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Classmates, teachers remember Rashad Verner as ‘big brother’ to Urban Prep Academy

Rashad Verner, 18, fatally shot last week, received the school’s golden tie award for excellence.

A gold tie hangs a on a photo of Rashad Verner during a memorial for Verner at Urban Prep Academy High School Bronzeville Campus at 521 E 35th St in Ida B. Wells / Darrow Homes Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020.
A gold tie hangs a on a photo of Rashad Verner during Verner’s memorial service at Urban Prep Academy High School’s Bronzeville campus, 521 E. 35th St.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Rashad Verner earned his high school’s “gold tie” award for exceptional academic work, but didn’t live to accept the honor in person.

“I want everyone to know this is not like a symbolic thing,” Joffrey Bywater, principal of Urban Prep’s Bronzeville campus, said. “No, he legitimately earned this gold tie right before he tragically lost his life.”

A football helmet, a neatly folded jersey and flowers lay on a table in front of a large photo of Verner. Bywater hung the gold tie on the corners of the photo, which showed the 18-year-old dapperly dressed and smiling with pride.

Over 60 people gathered Tuesday at Urban Prep’s Bronzeville campus, 521 E. 35th St., to celebrate Verner, who was fatally shot last week. Classmates handed his mother flowers as teachers spoke of his character.

By all accounts, the star athlete who played free safety was described as a selfless leader with a promising future. He hoped to attend college, start a career and maybe, one day, own a “house in the hills.”

Bywater said Verner was every bit on his way toward that dream, a hard-working student who would pull his classmates up with him by making sure they did their schoolwork and never missed football practice. Verner was the school’s “big brother” despite being the same age as his friends.

Students released heart-and-star shaped balloons in the school colors of red and gold. Prayers were offered, and with every testimony Verner’s mother dropped her head into her hands.

His mother and other family members declined to speak to the media.

Two classmates hug one another after giving remarks during a memorial for Rashad Verner at Urban Prep Academy High School Bronzeville Campus.
Two classmates hug one another after giving remarks during a memorial for Rashad Verner at Urban Prep Academy High School Bronzeville Campus.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Miles Rowe, an Urban Prep classmate, was distraught, struggling to finish his sentences without breaking into tears. Verner was more than a friend, he said — he was his brother. When he had no clothes, didn’t have a place to sleep and needed a loving family, Verner took him in.

“When I didn’t have nothing, he was there for me, he helped put clothes on my back, he gave me a place to lay my head, his family took me in like I was one of them,” Rowe said. “I’m going to miss waking up and rolling over seeing him and him saying ‘let’s go to the field bro.’ I’ll give anything to go to that field with him one last time.”

Rowe said he is still struggling, knowing he was one of the last people to see Verner alive.

“I remember on that Monday, he had looked me in my eyes right before he left and he said ‘I’ll be right back bro, I love you,’” Rowe said.

On Sept. 28, Verner was found with gunshot wounds to his chest and right arm inside a home in the 7000 block of South Paxton Avenue, police said. He was pronounced dead at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

A 19-year-old man with Verner at the time was shot in his shoulder and back. He survived.

A Chicago Police Department spokeswoman said detectives continue to investigate. No one was in custody as of Tuesday afternoon.

William Gray, the school’s head football coach, asked students to use Verner’s memory as motivation to succeed.

“I challenge you guys to take this pain and hurt you are feeling right now. I challenge all of you guys to honor Rashad with excellence,” Gray said.

“Excellence in the classroom, excellence of being young men every day in and outside this building,” Gray added.

“Honor him in that way because that is how he would want it.”

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.