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2017 Outstanding Citizen: Sandra L. Green, marked by grief and deep compassion

Sandra L. Green is a woman of uncommon grace and deep compassion.

Every Mothers Day, the retired corrections officer holds a party for the mothers whose children were slain, keenly aware that it is also an annual day of grieving for them. Green not only understands, but is intimately acquainted with the pain of those women. In 2007, she lost two sons – her only children – to senseless gun violence, in separate and unrelated shootings, at the hands of perpetrators who didn't even know their victims.

Her eldest, Steven E. Barney Jr., was 31 when he was shot to death by a stranger on Jan. 9, 2007, outside an Atlanta restaurant. Learning, in the moment, that she had lost one son left a void that was greater than Sandra Green thought she could bear.

"It just seemed like everything ..." she said, her voice trailing off. "I couldn't tell you what I ate for the next month. I was so outdone."

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Ten months later, on Nov. 21, 2007, her 21-year-old son Corey D. Green was randomly struck and killed by gunfire outside a Walden Avenue ice cream parlor.

That the horror of that unspeakable grief would be revisited upon her less than a year later was unimaginable. But Green endured. She continued to mentor other youth in the Youth Assistance Program and local peace organizations, and for two more years, she continued to work as a corrections officer in a local maximum security prison, daily coming into contact with prisoners who life trajectories were not unlike those who had killed her sons.

"Just walking in there were some of the hardest steps I ever took in my life," Green said of her return to work after losing her sons.

"You would think that my story is unique, but it's a story that is told by everyone in the world who has gone through what I have gone through," Green said. "It happens in many forms and fashions. You lose them in car accidents, to drugs. You lose them to gun violence. You lose them to suicide."

Her compassion extends not only to the parents of those who have lost children to violence, but even to the mothers of those who perpetrated it.

"When I was working with the peace organization, we would have Mother's Day celebration and there were mothers there whose children had taken the lives of the children of some of the mothers who were there, and they knew that. The pain in their eyes was so heartbreaking, and I understood that you didn't raise your child to be killer. Somewhere down the road, something happened," Green said.

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