Workers at Burr Oak Cemetery desecrated the dead; among them were Emmett Till and other victims of violence. At Forest Home Cemetery, workers give dignity to the dead and comfort to those that ache for them.
On June 27, they gave of themselves even more by dedicating a memorial to victims of violence.
Rita Sallie, who faithfully visits the grave of her daughter, Schanna Gayden, every Saturday, prompted the cemetery's generosity. The murder of Rita's innocent daughter moved Barbara Karidis and cemetery manager Jim Peters. They thought there should be a garden for crime victims like Schanna.
Barbara designed a granite bench, with figures of children in a circle of love. Jim wrote the dedication: "In memory of all the loved ones who have been lost to violent crime." It was placed over Schanna's grave. Another cemetery worker, Arzaius Landers, a father himself, composed the inscription: "Where there is faith, there is love. Where there is God, there is no need for violence."
Violence struck Schanna on June 25, 2007. Rita had just come home from work and handed her 13-year-old daughter money to buy a snack. It was 6:30 p.m., still daylight. Schanna went to buy a slice of watermelon. While she was crossing through a neighborhood park, a gang member's bullet struck her in the head. Schanna fought hard but died the next day.
Rita was paralyzed by grief, so others made the funeral arrangements for her. Her only request was that they find a cemetery near public transportation, because Rita doesn't own a car. They chose Forest Home. The cemetery donated Schanna's headstone, as well as the bench. Barbara and Arzaius also purchased the plants and a tree for Schanna's garden.
The ceremony dedicating the memorial was held in the chapel. Scores of grief stricken parents attended, as well as police and prosecutors. Three ministers spoke but their eloquence could not match the testimonies given by mothers and fathers of murdered children.
Standing behind the tear-stained podium, Rita spoke last. She talked about the little girl whom she misses so terribly. She remembered how Schanna would say, "Oh mom, guess what?" and how she would sit back and relax and listen. Now Rita would never hear her excited chatter again. She spoke of how Schanna wouldn't stay home from school even if she had asthma, because she might miss something she was supposed to learn. She was proud that Schanna and her sweet smile enchanted the local shopkeepers and neighbors.
Rita is not alone in her grief. So many children have lost their lives over nothing. Forest Park is not immune to senseless shootings. But there's a new approach to stopping gang violence that might save children like Schanna. For now, blessed are the peacemakers and blessed are Rita, Schanna and the folks at Forest Home Cemetery.