Patricia Brown was driving back from the bowling alley with her team mates in August, when the conversation turned to her daughter, Patrice. They wanted to know: Would Patrice be interested in subbing in for the team the following week?
Brown remembers thinking that it would be fun, confident that her 17-year-old daughter, who managed to maintain good grades while juggling jobs and extracurricular activities, wouldn’t mind spending a Friday night at the bowling alley with her mama.
The next moment, she got the phone call. Then everything sped into fast forward.
Patrice had been shot in the back of her neck and rushed to a hospital in Oak Lawn. By the time Brown made it to her beside, Patrice’s head was swollen up from the wound. She was far from awake.
Brown learned that Patrice had been talking with her friends on the sidewalk when two young men started shooting. But no one told the police who had fired the shots; those who were at the scene were too afraid for their own lives to oust the gunmen they’d seen.
Patrice died that Monday, two days after the shooting. It wasn’t painful, the doctors told Brown. After a bullet went straight through her neck, she wouldn’t have been able to feel a thing.
Patrice’s death was one of the 37 shootings in Roseland on the city’s South Side in 2007; hers was one of the eight homicides that the community experienced that year. Such high levels of violence in Roseland had convinced organizers from Ceasefire, a community outreach and violent prevention initiative, to re-establish its operations there in October 2006.
But Ceasefire had not even been operating for a year when Gov. Rod Blagojevich vetoed its funding out of the state budget. In the eight months after the budget cut, Roseland witnessed eight more shootings than it did in the same period the year before.
The increase in the shootings came despite the band of brave former Roseland Ceasefire employees who volunteered to stay, saying that there was no way they could completely abandon the cause. These volunteers devote as much of their time as they can while still working elsewhere, patrolling high-risk blocks between 9 p.m. and midnight and manning the office to field phone calls and visits during the day. The office, located on the 1300 block of West 111th Street, remains open only by the charity of its building’s landlord; the organization stopped paying rent a year ago. Sporadic donations from community members are all that keep the electricity and water running in the building.
Despite their challenges, the volunteers said they could never have just walked away from the community that needs them so badly. One such volunteer, Earl Williams Sr., pointed toward another volunteer whose son fell victim to violence. “This woman lost her son, and he wasn’t into drugs or gangs,” he said. “This is a community; it’s everybody’s responsibility.”
Dale Daniels, 18, walks out to the car as it pulls in front of his house, smiling shyly as the thinner, shorter woman he respectfully greets as “Miss Karon” pulls him into a genial hug. He’s missed her, he says.
Karon Clark is Daniels’ Ceasefire mentor, his friend, and she’s been there for the a recent high school graduate for almost two years now. Her roll in his life is somewhere between favored aunt and trusted friend–”she’s taken him to his driver’s training test, landed him multiple summer jobs, and nagged him until his head ached about grades, school and the future. But she was also the first one he told when he found out he was going to be a father two years ago, at age 16.
Clark proceeds to get caught up on the latest block news. The smell of weed wafts down from a couple houses over, and she notices a group of boys on the front porch a few doors down. She smiles, reminiscing to Daniels about how long it has been since she’s seen the kids and turns to walk over to say hello. But Daniels has her by the arm–”nervous now, voice low. Those guys had shot at Daniels the last time he went down there. Things between that half of the block and Daniel’s half aren’t as good as they used to be.
This is how it is in Roseland, Clark says. These kids are so worried about making it through the day, so intent on walking to the store without being shot, that they’ve little time to think about their futures or life after 18. There’s not much in the way of positive role models in this neighborhood, either. Parents are in prison, children go hungry, 15-year-olds become parents all too quick.
“These kids,” Williams says back in the Roseland Ceasefire building, shaking his thick head of dreadlocks and leaning back on his folding chair, “they’re looking for any kind of hope.”