Last Friday, Jan 8, would have been Alice Norris's daughter's 31st birthday.
Norris, a West Side native who now lives in Oak Park, still has a vivid memory of what happened to her daughter, Rolanda LaKesia Marshall, 16 years ago.
Kesia (pronounced KEY-SHUH), as family and friends called her, was inside the Beefee Restaurant on Lockwood and North Avenue with a friend the evening of Aug. 28, 1993 when she became the unintended victim of a gang-related drive-by shooting. Bullets sprayed the inside of the restaurant, one lodging inside Kesia's brain. She died days later while in a coma. Her mom decided to take her off life support after doctors told her Kesia likely would never recover. She was 14 years old.
Her friend was unharmed.
Norris said a teen male, who was also inside the restaurant, was the intended target. He was trying to talk to her daughter at the time of the shooting, Norris recalled. The teen male was also hit, but recovered from the shooting.
Norris said she doesn't normally celebrate her late daughter's birthday but decided to go to dinner last Friday with her other two daughters, at their insistence. Norris said the family used to hold Kesia's birthday parties in July because it was usually too cold to do so in January.
Kesia was the middle child, a straight-A student who liked to sing and perform in school plays. She, like her older sister Cherese and younger sister, Shanett, were all "brainiacs," Norris said.
While the case has never been solved, Norris, an optimist by nature, still has hope that her daughter's killer or killers will be brought to justice. Or will finally step forward to take responsibility after years of a guilty conscious. Norris moved to the suburbs a couple of years after her daughter's death. Her youngest was about to start high school and Norris didn't want her to have to be afraid of where she lived.
Norris hasn't seen much that's changed in her West Side neighborhood. Kids are still killing kids, she said. And the killers are still being protected within the community by some, she insisted. That's one of her messages today as an advocate against gun violence - that people need to come forward with information about the perpetrators of these crimes.
"Nobody's talking. It's still going on because the community is shielding these people," said Norris, who became an activist as a result of her daughter's death. "It's been 17 years. Just think if this were another race coming in and killing our children, people would be outraged. But when the community is doing the killing, it's like the community shuts down."
Norris, who lived with her daughters and husband, Andrew, in West Garfield Park before moving to Austin, recalled receiving support from some of her neighbors following her daughter's death but from few others in the community. Kesia was the 46th child under the age of 14 that died in the city of Chicago in 1993. The stunned reaction to those deaths mirrors that of today and what's occurred within the last year concerning children who were victims of street violence.
Kesia and her family were part of the Chicago Tribune's series Killing our Children, which chronicled that year's violence against kids. National media also did stories about Kesia's death and those of other Chicago victims. Norris described it as living in a war zone- it's still like that today, she said.
Her other message concerning the violence is to parents- that they monitor everything their child does while instilling structure and boundaries in their lives.
"I told my children, they have one job-go to school, get an education and do your chores. My job, and your dad's job, is to make sure you have clothes to where, food, a roof over your head; all the things you need to help you be what you want to be," Norris said.
She also took her daughters outside their community, to dinner at upscale restaurants and on family trips on New Year's at nice hotels. Norris stressed that she wanted her girls to see and experience different things. She continued those outings after Kesia's death. But Norris admits also being strict with her girls, the way her mother was with her. There was nothing about her girls' lives and whereabouts that Norris wasn't on top of.
"I follow my mother's advice. She told me, 'You need to keep your hands on your kids.'"
Norris recalled that Kesia was interested in a lot of things but had decided on becoming a teacher shortly before her death. She was an honor's student and had recently taken part in a scholarship program at the DuSable Museum of African American History on the South Side. She learned about slavery and other aspects of black history. Norris said teaching came naturally to her daughter. When family would come over to the house with their little ones, Kesia would take the kids in another room and do activities with them.
Her husband Andrew, Kesia's step-dad, died in 2003 from a heart attack. And in 2007, Norris was diagnosed with breast cancer and took a year off to recover. She said she's healthy and ready to restart her advocacy. Norris also believes that many street crimes, including her daughter's, can be solved if more people step forward. But, she adds, it has to start with the parents.
To that end, Norris started a support group for parents who have lost children to gun violence. She also speaks to groups and has lobbied in Washington and in Springfield for sensible gun laws. She also talks to teens who perpetrate crimes, like those detained at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center in North Lawndale.
"They need to be more diligent in knowing what their kids are doing, and more hands-on," Norris said. "But when their child is involved, it's like they're in denial - 'It's not my child.' Well, whose child is it? It's your child killing my child."
I am still wondering when are we as a people will have some righteous indignation about the constantly killings of our youth by other kids. Come on people of Chicago: what will it take for you to get really fed up? Will it be when you lose your son or daughter that you will finally feel that this must be stopped?
I just read the column by Janet Jackson [We are losing our children to senseless killings, Aug. 27, 2009] over the loss of her son, Paris Jackson, by some 15-year-old young man that I guess was trying to prove something. What will it take for the parents of these youth who are doing the killings to finally do something with their children before they become killers? Like Ms. Jackson says, everybody loses in these situations. She lost her precious son and now have a pain in her heart that will never go away. The parents of her son's shooter has lost a son to the criminal justice system.
I speak from my heart having lost my beautiful precious daughter Rolanda LaKesia Marshall at the age of 14 in 1993 in a drive by shooting on North Avenue and Lockwood inside the Beefee restaurant. To this day, no one has been charged. People in my neighborhood at the time did not speak up and help with information as to what they saw - one way or the other. So, you see, this is being repeated over and over again. I still ask: how many more people - and Lord, our precious children - have to die. As a mother who lost a child to this senseless gun violence; they say it was maybe over a drug war.
Can some please tell me why dugs are still a problem since there has been a war on drugs for well over 40 years in this country? So you are telling me that this great city and country of ours can't stop this chaos and mayhem plaguing our city and country? Will it ever stop? Or will we continue to say, "Oh, it can't be stopped in the 'hood.'"
Don't you see that we as a people have to determine what we will accept in our neighborhood, because losing a child to violence should never be accepted by society?
When my daughter Rolanda was killed I spoke out about gun violence, and the easy accessibility of guns to youth. And for common sense gun laws; there have been some strides made in these areas but it is not enough. Because the youth are having guns put in their hands and told to use them by adults. I said at the time of my loss that there was a silence in my community. There were no witnesses that came forward with any information about my daughter's killing. I am now asking for someone from that neighborhood to say who killed my 14-year-(young) daughter on Aug. 28, 1993 while she was sitting inside the restaurant. They fired at lest 14 round of bullets into that restaurant window.
When I got to the scene, all I could see were bullet casings lying on the ground. One bullet struck my daughter Rolanda in the head. It tore across her brain, severing her brain stem, thus killing her instantly. We had her on life support; she never regained consciousness. After nine days I had to remove her from life support. It was one of the hardest things in my life that I will ever do. I don't wish for any parent to have to bury their child; it's just out of order with the sequence of our life. But I will tell you: having your child shot to death adds another dimension to your grieving process, and I know it leaves a hole in your heart that never heals.
My daughter Rolanda was an excellent student, almost straight-A's for 8 years at Portage Park School, where she received many awards of excellent attendance and grades. She was in a gifted program at the Dusable Museum of African American History. Rolanda had attended the University of Illinois at Chicago in their scholar's program, and also Northeastern University in their gifted program. She was a writer, poet, teacher, cook, a dancer and a singer. She was just a good and decent human being.
All her teachers, friends and relatives had nothing but high praises for my beloved Rolanda. I only have good fond memories of our beloved daughter. She was a true joy to us and still is a great loss to us. Jan. 8, 2010 would have been her 31st birthday. We celebrate her life and keep her memory alive by assisting other families impacted by gun violence through our support group.
Please, our Austin Weekly family and the North Austin community, if you have information about my daughter's killing, it's time you came forward and let someone know who killed her.