Endia, Jeremy, Christian, Kejuan.
Those are the four names my friend Sharon Holmes posted recently on Facebook. All four had been Holmes’ students when she taught at Tilden Career Community Academy, and all four are dead.
Holmes has been thinking especially about Endia Martin, who was just 14 when another teenage girl fatally shot her one day after school let out in April 2014. The girl is expected to be sentenced this week in juvenile court.
“I always think about Endia this time of year, what she would have done, what she could have become. And it makes me sad. She really was a good kid,” Holmes says.
Then she pauses and begins to name other students with ties to Tilden who have been killed in the last few years; Holmes counts eight students in all from a school with fewer than 300 students.
When that many of their classmates die, Holmes said, “the kids become desensitized because they learn or internalize that ‘our lives don’t matter that much.’”
For Holmes, it became too much, and she left the Back of the Yards school in 2016.
She returned in June 2017 to watch Endia’s classmates graduate; the school awarded Endia an honorary diploma, which her parents and brother were on hand to receive.
“I felt bad that I left. I really did like that group. I felt like I was really bonded to them,” says Holmes, who now teaches humanities at GCE Lab School. “But I couldn’t stay – all those kids dying and getting shot.”
Holmes suspects she had secondary trauma; and she felt inadequate because she couldn’t give her students all that they needed.
“What didn’t they need? The needed someone to listen to them, to kick their butts . . . to pat them on their backs when they did well. They needed guidance, life skills . . . They just needed so much, and I had only so much to give. I was just exhausted.”
Now Holmes is angry. This is what she wrote about Endia, Jeremy, Christian and Kejuan after participating in last month’s march against violence in Washington, D.C.:
I taught all of them. AT THE SAME SCHOOL! They are all gone now. Guns really do kill people.
Don’t tell their classmates not to march. Don’t tell them not to speak up because no one is listening anyway. Don’t tell them not to vote because their votes don’t matter. Don’t tell them they don’t have PTSD because they are used to it. Don’t tell them they don’t need/deserve mental health services because Black/Brown people are strong enough to handle everything without help.
Something has got to give.
Krista Wortendyke understands that anger, that frustration. Though she never knew Endia, the teen’s death has had a major impact on Wortendyke, who was a teaching artist at Tilden at that time and is now the arts coordinator at Senn Fine Arts Magnet High School.
“Everything that I’ve made since (2014) has been influenced by her death,” says Wortendyke, who saw the grief and sadness up close. She started working on a journalism project with Endia’s classmates within days of her murder.
“It’s really crazy because I never met her . . . the impact she had on the kids that I worked with obviously had an impact on me.”
In the months after Endia died, Holmes and Wortendyke saw how the students grappled with their feelings. The girls and boys would write “Endia’s World” on their notebooks, on their arms, around school. A few made videos and music that they posted online.
Four months after her funeral, two young men – friends of Endia – organized a party at a South Side park. They invited their classmates and other young people to “just come out and show respect again for Endia. Turn up the right way.”
Holmes and Wortendyke were at that party in August 2014. And they were at Tilden’s prom last year, the prom Endia would have attended as a graduating senior. Being there was closure for Wortendyke: “I needed to finish that story for myself – what happened with those kids . . . how they proceeded.”
The ripple effect of Endia’s death extends farther than many realize. But does it extend to the rest of us, even those whose lives seem far removed from the violence?
These killings – more than 100 so far this year in Chicago — “have real consequences, a real impact on people in ways that you can’t even imagine. I think that’s my biggest lesson in all of this,” Wortendyke says.
“You can always make it about someone else or somewhere else . . . that happened on the South Side or in a different neighborhood,” Wortendyke says. “But does that absolve you of responsibility? At what moment do we take responsibility for this?
“It does affect everyone, even if we pretend that it doesn’t.”
Suzanne McBride is chair of the Communication Department at Columbia College Chicago and an editor at the Sun-Times.
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