Last year, 500 people showed up to the brunch.

Drop by any florist, restaurant or a store’s greeting-card aisle in the days leading up to Mother’s Day and the message is warm and fuzzy. But what about moms who lost their children to violence and won’t be pampered by—let alone see—their offspring on this holiday?

Terrell Johnnies spotted that void in his aunt’s life after his cousin Harvey Johnnies was shot and killed in 2011 in Milwaukee. “His mother would call me often, and Mother’s Day was coming up,” said Johnnies.

Compelled to action, he approached the organizer of a local brunch with an offer to financially sponsor mothers who had lost their sons to violence. But he didn’t stop there. “I went on social media and shared what I was going to do,” he said, and challenged his friends to do the same.

Fast forward two years and he is again organizing a buffet brunch for this select group of mothers who are in a club they never wanted to be in, where healing is a long-term path. It will be held at The Point, a reception venue in Walker’s Point. Sponsors have paid for decorations and a group of private individuals will cover the $25 brunch cost for mothers who have lost their sons to violence, so long as they make a reservation (call Johnnies at 757-470-2600).

“Mothers who lost their children to violence should not be turned away,” he says, stressing the need for a reservation. Last year, due to publicity, 500 people showed up to the brunch and were unfortunately not able to be served due to space limitations.

Decorations at last year’s brunch. Photo Courtesy of Spread Love Initiative Incorporated.

Event organizer Terrell Johnnies with Maria Hamilton, whose son was shot and killed in 2014 by a Milwaukee police officer. Photo Courtesy of Spread Love Initiative Incorporated

This year’s menu includes a carving station (featuring bacon-wrapped, herb-rubbed pork loin), salad bar, mini croissants, desserts, made-to-order pancakes, a breakfast station serving applewood-smoked bacon and egg frittatas, and main courses (such as braised beef-sirloin tips and blackened chicken and shrimp pasta). Beverages are included, from strawberry-basil lemonade to coffee.

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What Johnnies never could have anticipated is how crucial the brunch would be to the women’s grieving process.

“I have repeat guests that have been coming since the first year. They look forward to it,” he said. “They know they’re going to be taken care of. It’s a good time to talk—and cry. I want these mothers to have a special time, to communicate and network.”

And those relationships don’t stop at the close of brunch service. Johnnies has morphed into a son-like figure for the women.

“I do keep in contact with these individuals,” he said, often calling to “make sure they are okay. It’s more than just Mother’s Day brunch.”

Johnnies also created a non-profit called Spread Love Initiative Incorporated that hosts “gentlemen’s courses” in life skills, entrepreneurship and leadership to boys between the ages of seven and 18, in an attempt to rid the streets of violence that has already taken so many young men’s lives in Milwaukee.