Saturday, September 9, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Feature image: Michael Jones, 14, who was murdered in Maywood last month. | Photo from Jones’ obituary
After 14-year-old Michael Israel Jones was fatally shot on the afternoon of Aug. 30 while walking in the 600 block of 11th Ave. in Maywood, many community members were perplexed.
Those who knew the teenager recalled that they couldn’t fathom that he would be involved in a gang or in some kind of street conflict. Despite his size, Jones wasn’t the tough or aggressive type. He was always smiling. One person described him as a “big teddy bear.”
“I first met Michael when he was a little boy,” recalled Rev. Carl Smith, a minister at Progressive Life Giving Word Cathedral in Hillside, where Jones attended with his adopted mother, Betty Jones, and his big sister, Tiara Hall.
“He was never really little; he was a baby,” Smith said during Jones’ funeral, held Saturday, Sept. 9 at Rock of Ages Baptist Church in Maywood. “I used to call him a gentle giant. He was a tender, big guy.”
When Betty Jones needed reinforcements to help discipline her son, she had support in the church, particularly in men like Smith.
“When Michael would kind of get out of pocket, Betty would say, ‘I need you to talk to Michael,'” Smith recalled. “Michael would never disrespect me every time I came to talk to him.”
Hall described her brother as a “kind and sweet” kid who dreamed of playing in the NFL, winning a Super Bowl and supporting his family. Jones was a multiple sport athlete who, in addition to football, played basketball. He was also a Boy Scout, according to his obituary.
“I want this to affect the kids in this room so much that it changes how they act and move,” she told the somber audience of at least 200 hundred mourners, many of them teenagers who knew Jones and who were as puzzled by his death as the adults — even if they couldn’t quite put the pain into words.
“My heart is broken,” said Jones’ eulogist, Michael Allen. “The death of this young man is like a thorn, like a pain in my side. My emotions are all twisted.”
Allen and others who spoke during the Saturday afternoon service also urged those among the youthful assembly to, “Let God handle those who did this.”
“Many of you are angry and some folks want revenge,” said Apostle Donald L. Alford, Progressive’s pastor.
“Jesus was hanging on the cross. Folks did him wrong. I mean did him wrong … In the midst of his pain and suffering, he said, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.'”
Community members said Michael Jones, second from left, was a “gentle giant.” | Photo from Jones’ obituary
Hours after his funeral, Phyllis Duncan, whose own son, 21-year-old Dodavah Duncan, was murdered in 2005, couldn’t help but invoke Jones’ death during her remarks at an annual Fred Hampton Scholarship ceremony, held outside of the Fred Hampton Aquatic Center on 3rd Ave. and Fred Hampton Way in Maywood.
For nearly 50 years, Bill Hampton, the older brother of the Black Panther leader who was killed by the police in 1969, has been awarding scholarships in honor of Fred to law students.
“I went today to the funeral of a 14-year-old boy,” said Duncan, who founded a group called Mothers of Murdered Sons (MOMS) after Dodavah’s death. “Fourteen years old. He didn’t even get a chance to start his first year as a high school student. As the mother of a murdered son, it’s not something I would want any family to have to feel.”
Duncan urged the scholarship recipients to return to the communities where they grew up and went to school, so that they could “represent the young men and women who are sometimes not represented in the court system.”
For her part, Duncan organized a vigil on the Friday after Jones’ death. She said it was sparsely attended, so she intends to organize another one several weeks from now. She’s also been canvassing Maywood, seeking information into Jones’ death.
“I spoke to those young people at the funeral and they said, ‘Michael was a sweetie pie,'” Duncan said. “They do not know why someone would kill that boy. Everyone I talked to said he was a sweetheart, he was a gentle bear, he was always smiling. Not one person I talked to said that young man had any problems.”
On Aug. 31, when Jones succumbed to his injuries at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Rev. Regi Ratliff, the founder of Eternal Light Community Center in Maywood, posted to Facebook to mourn Jones, who he described as one of his program’s “star members” and a “young man trying to find his way.”
Asked Saturday afternoon if their were any motives for the shooting, Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley said that detectives were still investigating the homicide. He added that, in particular, they’ve been examining surveillance footage from cameras positioned near Washington Dual Language Academy, located at 1111 Washington Blvd., just blocks from where Jones was killed, and Conner-Heise Memorial Park, at the corner of 11th Ave. and Washington Blvd.
Some residents in the area at the time of the shooting say that two men got out of a red car, talked briefly with Jones and started shooting. Talley said that police recovered what appeared to be the suspects’ car, but that so far no one is in custody.
Rev. Anthony Pellegrino stood with his head bowed in the concrete playground of Lexington Elementary School, 415 Lexington St. in Maywood, which closed in 2015.
The pastor prayed for light to come in a village of darkness before pivoting in a more optimistic direction.
“This is already a village of light,” said Pellegrino, whose church, Impact Ministries, will hold its first service on Oct. 1 inside of Washington school.
Pellegrino was among a few hundred people at an event, called Voices at the Table, hosted by the nonprofit Proviso Partners for Health (PP4H) and that started around the same time that Jones’ funeral began.
“What happened to Michael broke my heart this week,” said state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th), who attended the event. Welch said that there are programs to address the surge of violence in communities like Maywood (Jones’ death was the village’s ninth homicide this year, Talley said), but that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner won’t allow the funds for those programs to be appropriated.
“Even though we’ve passed a budget and have funded things like the Teen Reach program, and youth employment and anti-violence initiatives — we’ve funded those things — but we have a governor who is refusing to fund the budget as appropriated by the General Assembly,” Welch said. “He has specifically targeted items that would help communities like Maywood. The state can help but we need the governor to release the money, so the police can have youth employment dollars.”
Gabriel Lira, the director of St. Eulalia’s Quinn Center, where Eternal Light is housed, said that there aren’t enough spaces being utilized where community members can “talk about a range of issues” affecting Maywood.
“The kids feel alone and by themselves,” Lira said. “We’re not integrating adults and seniors together in events. We need more community gatherings for kids to feel like they’re not alone.”
Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins, who attended the Lexington gathering as well as Jones’ funeral earlier in the day, also pined for solutions to address the gun violence, musing about a program within the police department, long defunct, that once paired older officers with young people.
“We gotta do something,” Perkins said. “We have to let kids know that they’re important and have self-worth. We’re losing too many kids. One is too many.” VFP