Published April 7th, 2016 at 7:55 AM
This article was first printed in UMKC’s University News, and is reprinted by permission here. Hope Austin is a UMKC creative writing student and a community producer for KCPT’s Beyond Belief project.
On April 13, 2014, outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, white supremacist Frazier Glenn Miller opened fire on an unsuspecting group of people, killing 69-year-old William Lewis Corporon, and his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood. He then moved on to Village Shalom, a nearby Jewish retirement center, killing 53-year-old Terri LaManno.
While Miller had hoped to kill Jews, all three victims belonged to Christian denominations.
Since the shooting, Mindy Corporon, whose father and son both died that day, says she has found herself called to action.
“A key aspect of where I feel like God is pulling me and telling me to go is to pull people of different faiths together and have a different conversation,” Corporon said. “I’m not trying to recruit people from one faith to another. … My objective and God’s mission for me is to give people a safe environment where they can learn about one another’s faiths and respect one another. It’s a step further than tolerance, because tolerance is [just] tolerating people, not understanding.”
One way Corporon hopes to promote understanding is through an annual week of activities called SevenDays: Make a Ripple, Change the World. SevenDays is an annual celebration in April that invites all people, but especially young people, to do good works.
“My foundation, Faith Always Wins … started the event SevenDays with the premise to commemorate the shooting and to help people remember that good can overcome hate,” Corporon says.
“SevenDays has seven themes,” Corporon says. “God made the world in seven days, so we have determined that people can have really good actions for seven days in a row. … Our event is always going to be held in the month of April, but it is placed so it does not interfere with Passover, Ramadan or Easter. We also take a look at the Greek Orthodox Calendar, so we’re cognizant of faiths, and we want to be inclusive of different faiths.”
In addition to promoting religious understanding, Faith Always Wins will also raise money for medical initiatives, grief support, organ donation and performing arts, the latter in honor of Reat, who was killed while on his way to KC SuperStar, a singing competition.
The foundation isn’t the only way Corporon remembers her father and son. She has some deeply personal ways of remembering, in the form of jewelry.
“Three days after Reat and my dad were killed, Reat’s friends created this bracelet, that quotes Romans 8:28, which says good things come to those who believe in God. We did a ‘Remember Reat’ bracelet, and a ‘Remember Popeye’ bracelet. These, as you can tell, are quite worn. I’ve worn 20 or so. I let them get to be about this worn, then I save them.”
“Thirty days away from being 15. That’s a long life to live without your child. That’s the enormity of it, that’s where the grief comes from.”
Corporon has been sensitive to the process of grieving, for both herself and Reat’s brother Lukas Losen.
“When we were on vacation in Belize last summer, we were taking Reat’s ashes to the reef,” Corporon said. “We were kayaking his ashes out to the reef, and Lukas didn’t want to go. And I was a little upset with him that he didn’t want to go, but he wasn’t ready to do that. When I got back on the island, he gave me a bracelet, and said that he loved me, that he loved Reat. Although he wasn’t ready to do the ashes, he wanted me to know that he loved Reat.”
“When Reat died, we took a look at his social media,” Corporon said. “And on his Instagram page, where you can say something about yourself, he had ‘Live life to the fullest and never give up.’ So that’s our mantra.”
Corporon explains the butterfly bracelet circling her wrist.
“Reat comes to me in the form of butterflies, and so I found a butterfly bracelet at an auction and I bought it,” Corporon says. “I wear this all the time. I never take it off.”
Corporon says it isn’t hard for her to talk about Reat.
“I love talking about him,” Corporon says. “I mean, I wish he were here, but when I talk about him, it’s like he’s here. So when I talk about my dad, when I talk about Reat, it’s like they’re with us, they’re part of us, they’re part of my everyday life.”
The particularly difficult times, Corporon says, are when she sees children that remind her of Reat.
“The times when it’s hard are when I see students that are his age doing things that he would have wanted to do, that I and my family are missing seeing him do,” Corporon says.
“We’re the ones that are hurt, we’re the ones that are left behind. I know that he is fine. I know that he’s heaven with my dad. I know that he is heaven with other friends, but it’s hard on us to realize the enormity of the loss. He was 14, almost 15 when he was killed. Thirty days away from being 15. That’s a long life to live without your child. That’s the enormity of it, that’s where the grief comes from. But talking about it, for me, is like any parent talking about their child. I could only talk about him in certain timeframes, but now I talk about him in a spirit form. And now I’ll say that my dad and Reat’s ripples are doing this, or that they’re doing that. So I talk about them in a different way.”
Watch for a series of Seven Days videos and stories on Flatland starting next week beginning April 12. This story is part of the KCPT and Hale Center for Journalism project Beyond Belief, a series of stories and discussions about faith in our city. The project is part of Localore: Finding America, created by AIR, a Boston-based network of independent public media producers. Principle funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.