my sister in the early stages of the trauma, to see her lifeless and numb, but to be able to stand up… it’s amazing to me that she can get up every day and tell her stories to millions,” said Barbara Young, McDowell’s sister.

McDowell has appeared in several national publications and in national campaigns for the organizations she works with. Each time, McDowell digs deep, finds the strength to share JaJuan’s tragic story and keep his loving, adventurous personality alive.

JuJuan’s family members say the 14-year-old was respectful, loving towards all people and animals, and they say he is dearly missed. His 18th birthday would have happened this week.

“It is such determination to fight while you’re in pain. People don’t understand that and they think you can just put it in a box, close it up and throw the key away. She has not done that,” said Alderwoman Wilder-Bryan who also lost a son to gunfire.

“I don’t want another mother, I don’t want another father, another sibling, another family to experience the pain and the heartbreak that my family has experienced,” said McDowell when we asked about why she continues the fight.

Four years after her son’s death, McDowell still makes appearances at Savannah peace marches and other events. She makes sure her fellow community members are not alone while they deal with pain similar to hers.

And in return, community members stand with her in what she calls a fight for JaJuan’s legacy and a fight for love.

“I don’t want my son’s death to be in vain. So I continue to work hard and continue to go out there in the communities and do the hard work with the tears in my eyes. Someone has to do it,” she said.

News 3’s Kelly Antonacci has featured four finalists in the weeks leading up to March, which is International Women’s month. 

Click here for each woman’s inspiring story. The winner of the Remarkable Women contest will be announced on Friday, March 6 at 5:30 p.m.

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