Almost two years ago today, a 14-year-old boy named Dajae Coleman was shot dead on Church Street in Evanston, just a few blocks from where I lived. I remember at the time thinking that I probably heard the shots, without knowing it, from my own home. He was a model citizen and star athlete and was an innocent victim that the shooter mistook for someone else, seeking revenge.
In his honor, the Dajae Coleman Foundation was founded, as well as an annual celebration, DaeDae World Weekend. The second annual DaeDae World kicked off today at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center in Evanston.
As a board member of ParentsWork I accompanied Rhonda, my friend and the founder, to today’s evening event where we manned a table for a couple of hours sharing information about our organization along with Evanston Public Library, the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, and several other community organizations. Rhonda is a fearless advocate for working parents’ rights. I was honored to be in her presence and to experience her graciousness and openness to learning about our community members’ needs.
I also met and spoke with Tiffany Rice, Dajae’s mother. What a beautiful, strong woman.
People were having their pictures taken against a DaeDae World back drop. Kids were doing art projects. Boxes and boxes of pizza were delivered and devoured. And in the attached gym, Hip Hop was blasting and kids were rollerskating and line dancing and just hanging out.
Earlier in the day I had mentioned to my ex-husband, who had the kids today and this evening, that it might be a fun event for them to attend. The kids could say ‘hi’ to me, do some crafts, see me volunteering for a good cause, and experience their community in a new way.
Dajae’s community looks very different than the one my kids are used to.
I feel incredibly blessed to be able to send my children to a private Montessori school. I am a strong believer in Montessori teaching methods, and it has done wonders for my children and will continue to do so. The school does its best to maintain a diverse school body, both culturally and economically. But DaeDae World looked different. The crowd was 99% African-American.
My children are naturally shy, but holding their father’s hands they waltzed right in and asked curiously what it was all about. Their dad and I had a brief exchange on whether we should tell them the reason behind this awesome gathering, and we quickly decided against it. But I was torn.
My seven-and-a-half-year-old daughter is incredibly curious and demands explanations for pretty much everything in life. She wanted to know more. So I told her that all these people came together to celebrate the life of a boy named DaeDae. “Is DaeDae here?” she asked. “No, hon’. DaeDae was in an accident a few years ago and died, but his family organized this big party that happens every year to honor his life.”
She sucked on the lollipop she got from the Evanston Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition table, and nodded.
The kids were fascinated by the dancing and rollerskating going on. To my surprise, one of my sons volunteered to try rollerskating for the very first time. His dad borrowed skates for the two of them and off they stumbled, together. What a sight.
I happen to be a passionate former amateur dancer, most recently of Hip Hop, so this was my kind of music. I held on to my daughter and swayed with her while she shyly watched the crowd. I could feel how the scene was drawing her in. She started asking if she could roller-skate, but “somewhere else,” “where there weren’t only dark-skinned people.” I asked her what difference it made if there were lots of dark-skinned or light-skinned people.
She said, “I know, there isn’t one—but I just don’t feel like I belong out there.”
Bam. I was speechless. Blown away by her self-awareness and the simplicity and beauty and irony of what she had just expressed.
I wanted to say, “That is how they feel every day, honey.” In time. This evening will undoubtedly help lay the foundation for her to develop that understanding.
She will develop fearless tolerance.
A few minutes later, she snuck up to my ear and said, “Mommy, I really like Hip Hop music. But don’t tell anyone.”
“Do you have some, mommy?”
Wah! I wanted to yell it from the mountains! I told her of course I do! I love it! And I used to dance Hip Hop, I told her, even performed on STAGE once! She smiled.
The kids got tired and it was time to say goodbye. As if all of the evening’s emotions weren’t enough, I also had to watch my children leave without me. But I will see them again tomorrow morning when I pick them up for my parenting time.
Tiffany Rice will never have another “tomorrow morning” with her son.
As I drove home and entered my quiet apartment, I felt stunned and overwhelmed by what I had just witnessed. Layers upon layers of teachable moments. Graciousness and gratitude and community and family. And fearlessness, on so many fronts.