Tears fall slowly at first, until great heaving sobs wrack the body of Delores Bailey as she recounts those moments after the murder of one of her twin sons in a robbery on Dec. 13, 2014.
Her sons Demacio, and the late Demario, were just three days from their 16th birthday when they were jumped by four teens under a viaduct, who robbed them, then shot and killed Demario after he pushed one of the robbers off his brother.
“I chauffeured them everywhere — me or my Mom — because I know where I’m living. I know I’m living in the city of Chicago. I never let them go back and forth by themselves,” said Bailey, who will be among an expected 4,000 people protesting Chicago’s spiraling gang and gun violence at a unique event Saturday spearheaded by a megachurch.
“I didn’t go to work that day because my stomach was hurting so bad. They said, ‘Mom, we’re gonna be 16. It’s 11:00 in the afternoon. Let up some,'” she recounts. “I said no at first. And then I said ok. I prayed with them before they left. We never ever separated without prayer.”
It was the last time she’d hug Demario, an honor student at Johnson College Prep in Englewood, where he and his brother were headed for a basketball game.
A vision of the Rev. John Hannah, pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Grand Crossing, the “On the 9” event Saturday is expected to draw thousands to 79th Street — over the past few weeks, some 50 churches and nonprofits have committed online to participate.
From 11 a.m. to noon, they will join hands in prayer, along both sides of the street, for two miles east of the Dan Ryan Expressway. And at some point, hundreds like Bailey, who have lost loved ones to the violence that has claimed 230 lives since January, will lay down in the street, hoisting victims’ photos.
“This violence is out of control,” said Hannah, among a new breed of young pastors. His church, at 1021 E. 78th St., boasts 20,000 members — 70 percent of them ages 18-to-35.
“Grand Crossing is on the list of 10 Chicago communities with the most violence. We can’t hide from it. We can’t ignore it. What we can do is literally come out of the four walls of the church and let people see the hurt, the pain and the damage being done in our community,” Hannah said. “This is a visual generation. A picture speaks louder than 1,000 words.”
His church is currently building a new $25 million worship space. Bailey’s a member.
“I preached her son’s funeral,” says Hannah. “I saw the pain of a mother. I was with her in her house after her son was gunned down. I let her cry in my arms. I held her, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
Summer isn’t here yet, and the city has racked up 1,200-plus shootings. So Hannah’s megachurch members aren’t the only ones praying.
Another dynamic young preacher, Jedidiah Brown, led a peace march Thursday through the equally violent South Shore neighborhood that drew prominent names like Sandra Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal. Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson attended.
The black-on-black crime, Hannah says, must become as equal a focus as police abuse.
“I’ve always felt as if our community has shielded and protected the shooters,” the pastor says. “What I’m saying to our community is, ‘Let’s regurgitate the shooters! Let’s throw them out of our community and say enough is enough!’ ”
Bailey will be holding a huge poster Saturday of Demario, whose face is still familiar around the neighborhood. That’s because photos of him are emblazoned across a van Bailey uses in a transportation service she started to ferry neighborhood kids to and from extracurricular activities.
“I said to myself, ‘I know God wants me to do something. I know God wouldn’t just hurt me like this unless he wanted something of me,’ ” Bailey said.
“It came to me that what I can do is try to prevent some other mother from ever feeling this pain. If I can just get them home to their mothers safely and not have another parent go through what I’m going through,” she says. “I’ll be bringing as many kids to 79th Street as possible. At my son’s funeral, 365 teens confessed Christ and got saved. There’s power in prayer. There’s power in numbers. We can do this if we come together.”