This is the tale of two sets of teenage boys. Both sets of boys had dreams. One set of boys dreams never came to fruition. The other set of boys lived their dreams.
The first set of boys starred in the 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams. It was screened last Friday night at the Better Boys Foundation in honor of the 15th anniversary of the film’s release. If you’ve forgotten about that documentary, let me refresh your memory. Hoop Dreams followed the high school lives of William Gates and Arthur Agee, from their freshman year at St. Joseph High School in Westchester through the start of their college years. The film covered their matriculation through high school in their quest to one day become NBA superstars.
This was the second time I had seen the film. The documentary is still powerful in how it shows how elusive their dreams were. In retrospect, there were tons of warning signs in their lives. As each boy struggled to navigate between the roughness of their home neighborhoods and the stringent academic environment of their predominately-white, middle class high school, a recipe for failure was brewing. Both boys lacked a strong support system at home to assist them in their academic, emotional and financial needs. Other incidences that played into their inability to break out of their circumstances included William injuring his knee; meanwhile, Arthur’s family struggled financially as his father lost a number of jobs. His dad later started using illegal drugs.
So, it was a pleasure and a joy to see that since the film’s release in 1994, both Arthur and William were in attendance at the screening to speak to us. Their personal hoop dream was a failure, but they were amongst us, still living and breathing.
That led me to think of the other set of boys who had been living their dreams. Tyrone Williams, 19, and Percy Day, 17, were two cousins whose names don’t readily and easily roll off the lips of many people. They weren’t famous to anyone outside of their immediate families. Tyrone attended the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. Percy was enrolled in a special program that allowed him to get his associate degree through DeVry University while still in high school. They were good kids who respected others. They worked hard and were both happily in pursuit of their educational dreams. But on the evening of Sept. 25, 2009, someone walked up to them as they sat on Percy’s grandmother’s front porch and sprayed the house with bullets. Both Tyrone and Percy were executed. Their tragic deaths became a side note to that weekend’s violence because so much media emphasis was on the taped beating death of Derrion Albert the day before.
Whoever sprayed the 3700 block of West Polk with bullets that Friday night shortly after 9 p.m. didn’t care who was hit. Bullets flew so wildly that an elderly woman sitting in an apartment across the street was hit in the shoulder by one. Even worst; another elderly next door neighbor who helped raise the two young men suffered a massive heart attack after learning they had been killed. She died the following morning.
The family of Tyrone and Percy was left to ask the question: why? Why did someone shoot and kill them? Why did the front porch of the family home have to become the blood-stained, eternal memorial to their slaughter? Why can’t their murder be solved the same as it has been for Derrion Albert? Why can’t they get the same type of press and response from the community as did Natasha Howliet – the young mother shot and killed at a West Side bus stop two weeks ago? Many in the community gave information to the police, helping to identify the two persons charged in her death. Can we get some similar people to come forward and tell the police who’s responsible for killing Tyrone and Percy?
If burying a single member of a family is tragic, imagine the pain of having to hold two funerals at the same time and on the same day for the senseless murders.
We as a community, and as a society, need to take a stand against all the negative forces preventing our young people from attaining their dreams. Those forces are the ones that continue to wreck havoc in our neighborhoods. And far too often, they are the criminal members of our own families. We tolerate them, ignore them and, at times, encourage them to continue to do what they do.
So here’s the same advice to you that my mother gave to all her children – participate in criminal activity and she would always know where to find us on visiting day.
And we will continue to talk about these murders every Sunday night on WRLL 1450 AM radio from 10 p.m. until midnight on the Garfield Majors Show until their killers are found.