When violence claims a life in Charlotte, Mario Black often gets a call

On June 22, Black and others will lead a silent march to remember four people killed in last summer's mass shooting on Beatties Ford Road.
Mario Black

Mario Black was relaxing on a beach in Destin, Florida, early last week when his cell phone rang, interrupting his vacation.

On the other end, a Charlotte woman was distraught. Her 42-year-old father, Darius Drummer, had been killed in a shooting and she didn’t know where to turn. 

Black connected the woman with the group Mothers of Murdered Offspring (MOM-O), helped set up a candlelight vigil to honor her dad and, upon his return home, delivered various items of support to the family. 

It was a situation that has played out with tragic regularity for Black, founder of the nonprofit group Million Youth March of Charlotte and Salisbury (MYMOC).

Since launching MYMOC in 2013, Black has hosted hundreds of candlelight vigils, making him a go-to person of sorts when violence claims a Black life in Charlotte. 

From helping organize vigils and funerals to providing food and sometimes monetary gifts, he serves as a resource to grieving families who need help navigating death, and oftentimes justice. 

On Tuesday, Black’s organization will join others in leading a silent march to remember four lives cut short during last summer’s mass shooting on Beatties Ford Road. 

Charlotte Mecklenburg Police have made no arrest in the case. 

The march will begin with prayer from the Rev. Clifford Jones at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, about two miles from where the shooting happened.

The Night Of Terror:

CMPD calls video clip of two men firing guns during the June 22 shooting “jarring and incomprehensible.” Video footage via CMPD.

Just minutes before the gunshots rang out, Black had been there with friends. 

Hundreds of people lined the streets as a block party on Beatties Ford Road, between LaSalle Street and Dr. Webber Avenue, continued into the early morning hours of June 22. 

The outdoor gathering had begun on Friday as a Juneteenth celebration and continued on till Sunday, Father’s Day. 

Shortly after midnight, Black recalled, he heard gunshots from automatic weapons but couldn’t tell where they were coming from.

Panic ensued as the throng scrambled for cover as unknown assailants sprayed the crowd with bullets. One person died, and others were injured, when they ran into the path of cars speeding to flee the scene.

The authorities recovered more than 180 shell casings, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department would later report.

Numb, traumatized, heartbroken a war zone — those are the words Black used to describe that night of terror.

“It took a while for me to bounce back,” he said. “I saw bodies everywhere. It was something that you see in a movie.

“For it to happen, and then here we are 12 months later and nobody has come forward with concrete information to lead to an arrest for these families to have closure. That’s just unbelievable,” he said.

Kelly Miller, 29; Christopher ‘CJ’ Gleaton, 28; Jamaa Keon Cassell, 39; and Dairyon Stevenson, 31 all died as a result of that shooting. Dozens more were injured. 

Courtesy of Million Youth March of Charlotte

Three of the victims Black knew personally.

He attended West Charlotte High with Cassell, and even taught his son in middle school. Gleaton was one of Black’s “bonus cousins,” and he watched Stevenson grow up.

Black, who worked in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) system until 2018, was a teacher’s assistant at Irwin Avenue Elementary when he first met a young Stevenson in the early 2000s. 

“He was a fun, loving, goofy kid who was a jokester,” Black recalled. “When I heard who the victims were, it was an unexplainable feeling. I asked God why not me? Because I was in the midst of it.”

That afternoon of the shooting, Black, along with other community organizations, led a silent march down Beatties Ford Road to remember the victims and stand against the deadly violence that occurred. 

For Black, it didn’t stop there. Each month on the 22nd his organization began commemorating the victims he calls the “Beatties Ford 4” via MYMOC’s social media accounts. 

“It’s our way of letting their families know they have not been forgotten and the community still stands with them,” he said. 

The makings of Mario:

Beatties-Ford-Fathers-Day-shooting-peace-march-062120-6
Million Youth March of Charlotte & Salisbury organized a silent march Monday, June 22, 2020 on Beatties Ford Road in response to a shooting that resulted in four deaths and several injuries. Mario Black is second from the left. Photo: QCity Metro

A Charlotte native, Black grew up in Earle Village, a former public housing project in Charlotte’s First Ward neighborhood that was demolished in the 1990s.

He attended Piedmont Middle and West Charlotte High School, where he graduated in 2000. After two years at Norfolk State University, he returned to Charlotte for health-related reasons and finished his degree online.

He got a job at his old stomping ground — Irwin Elementary.

Things were going well for Black, but in 2005 tragedy struck. 

His son, Marquez, died 11 days after being born. 

While at the funeral home, before they could pay for arrangements, Black got a call that co-workers at Irwin and other partners had collected funds for Marquez’s burial. 

“We didn’t have to pay for anything out of pocket,” Black said. “It just warmed my heart, and I always said, if I am able to do the same or uplift I would do it.”

A year later Black lost another son, also just hours after he was born. This time it was his colleagues with the YMCA who donated money, which paid for the arrangements in full.

Now a father of three, Black says in his moments of grief he was touched beyond belief, which is one of the reasons he “goes so hard” when someone else loses a loved one. 

“For people to do what they did, showing that much love and compassion for me, is why I do what I do,” he said. “When tragedy strikes, I try to uplift; that’s just who I am.” 

MYMOC & Judy Williams:

Mario Black and Judy Williams, founder of Mothers of Murdered Offspring together in an undated photo. /Courtesy of Mario Black.

The tragic drive-by killings of Davion Funderburk, 22, and Inna Gonzalez, 21, on Reagan Drive in northwest Charlotte in 2013 is what gave birth to MYMOC, Black says.

He said the brazen crime in broad daylight, along with the city’s rising homicide numbers, inspired him to “do something.”

The organization started with the intent to give teens ages 13 to 19 a platform to use their voices and an outlet to stay out of trouble while attending monthly meetings and outings. 

Black said it was around 2015 when things “took off,” thanks to Judy Williams, the founder of Mothers of Murdered Offspring, who died last year at age 69. 

“Us doing candlelight vigils came about because she invited us to join her,” Black said. “She took us under her wing and provided a lot of guidance for us as we maneuvered through the communities.” 

Williams started her organization in 1993 — the year Charlotte recorded its highest homicide count — after her goddaughter was raped and strangled to death by serial killer Henry Louis Wallace, who was eventually arrested and sentenced to death for his 11 victims.  

Wallace is currently on death row awaiting execution at a North Carolina state prison.  

With one week to go before the first anniversary of the killings of the “Beatties Ford 4,” Black says the words of Williams are more relevant than ever as the families of those victims await justice.

“Her message was always to love each other,” he said. “You see something, you know something, say something, so these families can have closure.”

The silent march remembering the “Beatties Ford 4” will be on Tuesday, June 22, at 7 p.m, starting at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.

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Sarafina Wright
Sarafina covers Historic West End under a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. She earned a journalism degree from Howard University. Email news tips to sarafinawright@qcitymetro.com or connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @sarafinasaid.

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