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Mother of slain teen discusses violence

This summer’s violence in Evanston, with a shooting in June resulting in one death, has spurred proponents of peace to step up their messages of hope.

One advocate is Tiffany Rice, of Evanston, who lost her 14-year-old son, Dajae Coleman, an Evanston Township High School honors student, in a September 2012 shooting.

Rice appeared at a Saturday community book reading at the Heartwood Center, 1818 Dempster St., hoping for conversation starters.

The book reading, one in a series of summer events called “Understand Youth Violence Through Reading, Drama and Discussion,” reviewed the Big Shoulders Books paperback, “How Long Will I Cry? Voices of Youth Violence,” edited by journalist Miles Harvey.

The critically acclaimed free book, which addresses violence in Chicago, is promoted as an Evanston Public Library summer reading list option. The library partnered on the series with the Dajae Coleman Foundation, which Rice founded in addition to www.dc3f.org.

“The timeliness of this event is just very appropriate so that we can just start discussing the things that are happening, and just voicing our opinions and really opening our hearts,” Rice said.

She hopes to “activate some of the things that we were maybe discussing behind closed doors or over social media, just start putting action to response.”

Rice, the 2013 winner of the Forrest E. Powell Foundation Work Ethic Award, has a daughter Savannah Hill, 9, a Kingsley Elementary School fourth-grader.

“He used to watch me and feed me and he would take care of me,” Savannah said, of her brother, who would babysit his sister and play the game Twister with her.

Dajae Coleman was gunned down along a sidewalk on Church Street at Florence Avenue near a tree, where people continue to place memorial tributes at the trunk’s base.

“Sometimes I just run so I can get to the house quicker,” Savannah said. “And I will look behind me to see if somebody is, like, there …”

Savannah would like to tell everyone “to drop the guns down, to stop violence.”

“I just want to support Mrs. Rice,” said Tommy Barbato, 12, a Haven Middle School eighth-grader. “It is unacceptable that [Dajae] died at such a young age.” Tommy said.

Ruth Starr, an Evanston Township High School graduate who works at the Evanston Public Library, joined Rice at the podium.

The summer series ideally will “create some dialogue,” said Renee Neumeier, Evanston Public Library young adult librarian supervisor. “It was a scary situation. It’s not something that happens every day, but all of the kids involved, the people in the neighborhood, this is a reality for them and something they need to be concerned about.”

Like many public buildings, the Evanston Public Library was required by law to post no-guns signage at its entrances.

“I’ve heard patrons say like, ‘Wow,’” Neumeier said. “It’s like, in your face, but that’s kind of, like, sadly the state of where things are.”

Karen Danczak Lyons, the Evanston Public Library director, said the library provides a safe space to study, explore new ideas and connect with other residents as they discuss important and difficult topics.

“Engaging our teens and confronting issues through stories and discussions helps to learn from each other and share concerns, fears and discuss alternatives,” he said. “Together we must look for ways to end violence and create opportunities to help make our community a better place.”

During the presentation, Rice encouraged people to write down thoughts on posters set on tables.

One question under a “Dajae Coleman Foundation” heading asked: “How can we as a society create more opportunities for young people searching for a sense of community as an alternative to joining a gang?”

“It just gets a little frustrating,” Rice said. “There are just so many layers to this. The youth generation today is a very different generation. In order to really dissect the problem and the root causes of this, it’s just gonna take a lot.”

Molly Cinnamon, an Evanston resident and educator, is the parent of an incoming ETHS freshman the same grade as Dajae Coleman when he was murdered.

Cinnamon was the second person to share thoughts on the posters.

“My son knew [Dajae] at Haven [Middle School],” Cinnamon said. “I’m here today because I care about our community and I’m worried about our children.”

Free copies of “How Long Will I Cry” are available at four locations in Evanston: the library at 1703 Orrington Ave., the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center at 1655 Foster St., the Church Street Barber Shop at 1905 Church St. and at the Ebony Barber Shop at the 1702 Dodge Ave.

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