Tyshawn Lee’s killing leaves children feeling all the more vulnerable – Chicago Tribune

Such training will be critical in the months ahead as Joplin deals with the loss of Tyshawn.

More immediately, CPS also sent a crisis intervention team to Joplin. Two days after the shooting, community leaders in Auburn Gresham also met with the principal to talk about the immediate and long-term needs of the students and staff grieving the loss of the little boy. A health center staffed by the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System has made social workers available to the school.

“Our focus is making sure the principal has the resources following the funeral services, when everybody goes back to their regular life,” said Tenisha Jones, education director at the Auburn-Gresham Community Development Corp.

‘What do we say to our kids?’

For all the crucial support that can be provided from local experts and community leaders, many of the tough conversations happen at home, where parents must cope with their own emotions while also grappling with how to guide their children through such trauma.

That daunting challenge weighed heavily on the minds of mothers at Wednesday’s impromptu protest.

“Why? Why? Why? That’s the biggest question no one has the answer to,” said Sheneeka Harris, 29, a Washington Park mother of an 11-year-old girl. “There’s really nothing you could say because you never know with this environment. You just try to protect your kids from it.”

Kimberly Williams, of Auburn Gresham, said she and her 5-year-old son aren’t ready yet for sobering talks about Tyshawn’s murder.

“I shield him from certain things,” said Williams, 37. “I still want him to be a kid. I don’t want him to be afraid. I want him to remain innocent.”

Williams also hesitated broaching the subject because she said she did not want her son to start discussing the killing with his classmates. Asked if she feared other children launching the conversation with him, she acknowledged she might have to prepare for that possibility.

“I didn’t really think about whether he was going to find out about this little boy, but maybe I should,” Williams said. “What do we say to our kids when they see young kids dying? I have to figure it out.”

Lottie Boss, of the Pullman neighborhood, said she is upfront with her five children to equip them to live amid a violent world.

“I want them to be exposed to the bad and the good,” said Boss, 42. “I want them to know life isn’t always nice and fair, but it is doable.”

Boss said she and her family start and end each day with prayer, leaning on their faith to help them not to live in fear. But even that is not always foolproof.

“I would tell them, ‘You don’t have to worry, because you have God.’ But then my daughter said, ‘I’m sure God was looking out for that other kid, too, and he still died.’ I didn’t have an answer to that.”

Crystal Bynum, of Auburn Gresham, said the discussions differ dramatically for her two sons. Her 15-year-old initially wanted to know many of the awful details but no longer wanted to talk about Tyshawn’s slaying. Her 9-year-old did not seem able to absorb the tragedy.

“I do want him to know but I don’t know how I’m going to explain it to him,” said Bynum, 37. “I never thought I would have to have that conversation — that someone the same as you, who goes to the same parks as you, that’s from the same neighborhood as you was basically executed.”

For 13-year-old Darlene Johnson, D’Ante Peppers’ sister, the way to cope was to speak out. An eighth-grader at Joplin, Johnson went straight from school to join the protest.

“It’s better that we do it and speak for the children,” Darlene said. “We want to grow up.”

Paralyzed by fear

A dozen teenagers packed into a basement room Thursday night at St. Sabina Academy. They squeezed into chairs and couches surrounding a dummy they constructed: a boy with a plaid hoodie and light-colored jeans, riddled with bullet holes. On the dummy’s chest sat a sign: “Elected officials don’t listen to the voices of those who don’t vote!”

They’re called the B.R.A.V.E. Youth Leaders, their name standing for “Bold Resistance Against Violence Everywhere,” one of several after-school programs at The Ark of St. Sabina aimed at steering kids toward constructive activities and away from street violence.

They had a lot on their minds on this night, and over 90 minutes, some hard, sad truths came out. Some yelled, their frustrations obvious. Others sat quietly, listening.

“This week has been so hard. The child was very happy,” Roushan Parham, 19, said of Tyshawn. “He wanted to play basketball. … For them to do that to him was so heartbreaking.”

The fact that the shooting remained unsolved nagged at some. Others understood the intense dread their neighbors feel and the impact that has on a community.

“Why are our communities paralyzed by fear?” asked Lamar Johnson, the 25-year-old moderator.

“Because people are ruthless,” Amani Johnson, 17, said flatly. “They don’t care anymore. They have no remorse. We have no love for each other. It’s nothing but hate.”

“We’ve paralyzed ourselves,” Anthony Lovelace added.

Yet this is their home. And like many teens in troubled neighborhoods, they have adjusted their routines to survive.

They carefully pick which streets to travel. They are wary of who they will be seen with. And they pay close attention to the words and gestures they make in public. After all, anything could set someone off.

Despite all this, these teens don’t want to simply disconnect from their neighborhoods as they leave for college or other opportunities.

“I truly don’t want to leave because I know I’ll have to leave future generations with this same problem,” said Trevon Bosley, 17. “And I don’t want to do that.”

“That’s like a father leaving his household when it’s in turmoil. You don’t leave when it’s bad,” Lovelace said. “We’re here to plant the seeds of anti-violence and youth advocacy.”

Chicago Tribune’s Abraham Epton contributed.