Humboldt Park mural honors slain Clemente H.S. baseball prospect, other gun victims

“Today, as a mother of a gun violence victim, who was forced to live this devastating journey, I share my love, my pain and my continued roar for change,” said Annette Flores, mother of Neftali Reyes Jr. “Our youth deserve it; our children need us.”

SHARE Humboldt Park mural honors slain Clemente H.S. baseball prospect, other gun victims
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Annette Flores and Neftali Reyes Sr., whose 19-year-old son Neftali Reyes Jr. was shot to death in December 2017, embrace during the unveiling of the “Tunnel of Blessings: Neftali Reyes Jr. Memorial Mural” underneath the viaduct at The 606 on Humboldt Boulevard, Wednesday afternoon, July 14, 2021. Neftali Reyes Jr. is one of 14 children and young adults honored in the mural after being lost to gun violence in Chicago.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

A new mural was unveiled under a viaduct at the 606’s Bloomingdale Trail on Humboldt Boulevard that honors the life of a young Chicago baseball prospect that was fatally shot nearly four years ago.

The ribbon-cutting Wednesday of the “Tunnel of Blessings: Neftali Reyes Jr. Memorial Mural” brought over 50 people to the underpass with many staring at the mural with both grieving eyes and proud smiles. It was a bittersweet moment for the family of the young man whose life was cut short but whose image, frozen in time, will be seen for years to come.

Annette Flores and Neftali Reyes Sr. fought back the tears as they remembered their son’s life. They told of how he was able to catch a baseball before he could walk, his college days and the legacy he left behind.

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Flores said the mural “reflects unity and community, relentless perseverance and unconditional love.

“Today, as a mother of a gun violence victim, who was forced to live this devastating journey, I share my love, my pain and my continued roar for change,” Flores said. “Our youth deserve it; our children need us.”

The mural features a vibrant Reyes Jr. in his Roberto Clemente High School baseball jersey with his gloved raised. The names of 13 other young shooting victims from the area are memorialized in the mural that was painted by artists Andy Bellomo, Sandra Antongiorgi and Rae Wilson.

Bellomo said the artwork includes letters and notes from families who lost loved ones to gun violence which were first written on the wall of the concrete underpass before the mural was painted on top. She hopes their words breathe life into the space and can be a blessing for those walking by or taking a minute to remember Reyes Jr. and the other victims.

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Artist Andy Bellomo speaks during the unveiling of the “Tunnel of Blessings: Neftali Reyes Jr. Memorial Mural” Wednesday. Fellow artist Sandra Antongiorgi (in blue shirt) and Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) are also pictured.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Reyes Jr. graduated with honors at Clemente and was enjoying a full ride to play baseball at Claflin University in South Carolina. The aspiring major league pitcher had to return to Chicago to recover from an injury that was keeping him off the field.

Then in the early morning of Dec. 29, 2017, Reyes Jr. was driving in the 2300 block of West Grand Avenue in West Town when his car was rammed several times by another car with two men and a woman inside, forcing him to lose control of his car.

The group pulled up beside him and someone fired shots that would kill the then 19-year-old.

Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) said the mural was only possible because of Flores’ relentless fight in getting the city to approve the use of the 26th Ward menu funds for the project. He said it took several years of fighting with the city’s legal department to bankroll the project and was nearly brought to tears during the ceremony.

Maldonado said the viaduct is along a route he takes on his daily walks and shared his own grief after his wife died of cancer — an anniversary that falls on the same exact day although it happened two years earlier.

“I know what it is to carry a grief forever for losing a loved one, the anger and the disbelief as well,” Maldonado said. “ ... It feels like it was yesterday.”

Maldonado also said he empathizes with Reyes Jr. since his son is a baseball player for Lane Tech High School with aspirations of turning pro.

“This could’ve been my son,” Maldonado said. “I relate to Annette’s family like if it were mine.”

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Dozens attend the unveiling of the “Tunnel of Blessings: Neftali Reyes Jr. Memorial Mural” underneath the viaduct at The 606 on Humboldt Boulevard, Wednesday afternoon, July 14, 2021. Neftali Reyes Jr. is one of 14 children and young adults honored in the mural after being lost to gun violence in Chicago.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

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