From Parkland to Chicago, Hope Rises for Overdue Gun Violence Reforms
The Parkland kids ‘are impatient,’ said a pastor who’s seen far too many people shot down in Chicago. ‘I love that about them.’
Anyone who knew to listen might have heard a murdered musician playing his distinctively pulsing bass from on high as the five buses embarked from Saint Sabina Church in Chicago for the March For Our Lives in Washington at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
On board the second bus with a draft of a speech he was to give at Saturday’s gathering was 19-year-old Trevon “Tre” Bosley, who had been just 8 when his remarkably talented older brother was gunned down in a case of mistaken identity in 2006.
Terrell Bosley had been a rising star in the Chicago gospel scene nicknamed “Mr. Music” as he often played at three or more churches on a weekend. He summoned uncommon feeling from his bass guitar, his right hand working the frets and his left the strings, the opposite of the usual for a righty. He would arrive two hours early to rehearse for a service and was taking a break in the parking lot at the Lights of Zion church when shots rang out. His girlfriend ran up to him asking if anybody had been shot and saw blood on his shoulder. The pastor knelt at his side, kissing him and telling him he would be all right.
Word reached the family home, and Tre remembers rushing to the car with his middle brother and their parents. They arrived at the Lights of Zion just as Terrell was being loaded into the back of an ambulance.
The family followed the ambulance to Advocate Christ Medical Center. Tre and the middle brother, Terrez, sat in a waiting area as their mother, Pamela, and father, Tom, went in to speak with the doctors.
“We heard crying,” Tre would recall.
The father emerged and told them that Terrell had died. They returned to a home that had until then been filled with music and laughter and life.
“We didn’t listen to music for nearly a year,” Tre later said.
When the family did celebrate a holiday, they did so a few days before the actual date.
“My parents needed time to grieve on the holiday,” Tre would report.
The carnage continued through the next decade and beyond, with more than 4,000 Chicagoans shot in a single year and the media paying scant attention. The Bosley mother, Pam, quit her previous life as a bank administrator and devoted herself to doing whatever she could to curtail the carnage. She joined others who had lost children to guns in founding an organization called Purpose Over Pain.
“These and other parents who were affected by violence now have a Purpose to be effective in preventing gun violence Over merely living with the Pain,” the website explained.
Pamela also went to work at Saint Sabina Church, which had become an epicenter in the struggle for peace in the streets. The pastor, Father Michael Pfleger, had was and is the city’s leading voice against gun violence. The wooden bulletin board outside Saint Sabina is covered not by parish notices, but by photos of gun victims.
“YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN,” the bulletin board announces.
Most of the victims had been barely noticed in the first place by people in the city’s better neighborhoods and even less so by the rest of the country. Pfleger had long sought to change that with march after march even as the killing continued unabated. He marched after presiding at the funeral for a 9-year-old innocent who was fatally shot in the head in a demented act of gang vengeance and he marched after a 15-year-old honor student was cut down by a stray round.
“I am a prisoner of hope,” Pfleger declared.
The regular marchers included Tre Bosley, starting when he was in elementary school, shortly after his brother’s murder. He was in his early teens when he was big enough to help carry one of the big banners at the head of the procession.
“STOP THE VIOLENCE.”
He kept on as a prisoner of hope as ever more people he knew were felled by guns.
“I lost a lot more friends and church members and cousins through the years,” he told The Daily Beast.
Each death by bullet was too much like the loss of his brother.
“I tried not to attend funerals,” Tre said.
Tre joined a Brave Young Leaders program, mentoring other young people and counseling them in anger management and how to defuse potentially violent situations. He traveled with his mother to Washington, D.C., after being invited to participate in a town hall meeting on gun violence with President Obama. His turn to ask a question came toward the end and he stood in a bow tie, a photo button of bother on the chest of his jacket.
“I lost my brother a few years ago—well, 10 years ago.” Tre said. “And I’ve also lost a countless amount of family members and friends to gun violence as well.”
He went on, “And just speaking on growing up as a young black teen in Chicago, where you’re surrounded by not only just gun violence, but police brutality as well, most of us aren’t thinking about life on a long-term scale. Most of us are thinking day to day, hour to hour, for some even minute to minute.”
He continued, “I wanted to thank you for your stand against gun violence for not only the victims of gun violence, but those on the verge of being victims of gun violence. And my question to you is: What is your advice to those growing up surrounded by poverty and gun violence?”
Obama began by correctly guessing that the woman seated next to Tre was his mother.
“Good job, mom,” Obama said.
Obama then said, “When I see you, I think about my own youth, because I wasn’t that different from you. Probably not as articulate and maybe more of a goof-off. But the main difference was I lived in a more forgiving environment. If I screwed up, I wasn’t at risk of getting shot. I’d get a second chance. There were a bunch of folks who were looking out for me, and there weren’t a lot of guns on the streets. And that’s how all kids should be growing up wherever they live.”
Obama went on, “My main advice to you is to continue to be an outstanding role model for the young ones who are coming up behind you; keep listening to your mom; work hard and get an education; understand that high school and whatever peer pressure or restrictions you’re under right now won’t matter by the time you’re a full adult, and what matters is your future.”
Tre was already doing all the president urged him to do and would soon be in college, studying electrical engineering.
Obama continued, “What I also want to say to you is that you’re really important to the future of this country. And I think it is critical in this debate to understand that it’s not just inner city kids who are at risk in these situations.”
Obama was a half step from being presidentially prescient, but his next words were not about school shootings.
“Out of the 30,000 deaths due to gun violence, about two-thirds of them are actually suicides. Now, that’s part of the reason why we are investing more heavily also in mental health under my proposal. But while the majority of victims of gun homicide are black or Hispanic, the overwhelming majority of suicides by young people are white. And those, too, are tragedies. Those, too, are preventable.”
Nobody predicted that two years from then a mass shooting at a high school in a wealthy Florida town deemed the state’s safest would prompt the surviving students to declare that enough was enough, that the future begins right now.
In social media and at a town hall of their own that included Sen. Marco Rubio, the kids of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School caused Congress and the country to take more notice of the 17 deaths in Parkland than they had of thousands of gun murders in Chicago.
Tre and Father Pfleger could have turned resentful, even bitter. But the disparity was not the fault of the Florida kids. They were doing just what Pfleger and the Chicago kids had been doing for years. The message of the great March for Our Lives in Washington they began planning was the very same as the message of Pfleger’s many marches in Chicago.
Two groups of kids from different worlds but with a common mission began to form a bond across all their manifest differences after ones from Parkland welcomed a small delegation from Chicago to Florida. The visitors stayed at the home of Emma Gonzalez, who ordered pizza and invited her guests to sit by the pool. Emma afterward said precisely the right things in a series of tweets.
“Yesterday, the members of @AMarch4OurLives got to meet up with some of the most wonderful and most strong spoken students of Chicago. ‘Florida’s safest city’ and one of the cities in America most affected by gun violence came together to share stories, ideologies, and pizza.”
And then there was this:
And then there was this:
The Chicago kids were back home in time for the national school walk-out. They went with Father Pfleger in Renaissance Park and released 17 white balloons in memory of the 17 killed in Florida. They then released a single blue balloon in honor of Chicago Police Commander Paul Bauer, who was shot to death the day before the Parkland slaughter. Bauer had often assisted Pfleger in logistics during demonstrations that passed through the city center.
“He was very good,” Pfleger told The Daily Beast.
They then released 50 red balloons to represent the thousands killed in Chicago. The balloons sailed skyward; red, white, and blue all rising on the same currents.
At one point, somebody asked students at Saint Sabina Academy, grades four through eight, to raise their hands if they knew somebody who had been shot.
“Everybody raised their hand,” Pfleger later reported.
Even if the schools themselves were made safe in Chicago, the kids in the rougher neighborhoods would still have to face the dangers of getting to and there and back. Any route they picked was sure to take them past a place where somebody they knew was killed.
“The reality is our children grew up in trauma,” Pfleger noted. “They say soldiers have post-traumatic stress syndrome. Our young people have present traumatic stress syndrome. They live in a war zone.”
The following day, a delegation of Parkland kids made a reciprocal visit. Gonzalez was among them and she afterward again offered exactly the right words in a series of tweets.
“We met up with some more Chicago Students in Father Pfleger’s church St. Sabina yesterday—reps from Oaklawn Community, North Lawndale, and Brighton Park. It was an emotional and day full of MLK’s principles, personal experiences, and exercises in empathy.
“The strength shown by these kids is inspiring to say the least, and the struggles that we have seen on a small scale they face on level that we can only try to comprehend. With our unity, stories that the public never wanted to hear are being pushed to the forefront.
“And us kids will be marching and speaking in D.C., to illuminate the problems and troubles America faces to the World. Together, we will make history. Together, we are strong.”
Pfleger, the onetime self-declared prisoner of hope, found himself actually hopeful.
“The hope is in these young people,” he said.
The Parkland kids maybe have come from privilege, but they were smart and determined and angry in the best way as well as deeply decent. And they had one quality in particular that Pfleger felt just might led to actual change.
“They are impatient,” he said. “I love that about them.”
He theorized that some of this impatience was the result of the technology this generation literally had at its fingertips.
“When they want questions answered, they just Google it and they want it immediately,” he said. “That’s the beauty of them for me. They want it right now. They’re saying they want change now: ‘We want it now!’”
The internet and social media, Facebook and Twitter in particular, have been getting a bad name in the age of Trump. But these kids were proving it can all be a power for good in right youthful hands. Trump may tweet poison, but Gonzalez tweets pure magic. The Russians may use Facebook to divide us. But the Parkland kids used it to mobilize and consolidate the power of NOW!.
“Adults have just been so pitiful in doing nothing,” Pfleger said.
With the wisdom gained from decades of struggle, Pfleger cautioned the Parkland kids that there is sure to be a push back. He advised them to ignore it an and keep pushing ahead.
“Just keep fighting, shouting, screaming, get up in their face and let them know enough is enough,” Pfleger said.
He sees the Parkland kids and the Chicago kids and kids from all over coming together in Washington as a powerful single force for actual change.
“We want to make sure we connect what happened in Parkland and Newtown to what was going on in Chicago,” Pfleger told The Daily Beast. “Our power is in our unity.”
He concluded, “If the adults stay out of it and let the young people lead, I think we’re in good shape.”
At 68, Pfleger worried that he is getting too old for a 12 hour bus ride, but he was not going to miss the March for Our Lives on Washington. He would ride with the others, some a half century or more younger.
“This is the time,” he said.
“I am kind of happy that the Parkland kids who were affected said they understand we’ve been going through this problem for a long time,” he said. “I do like they reached out for us, even though media outlets don’t.”
Trey was on Bus B, the second of the five buses that rumbled away from outside Saint Sabina on Friday evening. He had been marching from this church through the streets of Chicago since he was eight and the killing had only continued.
He now was 19 and on his way to Washington as one of those asked to address a gathering that just might make a difference. He reported he had been a touch anxious earlier, but a new feeling was overcoming him.
“I’m actually a little energized now,” he said from his seat.
As always, Tre felt his brother watching over him.
“I think of him every day,” he said. “I think he’s proud of me for what I’m doing,”
And, if you knew to listen, you might have heard Mr. Music’s pulsing bass, the sound of hope at long last as the buses rolled toward the nation’s capital.