In honor of Ed Brown and those who loved him...
Ed Brown died early this week from a gunshot wound to the head. The story of his death has been all over the news. He was 25 years old. Stories about 25-year-old black men dying in Chicago are rarely big news. They are footnotes at the end of news segments about the weather, sports, and politics. Brown made news because he was a good boxer. It sounds like he was a tremendous boxer. It sounds like one day, he might have been fighting prime-time and the biography box would say, Chicago in the spot where it lists his hometown. The Tribune wrote this piece almost exclusively about his boxing. Maybe that’s fitting. If I were shot, I guess I’d want people to write about what I was good at.
I’ve been volunteering at Breakthrough Urban Ministries this fall. I take the green line from Ashland to Kedzie and walk the few blocks to the family-plex every Monday. I get off the train, pause the podcast I’ve been listening to, and look out for kids that I recognize. Kids from ages 5 to 18 are walking home from school; or to Seven-Eleven or to Breakthrough or wherever they go after school. Occasionally I see a few students I recognize, but I rarely know their names.
“You go to Breakthrough!?” the younger ones say excitedly.
I put my jacket behind the front desk and head into the gym where there are 40 or so kids full out sprinting in no conceivable pattern. I find a basketball and head towards Trevon, a third grader with long dreads who loves basketball and hates authority. Basketball is safe for me. I’m a 6’1” bald white guy, but I can play a little…enough to impress Trevon at least. “One on one,” he says and rolls the ball at my feet. I check it back to him.
“How was school?” I ask as he dribbles by me and misses a layup.
“It was aight,” he tells me. I miss a three pointer. That’s all the talking we do.
The kids tumble out of the gym to cafeteria tables where they find seats and wait impatiently to be dismissed for dinner. I sit next to Michael and Jonathan because without basketball, I’ve got nothing on Trevon. Michael and Jonathan seem to like me a little bit.
“Why you got a bald head?” Michael asks me.
“Yea, you a bald head!” Jonathan joins in.
“Baldhead, baldhead!” Michael chants.
The kids at the table laugh. They ask me every week why I am bald, and somehow it turns into a chant every week. Life as a 3rd grader must be brutal. Some weeks I tell them I watched to much TV as a kid and it caused early onset balding. Other weeks, I say that Lebron and MJ are bald too, so I’m in good company. Today, I can’t think of a witty response so I just give it to ‘em straight, “I don’t know, man. Maybe one day you’ll be bald too.”
This week feels a little different at Breakthrough. On Saturday, I got an email asking our church to pray for Ed Brown who was in critical condition from a gunshot wound. On Monday morning, I got an email saying he didn’t make it.
Before Ed died, he was a kid at Breakthrough. Before he was a victim of gun violence, before he was an undefeated boxer, or even put on gloves, he was a kid at Breakthrough shooting hoops. I didn’t know him from Adam, but on this afternoon, I cannot help but picture him, years earlier as a kid growing up in Garfield Park.
A group of second graders in the corner are doing the “running man” to Juju On That Beat. These kids are going to be undefeated boxers, parents, spouses, architects, some will drop out of high school, others will graduate at the top of their classes. But today, they are just trying to be kids-doing the running man as best as they can. Ed Brown was one of those kids doing the running man, and being here with these kids-learning their names and playing a little one on one is the only way I know to honor Ed’s life.
I’m over here at Breakthrough once a week for a couple hours. It isn’t much. I’m not 20 years in like some of the staff at Breakthrough. I’m not a lifetime in, like the many good people who have committed their entire lives to Garfield Park. But I know Trevon’s name when I see him. Maybe that makes a difference. Whose to know?
I don’t have the answer. I can’t lengthen Trevon’s childhood or prevent the world from being a cold place. But I do have two and half hours on Monday afternoon, and so that’s what I give. And maybe the key to less gun violence and more “running man” is that each of us gives what we have.