At the age of 10, William Kellibrew witnessed the murder of his mother and 12-year-old brother.
That 1984 summer day, he was spared by his mother’s boyfriend, who pointed his gun at Kellibrew but then instructed him to run from the Capitol Heights, Md., residence before taking his own life.
But the nightmares have since stayed with him.
“Sometimes it’s very difficult to sleep,” Kellibrew said, addressing close to 40 students of the Memorial Recreation Center’s after school program Tuesday in Hagerstown. “This year I’ve probably had five nightmares.”
Kellibrew, an international motivational speaker who was recognized this month by President Obama with the MLK Drum Major for Service President’s Volunteer Service Award, talked on trauma and coping at the center situated fewer than 300 yards from a Jonathan Street residence where a teenage female was recently stabbed in the chest.
The girl, who was rushed to Meritus Medical Center for emergency surgery, is expected to make a full recovery.
Kellibrew’s appearance Tuesday was the result of a collaborative effort between the center, which recently initiated the Stop the Violence/Stop the Abuse campaign, and the Washington County Health Department’s Division of Behavioral Health Services in light of the stabbing and a recent area suicide.
“This has been a mourning and grieving process throughout the city,” said the center’s Executive Director Karen Cook, who noted more than 150 community members turned up for a Monday night vigil.
David Washington, a program coordinator for the health department and trauma specialist for the state, said around 85 percent of women and 50 to 70 percent of men who are incarcerated have a history of trauma.
“(It’s) something I’ve wanted to do for years, to get someone to come and talk about trauma,” Washington said. “We don’t have as much violence in the Jonathan Street corridor as we used to, but there’s residue of the violence we saw years ago that still impacts people.”
Cook said she plans to initiate both grief counseling and an anti-bullying program at the center.
“Our youth are getting to the point where they’re starting to just accept it,” she said. “I can understand William Kellibrew’s story and the trauma that he suffered, but our youth are almost becoming accustomed to it, and that’s the scary part.”
Kellibrew, who has appeared on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and was recognized in 2011 as the “Champion of Change” by the White House, detailed an experience that lead him to ultimately consider suicide before reaching a “turning point.”
“My mom and brother lost their voices, and every day I get a chance to stand up and speak,” he said.