Shots rang out in South Deering, a far southiside neighborhood, last Monday when 17-year old Deonte Hoard was accompanying his friend to the store to purchase some milk for the friend’s baby. Hoard was a senior at Urban Prep Academy — Englewood campus, which boasts its three-year track record of graduating every senior high school student. The young basketball player had plans to attend college but since December, he had been pulled out of the sports program to focus on improving his math grades.
Tim King, founder and CEO of Urban Prep Academies, says, “Given that homicide is the number 1 cause of death for young Black males, some might say we should count ourselves lucky that death hasn’t come for more of the 2,000 of them who’ve walked through our doors. But I don’t think it’s about odds or fortune. It’s about our intentionality around giving kids hope, tools for a brighter future, and making sure they know that they are respected, valued and loved.
Ebonie Martin, Deonte’s mom, had dreams of making sure her children have a better quality of life and made sure they got the opportunity to attend a school that prepared young, Black male students to achieve and rise to their highest potential. He was not a gang member; he was not dealing drugs; he was not a car thief; he did not have a juvenile record of committing any crimes. He did not fit the stereotype of the young Black male AKA thug. He did not live the thug life. He was an upright young student on the path to becoming a positive contributing citizen. His death was reported as a possible mistaken identity — a life lost.
Through Dec. 20, the Chicago Police Department has counted 390 murders, down from 406 over the same period in 2013 and 488 in 2012, DNAinfo Chicago reports. There have been 2,500 shootings reported in Chicago last year through Dec. 20, a 13 percent increase from 2013 numbers and 14 percent decrease from 2012. The increased police presence is concentrated in high crime areas to decrease the amount of violence among gangs. But what about the innocent? The phrase “you live by the sword, you die by the sword” is often attached to those who have embraced that lifestyle of illegal activities. The problems increase when it is no longer an “unspoken” code of the streets — when innocent people are being targeted without any remorse or retribution.
Tim King further commented, “People may feel guilty, assign blame or politicize this tragedy. But the truth is Mr. Hoard is dead because someone shot and killed him. His death is the fault of the person who pulled the trigger. That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t have a responsibility: a responsibility to create the kind of community where no one is consumed by the chaotic fury of violence whether as victim or perpetrator, and the kind of community where young people are taught to value their lives and the lives of others.”
Did the shooter just shoot randomly or did he not know that the life taken was someone’s child, brother, nephew, cousin, grandson or classmate? Obviously, the perp didn’t know but if he had, would the results have been any different? The value of life has drastically decreased among our youth because they no longer value themselves. Black lives do matter.
Deonte Hoard would have celebrated his 18th birthday this week and will be missed at the ceremonial red and gold tie tradition of Urban Prep’s celebration of college admittance. This is a major deal and a proud moment for each student.
As the weather breaks and the winter snow dissipates, there will be a warm up this week in the Chicagoland area. No more digging your vehicle out of the snow trenches, time to discard those dirty lawn chairs and the neighborhood car wash will increase its business. For many of us, it is also a sign that the danger of street violence will increase. The weather will no longer keep many from the street corners or riding on their bikes looking and searching for revenge that has been put on “winter hold.” It is real out here in the streets — out here in our community.
“What I remember about young Mr. Hoard is, “Every morning, he stood with his brothers in our daily ritual gathering, “Community,” and solemnly affirmed his belief in himself, in the power of non-violence to achieve social justice and in his responsibility to his family, community and world. But no matter how intentional we are in creating a school culture of care, the outside world is often uncontrollably cruel,” says King.
We know that our children have three more months until the end of the school year. These three months may seem like the shortest time, but it can also be the most stressful duration for many parents. Most Chicago high school students do not have the luxury of school bus transportation; they take public transportation. Many CTA riders are students. The safety of walking to the el train or waiting at a bus stop is a normal routine, but in some neighborhoods it’s as stressful as living in Iraq or Gaza.
This tragic murder is not only another life lost, but also the possibility of having lost another future doctor, judge, community leader, teacher or U.S. senator. His mom, Ebonie Martin, did her part to protect her children — to protect Deonte to the best of her ability. She moved to a neighborhood that was safer than her previous one and she transferred him from one high school to another one that could help develop his academic skills. Now, she must give him the best farewell that she had not prepared for as a mother.
And finally, “The figurative and literal destruction of our kids can be stemmed if we view schools as more than walls, structures and performance data. Schools are our opportunity to have a say in the often devastating dialogue between life and death. We have to commit to building and supporting schools that can — and do — save lives. The solution is right in front of us; we just have to be courageous enough to answer the call,” says King beckoning us to do the right thing.
If you believe Black lives matter, you know what to do.