Candice Redmond was fighting something as she struggled through her remarks during the April 15 funeral service for her first-born nephew, Byron McKinney Jr. McKinney, 24, was killed in an April 7 drive-by shooting that happened on the corner of Central Avenue and West Corcoran Place at around 1:30 p.m. Five other people, all bystanders, were injured.
Redmond reminisced on the young man who was nicknamed BJ or Lil B-Y by those who knew him. According to his obituary, McKinney was the “first baby boy on Van Buren where everyone would pick him up and buy him things.”
McKinney was born on September 30, 1992 to Charlene Redmond and Byron McKinney Sr. As a 2-year-old, the younger McKinney was infatuated with the Lion King. Each time he would watch the movie, he would corral all the adults in the house so that they could watch and sing songs along with him.
“BJ was loved by many,” Candice said during the Saturday service, which was held at Home of Life M.B. Church, 4650 W. Madison Street. “When BJ started going to school, my sister wanted nothing but the best. She sent him to [Les Finch] … My sister paid out of pocket for her child to get a decent education. As BJ got older, we continued to groom him, to teach him right from wrong.”
Her sister, Candice said, had done a “great job, an awesome job” raising McKinney. At 16-years-old, Charlene held down two jobs to support her son, who was doted on by a whole block of adults, Candice among them.
“I was the strong auntie,” Candice said. “I was the auntie that, when you disrespected me, I would show you tough love. Every Christmas, I was the good auntie because we tried to give our kids the best, the best we didn’t have. I would go all out of my way. I didn’t care how much I spent on those kids. As long as they made us happy, we made them happy.”
Candice would later present her sister and McKinney’s father with plaques bearing aphorisms. A king and a queen “will always turn pain into power.”
But all of that love and support, it seemed, was not enough to keep the city’s influence and its deadliness at bay. A cousin of McKinney told the Chicago Tribune that the young man may have been murdered over a conflict that originated on Facebook.
“[BJ] knew right from wrong but as he got older he had to take the world as a man,” Candice said. “He had to make his own decisions. We didn’t like the decisions that he made but my sister wasn’t giving up on her child. She refused to let the devil have him.”
During her comments, Candice spoke directly to some of her nephews who BJ “leaves to cherish.” They are boys on the cusp of becoming men. They sat with family members at the front of the cavernous sanctuary, which was filled nearly to capacity with several hundred mourners.
“We done been through two tragic losses,” she told the young men. “When we tell you right from wrong, listen to us. We know what we talking about … There’s too many of our babies dying. Dying. I get on Facebook and I see this person’s nephew dying, this person’s grandchild dying. It just hurts. It hurts. It hurts.”
Candice then urged all of the clergy in attendance to pray for everyone at the funeral who was under 30 years old, especially her nephews.
“I just needed to get this spirit off me,” she said. “Please, talk to my nephews.”
The clergymen directed the young people to start walking toward the front of the church, near McKinney’s casket.
“We ask y’all to excuse us for a moment,” said one pastor, before praying. “This is a dying world and it’s looking to take our young people with it. While we’re up in our comfortable homes and cars, laid up in our comfortable beds, these young people are out here fighting a battle that we know nothing about … We gonna pray until the heavens come down.”
And so a funeral turned into an impromptu revival that climaxed with an altar call. At least eight people ended up reciting the Sinner’s Prayer before a wave of applause and shouts descended on the mourners.
“I feel a lot better,” Candice said after the sinners, now saved, had taken their seats. It wasn’t clear whether or not any of her nephews were among those who walked to the altar seeking salvation. What was clearer was that she had shaken the spirit that had been haunting her — at least for the moment.