Oct 4: Public group therapy session helps community grieve

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Evanston mom Tanasha Slaton left the violent streets where she grew up in the South Side of Chicago to raise her children in the safety of Evanston’s picturesque tree-lined streets, but after the recent shooting of 14-year-old Dajae Coleman that feeling of safety has diminished.

Slaton was one of a panel of nine parents, students and mentors who gathered in front of a crowd of more than 100 community members the night of Oct. 1 at the McGaw YMCA for a group public-therapy session to discuss how the alleged murder of a good kid like Coleman could happen in the seemingly safe community.

“It breaks my heart because I brought my kids here from the South Side to be safe,” Slaton said. “Here’s a kid who wasn’t doing anything wrong and now he’s gone — how do you explain that to your own kids?”

Coleman, a popular freshman at Evanston Township High School, was shot to death during what Evanston police said was a case of mistaken identity as he walked home from a party with a group of people Sept. 22 on the 1500 block of Church Street. Wesley Woodson, a 20-year-old Evanston man and alleged gang member, was charged last week with Coleman’s murder.

“Every week something like this is going on in Chicago but we didn’t think it would happen in Evanston,” parent Leslie Robinson said. “It’s hard to know that Dajae chose the right route but still lost his life because his killer chose the wrong route.”

Though the shooting happened nearly two weeks ago the wounds Coleman’s death has left on the community are far from healed.

“Many of us spent the last 10 days grieving, and our hope is that sharing the pain we feel and our experiences dealing with that pain will help heal all of us,” said Seth Green, executive director of Evanston’s Youth Organizations Umbrella. “We have to remember that these incidents continue to live in our minds and cause trauma.”

Friends of Coleman painted the picture of a happy, well-mannered and respectful teenager who stayed out of trouble. He was an active mentor to young basketball players and planned on playing for the freshman basketball team at ETHS.

Speakers on the panel agreed that Coleman’s death has left a sense of hopelessness in the community, and that something needs to be done to reach out and mentor at-risk youth before they pick up a gun.

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s question of how accessible guns are to teenagers was met with a disparaging response from Evanston youth mentor Charles Jefferson, of Chicago, who said weapons are easy to get on the streets.

“Where I grew up, you see these types of things on a daily basis,” Jefferson said. “When I found out the (alleged) shooter was a former classmate of mine, I was shocked, but the truth is that it’s easy for gangbangers to get their hands on guns in the black market.”

In an effort to provide positive role models to misguided teens who are at-risk for violence, the Youth Organizations Umbrella of Evanston (Y.O.U.) is looking for adults to volunteer an hour or more of their time each week to participate in arts, culture, sports and recreation, academic enrichment, and life-skills building activities with mentees.

Evanston Y.O.U. serves as many as 600 Evanston youths annually through out-of-school time programming at five community-based sites. For more information on how to get involved go to http://www.youevanston.org/.

On Sept. 21 the Evanston Y.O.U. received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to fund a street-outreach program geared toward engaging disconnected youths by connecting them with mentors, education and employment.

The grant will be dispersed at an annual amount of $166,500 for three years. Green said Y.O.U. will share the resources with the city of Evanston, the Youth Job Center, and the YWCA Evanston/North Shore to implement the programs.

Originally published in the Evanston Review.

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