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A mother’s online grief

on October 20, 2010

The morning of Oct. 20, 2006, Kelly Smith started her day collecting pieces of garbage that had blown into her yard. Her son, twenty-year-old Travante James, had not come home that night. This was not new; he had stayed out many times before, and for the first time, Smith did not call her son to find out where he had been.

As a mother, she found herself confronting a harsh reality. “I wonder if he’s going to end up in prison or dead.”

Her answer came later that day, when two Richmond police officers arrived at her door.

In the hours before dawn, Travante James had been sitting in his car. It was 4:30 a.m. in the Iron Triangle – during what Smith calls “the killing hours.” Smith does not say what her son was doing out so late or who he might have been meeting. Her suspicions are her own.

What she knows for certain is what the police told her: her son had been shot in the chest fifteen times as he sat at the corner of 41st and Cutting Boulevard. It was six weeks before his twenty-first birthday.

As Smith tells it, Travante was no golden child. From a young age, her son had behavioral problems in class. He was bounced from school to school, from program to program for most of his education. He did not complete high school, dropping out in the 10th grade.

“He was no angel,” she admits, “but that does not take away what a good son he was.”

Smith and her eldest son were close. “He was my best friend,” Smith says. He was the kind of son who would cook meals for his family, the kind of devil-may-care sibling who spent time with his twelve-year-old brother by teaching him to drive.

The night of his death, Smith has been told that her son spoke with another male voice shortly before gunshots were heard. She has been told the two parted ways, only for the other figure to turn back upon Travante as shots rang out. She has been told it was someone her son knew.

Smith displays the tattoo she got after Travante's death. "He loved them streets," she says sadly. "He just loved them streets."

What Smith did next surprised her: She began to write. It was not something she’d done before. She was a struggling single mother raising two boys, working in retail in Oakland.

And yet, Smith says, in her darkest moments, when she needed to find a way to express the anguish she was going through, she turned to her computer.

There was something else that motivated Kelly Smith to write her blog entries.

“I was writing for his killer,” she says, explaining that word had gotten around to her about who her son had been meeting that night. A person she knew, a “friend” of her son’s on MySpace, where Smith began posting her grief-stricken thoughts.

Smith says she also wrote for his friends, for family, for his girlfriends and the people who cared about him. “I wanted people to know how much I missed Travante. How much he meant to me. How they have just destroyed my family.”

The entries in the blog are written in short, direct phrases, reminiscent of the text or chat-style messages used by her son and his friends.

“This is how I spend my time,” she writes, “I never got to make up for me not having much money when he was young. I’ll never get to spoil him…I just looked @ his pic and cried and said I’m sorry for not being a better mother, not being able 2 buy u more, for being petty.”

Smith keeps the digital memory of her son alive, carrying pictures of him in her phone. Some were taken the day he was killed.

The words, written as they came to her, have a stream of consciousness style that flows from one heartbreaking moment to the next, following the course of her guilt, her tears, her anger.

“Why would any1 do this to me? ROB me of my best Friend, ROB me of my grandchildren. Wat did I Do 2 deserve this?

Smith wrote in her son’s blog for over two years following his death; the last entry is dated December 7th, 2008. Although her entries gradually grow more and more hopeful, exploring how Smith has accepted and dealt with her son’s death, she still cannot get her son’s killer out of her mind.

I just wish his murderer knew what he did 2 MY little family. It, n me will never b the same…

“It’s just me and Nikko now,” Smith sighs, referring to her youngest son.

Kelly Smith has since moved out of Richmond, where she often felt paranoid, she says, about how her neighbors and people in the community thought of her.

Her other son, Nikko, is now sixteen. He is an athlete, a member of both the varsity football and basketball teams. Still, her eldest son’s death colors the world around her, and has become the lens through which she now sees her life. As Smith puts it, “Every time Nikko has a milestone, I think about Travante missing it.”

Although she no longer blogs, Smith hopes she can find a way to bring her digital journal to young people, especially those who experience street violence. She would like to publish her entries, which she has compiled in a manuscript she calls “Blogs of a Mother’s Tears.”

“What I want people to get out of this story is to stop the violence.” She impresses, tears still lingering in her eyes.

“I loved my son. He didn’t deserve to be murdered and taken away from me.”

Travante James’ murder remains an open investigation with the Richmond Police Department. No arrests have been made, or charges filed in his homicide thus far.

Note: This piece was produced in partnership with Malcolm Marshall and Donny Lumpkins of New American Media. Read their related story here.

20101020_connolly_tears.mp3|Click to hear Kelly Smith read from her blog|by Kerri Connolly

Read the blog entries here| Travante’s MySpace


  1. Angie Collins on October 20, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    Kelly I know all about the hurt and pain yo feel Travante did not deserve that!!! He was not theirs to take from you. The Devil is a LIE!!! I love you and Nikko and Travante was no different.. Things liek this no one knows how long or how hard a person takes the lost of a loved one let alone a baby.. You are a Strong Black Woman who will be an inspiration to someone one day. You may not even know it but just know your writing may uplift someone and turn them around…. Love you Kel stay strong

  2. Angie Collins on October 20, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    R*I*P Travante James you will always be REMEMBERED!!!!

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