Writer: Chanel V Tillman
A badly decomposed body is found in the Ribault River, and your son has been missing for 24 hours. You receive a call from your daughter about the discovered body and she suggests you call the authorities. “This could be my brother,” she says. You hesitate, but make the call. Authorities arrive at your front door 24 later to confirm your worst fears. This is your son. June 2005 is when Beverly McClain’s story begins but this is not where it ends.
Often we transform the pain of a tragedy into passion, and loss lends guidance to a sense of direction. For Beverly McClain, local victims advocate and founder of Families of Slain Children (FOSCI), this is exactly what happened. In her time of pain and bereavement McClain found a need to help others. “It wasn’t so much about my son,” McClain said, “but others that are like me. They hurt too.”
FOSCI’s initial meeting place was in the conference room at First Timothy Baptist Church in February 2006. The pastor had been kind enough to donate this room for the cause. Shortly after, McClain crossed paths with a gentlemen who leased her a two-story home for $1 a year. She began preparing the building only to find out it was condemned through a city citation.
She went before Judge Virginia Norton, whose campaign she had worked on, and was given six months to get the building up to code. McClain had no idea how she would do it but she knew it had to be done. “God’s hand was in this the entire time,” McClain said.
Assistance from local contractors, who offered time and materials at no cost to her, went to work on the home that today houses the group’s operations.
There is a memorial wall commemorating the names of the sons and daughters slain in Jacksonville in the yard. “To date there are over 2,000 names on the memorial wall,” said McClain. The wall is six panels long, three of which were donated by Terry Williams with WGM Mechanical Heating & Air Conditioning, and replaced the small white crosses that filled the lawn.
FOSCI provides counseling for grieving parents as well as assistance to those in the community looking for employment and applying for assistance. McClain’s vision is to help the community to eliminate homicide and heal from the devastation it brings. The organization recently held its annual balloon release on Oct. 10, 2015. “This allows families affected by murder to come out and release balloons for their slain loved one,” McClain said. It’s also a meet and greet with others that share the same burden.
The group has helped over 3,000 people with outreach support, referrals, and social services–along with grief support and counseling. “We have become a blessing and a beacon,” said McClain, “in a community marred by senseless violence.” FOSCI relies solely on donations and financial support from individuals, businesses and anyone who believes in their mission of empowering children and families that have lost loved ones to senseless violence. They are dedicated and committed to being there during the grieving process.
Jacksonville has held the Sunshine State’s murder capital title every year in the 21st century up until 2011, according to Jacksonville.com. Jacksonville violent crime rates are consistently above the U.S. average according to city-data.com crime charts. That is 11 years of above average violent crimes. McClain has spent nine of those years providing comfort to the less fortunate and bereaved as a result of these increasing numbers. She feels this is her mission and even though her son’s murder has yet to be solved, she continues on assisting others who have faced similar devastation.