An estimated 1,000 mourners gathered at Living Word Christian Center in Forest Park July 26 to pay respects to Shamiya Adams, the eleven year-old whose life ended after she was struck in the head by a stray bullet in Chicago the week before. Adams had been at her friend's house in East Garfield Park for a sleepover July 19 when she was killed.
Bright green was her favorite color, so her family dispensed with tradition and made sure that the ceremonies were bathed in it--from her casket to the pallbearers' t-shirts to her mother's jeans to the balloons that were released at her gravesite. From the church, her body was carried to Forest Home Cemetery on a white horse-drawn carriage. And as her tragically small coffin made its final descent, the green balloons, along with a group of pure white doves, were put to flight. The regalia was fitting for the young girl her grandmother nicknamed "Queen" and who was described as a model student and sibling by those who knew her best.
"It's so meaningful that we have boys and girls who understand the ethic of service," Gov. Pat Quinn said. Adams was an active volunteer at Melody Elementary, where she went to school. A statement on behalf of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who wasn't in attendance, praised her legacy as one symbolizing "strength, hard work and humility." Alderman Jason Ervin (28th) said that "there will be a void this upcoming school year."
Adams was a voluntary babysitter at her school, where she helped tend to the kindergartners. She had most recently been involved with the Penny Drive, a project designed to raise funds to purchase new books for the school's library. She was also an active member of First Baptist Congregation's youth ministry. Her youth pastor, Rev. Danny Jones, said that Adams's church family would cherish the moments they prayed, talked and laughed with her.
But the reminiscences may have been only bitter consolation for those closest to her--many of whom were still stunned and bewildered by what Rev. Jesse Jackson described as "death without rhyme or reason." Rev. Jackson, who had been in communication with the family prior to the funeral, expressed the shock Adams's mother, Shaneetha Goodloe, experienced upon the death of her daughter. "Shamiya's mother said to me, 'When other people's children are shot, I weep for them. I didn't know mine would be next,'" Jackson said.
"Shaneetha, you've been crying since July 19. God wants you to stop crying," said Adam's cousin, Katina Smith, in a heartfelt plea with Goodloe to hold on to her faith despite the inexplicable circumstances.
Alderman Ervin called on the people of the West Side to summon their better angels so that the family's faith in community would be undergirded by the support it receives in tragedy and not undermined by the tragedy itself. "When the cameras are gone; when the tears are dry [...] this family will still need us," he said.
Despite the uplifting words, however, the frustration and anger was potent; the collective outrage of the roughly 1,000 mourners restrained, but seething just underneath the tears and stone faces of people like Paul Goodloe, Shanitha Adams's grandfather. Goodloe had left the sanctuary during the eulogy, perhaps seeking the kind of solace that words can't provide.
"It's sad the way the City of Chicago is allowing these creeps to go on and shoot at will and take innocent lives," Goodloe said. "They're not discriminating about who they're shooting. Somebody needs to stand up and do something!"
Other mourners, like Aaron McClinton, one of the Adams's pallbearers and a best friend to both of her parents, offered solutions of their own. McClinton said that he would recommend tougher sentencing laws for those who shoot innocent children and a more vigorous police presence in neighborhoods affected most by gun violence.
"I'd put a cop on every corner every day. They got enough of them," McClinton said. "It's just too many kids dying in Chicago. Just yesterday, a boy got killed on California and Harrison--right by where I live. I say upgrade the sentencing for these crimes."
Rev. Jackson admonished those in the community who witness murders and crime, but don't tell what they see, saying that they're "just as guilty as those who pull the trigger." He said that 75 percent of murders aren't solved because people won't tell who committed them.
"Our community must not be a sanctuary to hide killers," he said, urging those gathered to repeat after him. "Most of these murders are not solved, because we've been providing sanctuary," he said, before suggesting that the community also become more actively involved in the fight to rid the streets of the lethal weapons that directly lead to tragically senseless deaths.
"We know where the guns are made [...] If we would march like we mourn, we could stop mourning and just march," he said.
Rev. Oscar Crear, who delivered the eulogy, tried calming the family's frustration with calls for understanding. "Children, God hears you crying," said Crear, who is the pastor the New Tiberia Baptist Church.
"It's alright to be frustrated [...] but we have to understand that [the court officials, the police and elected officials] are human just like us. I want to believe that they're doing the best they can," he said.
Just two days before her funeral, Chicago police announced that they'd arrested 18-year-old Tevin Lee for Shamiya Adams's murder.
"There are no words in the English language to relieve us of the pain of losing such a special child," Gov. Quinn had said during his comments. McClinton offered a somber correction. "We just lost two kids," he said.
Michael Romain is editor of the Village Free Press