“My nephew was smarter than 10 Obamas,” said the Rev. Wallace W. Sykes during a Sunday sermon preached from the pulpit of the Second Baptist Church, 436 S. 13th Ave.
Sykes is among the relatives and community members remembering James K. Graham, 43, (pictured left), who was killed on Friday, Oct. 23.
Graham, who lived in Lombard, was the scion of the Sykes family — a notable, sprawling Maywood family of entrepreneurs and clergy members. His mother, Addie Sykes, was one of 13 brothers and sisters who migrated here from Mississippi — Rev. Sykes, 92, one of Maywood’s oldest pastors, among them.
Graham grew up in the prominent church his uncle has pastored for roughly half a century. After service on Sunday, parishioners remembered the man they called “Kenny” and who was widely admired for his smarts and his quiet generosity.
“He was always a person who helped other people. He really did,” said Patricia Whitty, who lives across from the house in Maywood where Graham grew up and where he lived for a time with his mother.
“He loved to cook and barbecue,” said Gail Walker, whose son attended Irving Elementary and was in the same graduating class at Proviso East High School with Graham.
“They just had their class reunion over the summer. [Some of his classmates] didn’t think he was going to attend, but he came and he had a good time.”
Those memories of Graham clash with the gruesome and sudden manner of his death, which has jolted many who knew him closely.
According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, Graham was shot in the head in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood on Friday at around 8:45 PM. He was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 9:27 PM. So far, police have no one in custody.
“I don’t see him as a person who was in the streets or into drugs or anything like that. He wasn’t that kind of guy. He was a very smart dude,” said Steve Mabins, a member of Second Baptist Church who also went to high school with Graham.
“He was very intelligent. He had his pilot’s license. He was a businessman,” said Rev. Edward Howard, Graham’s cousin and a minister at the church, noting that some of the details of Graham’s murder are nonetheless concerning.
“It seems to be random, but in my heart …” Howard said during an interview Sunday at his church. Then he pulled out his cell phone to listen to the last voice message Graham had sent him before his death.
Howard said he called Graham back. The last conversation they had was Friday at 4:13 PM, several hours before Graham’s death. They had agreed to meet Sunday after church.
“He told me, ‘Cuz, can we set it up for some other time? I have to go to the city to meet my guy,’’ Howard said. “We were supposed to meet up right now. I was supposed to meet him now.” VFP
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