When Tyrone Crowder was 14 and living in Chicago in public housing, three of his cousins were killed in gang shootings — one of them right in front of him.
That was in 1984, and an older cousin in Evanston stepped up to help.
“I was a gifted student, and the violence was getting very close to me,” says Crowder, now 46. “He offered me to come live with him and go to school. I took him up on it.”
That cousin is the Rev. Zollie Webb of Friendship Baptist Church in Evanston. And he’s still taking in teenage relatives from dangerous neighborhoods. The aim: to help them survive the summer.
“My great-nephews started coming about five years ago,” says Webb, 63, the Evanston church’s pastor for 33 years and a Rogers Park resident. “Their mothers are hard-working single moms. Get them out of their neighborhoods — that was the goal.”
Across Chicago, the number of murders was up 44 percent over last year at July’s end, and the count of shootings was just under 2,400 — up 53 percent. Heading toward Labor Day, the murder toll stands at 460 murders — mostly from shootings.
Sending three teenagers to Rogers Park rather than spend their summer, when violence always heats up in Chicago, at home in Englewood and South Shore, seemed like the best answer for Webb’s relatives. Their families rented an apartment for the teens, and Webb got a second apartment in his building.
“They bring their friends to visit and go through my fridge like they’re paying for the food,” says Webb.
But it wasn’t a complete escape.
“Their cousin, Ernest, came and made himself at home this summer,” Webb says. “He would often do the chores the other two were supposed to do, and he helped me barbecue on the Fourth of July. A couple weeks later, he was shot and killed in Englewood.”
Ernest Hudson, 18, was one of 65 people killed in Chicago in July. He was shot in the head at 6450 S. Lowe Ave., about three blocks from his home, on July 22. No one has been arrested in his death.
Webb’s two great-nephews from Englewood, 16- and 17-year-old brothers, were there. They’d gone home that weekend because they were missing their friends.
“Somebody just got to shooting out of nowhere,” says Macksantino Webb, 17. “We’re taking cover under some bricks. Police came, like, 10 seconds later. Ernest had been shot in the head.
“I didn’t know what to do. We were together since grammar school. We used to always be at his house every day after school.”
This summer, Crowder, who owns Bucktown Maid Service, gave Macksantino his first job. His cousin’s death was a wakeup call for the teenager, Crowder says.
“We asked them to stop going over there,” he says. “We told them we’re doing all this for a reason.”
This wasn’t the first time the boys had been shot at. On Super Bowl Sunday, they were hanging out with friends and family when someone walked up and started shooting.
“There were a lot of girls on the porch,” says Macksantino’s brother, Cipriano Webb. “One got shot three times in the leg. Another girl got skinned. A boy got shot. And my cousin got shot in his stomach and both legs.
“It’s gotten worse this year,” the 16-year-old says. “It’s not just us stuff’s happening to. Everybody is in the same situation.”
But pulling teenagers away from home, even temporarily, isn’t easy, Webb says. The third great-nephew who came to the North Side for the summer is a 15-year-old from South Shore. He’s the youngest of three sons. One brother was killed in a gang shooting in November 2014. The other one went to jail last year, says Webb.
“He seems in his own world since his brother’s murder,” he says. “There’s more control when he’s over here, and he doesn’t like that. He knows we care about him. But he’s been off-and-on going back home. That’s what bugs me. His mom is at work. He’s got all this loose time nobody’s supervising. You’re hoping he doesn’t get into trouble or lose his life. I’ve told them: Bullets don’t have any sense of direction.”
Webb’s great-nephews will be back home soon to start school, back to two of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
“I wonder how many other families are doing things like this,” says Crowder. “It shouldn’t have to be like this, just trying to survive a summer.”