December 3, 2014;San Jose Mercury News
In a week of terribly distressing news involving the death of yet another unarmed black man at the hands of police—with no indictment in response—this article about a foundation in Oakland provides a terribly sad coda. A woman named Brenda Grisham runs the Christopher LaVell Jones Foundation, which assists the families of homicide victims in a particular way: It helps them pay for funeral expenses.
Most homicides occur in poor neighborhoods, and the families of homicide victims are “least able to shell out thousands of dollars on the spur of the moment” to pay for funerals. Explaining that she had calls from 24 people last year looking for burial plots, Grisham’s foundation has begun purchasing plots ahead of time to meet this need. The strategy, explains the Mercury News, is “in effect, a pre-need burial program for murder victims.”
Grisham’s 17-year-old son was a murder victim and is buried in Rolling Hills Memorial Park in Richmond. Consequently, she approached the advanced planning manager of the cemetery and was able to negotiate the purchase of burial plots for $3,700 apiece compared to a more typical cost of $4,800 for “pre-need” purchases. Her strategy is that families would buy the burial plots from the foundation at a the lower cost and, given the families’ likely financial constraints, be able to pay off the acquisition cost over time rather than having to come up with all of the money upfront.
The Christopher Lavell Jones Foundation, at least by that name, was not listed on GuideStar and did not appear on the IRS list of exempt organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable donations. Although we found reference to the foundation going back to 2011, the foundation’s website doesn’t make any reference to the tax deductibility of donations it solicits. Clicking the “PayPal Verified” button on the website leads to a donation page in which donations go to Xperience Ministries, an Oakland-based church, where Christopher had been music director. It may well be that the foundation is hosted by Xperience Ministries, where Grisham reportedly had been executive director.
That isn’t to suggest that the CLJ Foundation is not a legitimate charity, but young Christopher happens to be a compelling case study of a young man who had a future snuffed out much too young. He was Oakland’s last murder victim of 2010, killed on New Year’s Eve when he and his sister, who was wounded in the shooting, were going out to dinner. The reality is that many murder victims are unfortunately similar to Chris Jones, as FBI homicide statistics show:
Black/African-American Homicides under age 18
Black/African-American Homicides under age 22
Source: FBI Uniform Crime Reports
The FBI doesn’t collect information on murder victims by their economic status and the data on ethnicity is not accurate enough to reliably report here. But Christopher LaVell Jones was one of those homicides in 2010. Families don’t anticipate that one of their loved ones is going to be a murder victim; they aren’t prepared for that horrible eventuality, and the resources they can get from victims compensation programs such as California’s, while important, are generally insufficient to meet the variety of needs that the families of murder victims have to deal with. Whatever the charitable bona fides of the Christopher Lavell Jones Foundation, it is clear that Brenda Grisham has identified a sad but real need to be addressed.—Rick Cohen