More than 250 people gathered at the McGaw YMCA Monday evening to discuss the recent murder of 14-year-old Dajae Coleman and how his death impacted the Evanston community.
Evanston residents, parents and city staff filled the Children’s Center Auditorium in the YMCA, 1420 Maple Ave..
The forum was hosted by Youth Organizations Umbrella, Family Focus, the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, YWCA Evanston/North Shore and the Youth Job Center in addition to the YMCA.
For the majority of the open forum, a panel of nine community members reflected on the shooting and discussed city-wide effects of the tragedy. Seth Green, executive director of Y.O.U. moderated.
Green announced that Friday evening, the Department of Health and Human Services granted Y.O.U., the city of Evanston, the Youth Jobs Center and the YWCA approximately half a million dollars over three years for community street outreach. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who attended the forum Monday night, encouraged Green to make the announcement.
Schakowsky later introduced the issue of gun control to the forum. Schakowsky, whose granddaughter is a freshman at ETHS, asked about the accessibility of guns in Evanston and its surrounding areas.
In response, Carolyn Murray, co-chair of W.E.S.T. (West Evanston Strategic Team), announced plans for a gun buy-back program, with plans to initiate the program in December. Discussion about a gun buy-back program began in July, but Coleman's death has expedited plans, she said.
The panelists also shared their immediate reactions to the news of Coleman’s death and how the tragedy affected them personally.
Kathy Graves, an Evanston resident and mother, spoke of the fear she felt after learning about Coleman’s death.
“It doesn’t matter how good your child is or what path they’re set on,” she said. “A bullet really doesn’t have a name.”
Graves added that in the case of youth homicide, the victims are not limited to those who have been killed.
“It is the Dae Daes that we’re losing, but it’s also the Wesleys,” Graves added in reference to Wesley Woodson III, an Evanston man who has been arrested and charged with Coleman’s murder.
Another Evanston mother, Tanashua Slaton, said that she had moved her family from the south side of Chicago specifically to avoid the kind of violence that ended Coleman’s life.
“I brought my children here so they could be safe, to escape this,” she said, her voice breaking as she neared tears. “This should not happen. We have to do something.”
Members of the panel also discussed the many programs available to Evanston youth but emphasized the need to reach out to kids who might be making the wrong choices — the ones who are least likely to take advantages of better options. Attendees advocated initiatives to make parents more aware of school-sponsored programs for their children.
The evening concluded with a slam poetry performance by Lamar Jorden, followed by “Change We Need,” a song by ETHS graduate Graig Tertulien.
Those in attendance appeared eager to continue the conversation, starting with Tuesday’s community meeting to discuss anti-violence initiatives, hosted by Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl.
"It takes all of us in Evanston to step up,” Slaton said. “We all have to step up and take on responsibility for our community because this is our community and ultimately these are our children.”