Tuesday

December 11th, 2018

Life

Courage, kindness two years after 12-year-old black boy was shot in Chicago

Mary Schmich

By Mary Schmich

Published August 9,2018

Courage, kindness two years after 12-year-old black boy was shot in Chicago
	
	Tavon Tanner and his mother Melanie Washington at home. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune

Tanner walked outside, onto his front porch and into the summer morning.

"See?" he said.

It was Tuesday, the heat just beginning to rise, and he looked out toward the bungalows, the flowers and the clean sidewalks.

"The neighborhood is quiet here. You can hear the birds."

No sirens, no shouting, no loud music, no gunshots.

No fear.

The scariest thing in this neighborhood is the rabbits.

Except for the fact that it's an old, wooden porch, up a flight of stairs, Tavon's front porch on the Northwest Side is nothing like the porch where he was shot on a summer night two years ago.

Aug. 8, 2016. It was a Monday. Warm. On West Polk Street on Chicago's West Side, everybody was out.

When the shots came from out of nowhere, aimed at who knows whom, a bullet hit Tavon near the base of his spine. He spent weeks in the hospital, where for a while it was uncertain whether he would live.

He survived, and last year, on the first anniversary of the shooting, his family was inspired to throw an anniversary celebration. This year, he said he didn't want a party, but wouldn't mind getting some new video games.

"It don't hold me back no more," he said. "I don't like to go back in the past no more. I like to go forward."

We were sitting at a card table in the living room of the two-story rented house where Tavon lives with his twin sister, an older sister, a younger brother and his mother, Mellanie Washington.

They got the house with the help of a Denver man who heard about Tavon on the news and was troubled by Washington's difficulty finding a safe place, away from the violence of the West and South sides, that would accept her Section 8 housing subsidy.

The man gave her a car, too, a 1994 white Lexus, so she could drive her kids around and wouldn't have to spend so many hours getting to and from her job at a Niles nursing home.

In some ways, Tavon's life, and his family's, is better than before the shooting. The new neighborhood isn't fancy, but it has parks and pools and friendly people of all kinds.

"Some of everything," Washington said, citing Poles, Mexicans, a few other African-Americans.

"And up here they do everything we used to do as a kid," she said, meaning play volleyball, have pogo stick races, jump rope, the kind of old-fashioned recreation she says has vanished from much of the West Side.

As for Tavon, he's 12 now, taller than his mother. The physical damage from the bullet has mostly healed. The long abdominal scar from the surgery after he was shot remains, but his shirt hides it.

"It'll probably disappear, as much as he eats," Washington said. She laughed. "He's gobbling everything."

Tavon buried his head in his hands, but he was smiling.

Sometimes, still, Tavon hesitates before going out on the porch, but he's no longer afraid to be outside alone.

"I can walk to the store by myself now," he said. "No guns around. Don't have to look over your head to make sure nobody's behind you."

Earlier this summer, two Chicago police detectives, who have stayed in touch since the shooting, stopped by with mitts and balls for him and his siblings, and he plays ball out front. Now that his left leg no longer buckles when he jumps, he's back to playing basketball.

"It's like God took my powers away," he said. "Then I started eating a lot and God gave me my powers back."

And yet the shooting remains part of Tavon's life. Damage and danger linger.

Every Thursday, Washington takes the day off from her job to drive him to counseling at Lurie Children's Hospital. Tavon's twin sister, who on the night of the shooting stood over her brother crying, "Twin, don't leave me!" also sees a counselor.

On Tuesday, Tavon smiled easily and talked more freely than he did for a while after he was shot, but he still struggles.

Toward the end of the last school year, his mother said, he was severely depressed.

"He was being bullied," she said.

"Not bullied," Tavon replied. "We was being threatened."

With the help of school officials and the police, that situation seems to have resolved, but school will soon resume and school is in a dangerous neighborhood.

Right after the shooting, Washington moved her family into an aunt's house in West Humboldt Park. She enrolled the kids in a nearby charter school. When they moved north, she considered switching their schools, but decided against it.

The school was good. The kids had friends. They needed some stability.

She valued the fact that the school's staff understood what Tavon has endured. They've helped him catch up on the schoolwork he missed during his eight surgeries. They're helping him this summer. Keeping the kids at that school has another advantage too. In the afternoons, while Washington is still at work, on the 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. shift, they stay at her aunt's until she comes to pick them up.

But in that part of West Humboldt Park, violence is a constant undercurrent. Just last weekend, Washington was at her aunt's for a party with relatives when from the backyard, they heard the chaos on the street.

Four people had been shot on the block, a fact that merited only a few lines in the news reports on another bloody Chicago weekend. She took comfort in the fact that Tavon wasn't there.

"Something told me not to take him over there," Washington said. "He's already been traumatized."

At least 74 people were shot in Chicago last weekend. Twelve died. What happens to the survivors is likely to go unrecorded, but as Tavon's story shows, whatever it is, the effects of the shooting will last a long, long time.

Tavon and his family live 9 miles from where he was shot on that August night two years ago. In some ways it feels like 900.

But even in the new place, violence creeps in. Sitting in their safe home, Tavon and his family watch the news. On the screen, they see places they recognize and people they know. They watch the grieving and the weeping and remember when they were the people on the screen.

"When my mother says, 'Come to the West Side,' I make it snappy," Washington said Tuesday. "It's so crazy. You can look up and in two seconds you're gone."

She was leaning on the porch railing, next to her son, listening to the quiet.

"I love being home."

A while later I emailed the Chicago Police Department to ask about the status of Tavon's case and received this email:

"No offender in custody. The investigation continues."

Previously:


07/26/18: An everyday encounter made brighter by a good question: 'Do you have a story for me?'
06/19/18: A Big Sister's Guide to Life: Don't chase men and other practical advice
06/12/18: For 13 years, 2 friends wrote letters daily. It was a love affair of poetry, separated only by death.
06/01/18: What would we do without our brothers?
05/17/18: Forget a fiddler. City woman awakens to find a goose on her roof --- and laws about removing it and her eggs
05/10/18: A high school senior with college dreams was paralyzed by gunfire. Two years later, he's still pushing forward
04/05/18: Remembering the youngest history makers
04/03/18: The Parable of the (Expletive Deleted) Comfort Dog
02/15/18: Fees, fines, loans, scams: How the poor get poorer
02/01/18: When Paul Simon, Daniel Day-Lewis and Elton John say 'farewell' to work they love, should we too?
01/25/18: At Oscars time, let's snub the snubbing
12/28/17: The real 2017 word of the year
12/20/17: The laundry-folding robots are coming
12/13/17: How not to waste the last days of 2017


Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles