THE BLOG

The Value of Reginald Jackson, Child of My Church Shot to Death

11/04/2013 01:56 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
  • Jeanne Bishop Public defender, human rights activist, and author of Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with My Sister's Killer

It was the end of a board meeting at my church in downtown Chicago, the time for "new business." A staffer said she had sad news to announce. For a second time, a former student from the church's tutoring program had been shot to death.

Reginald Jackson, age 22, was found with a bullet in his back in an alley on Chicago's West Side on October 10. His death barely made the news. For years, Jackson had participated in an after-school tutoring program at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, which for almost 50 years has been linking adult volunteer tutors with children from Chicago's poorest communities.

Students come after school by bus to the church, situated in one of the city's richest areas -- North Michigan Avenue, the Gold Coast. The children get some exercise, a hot meal and one-on-one homework help from someone who cares enough to show up week after week.

Stephen Baker, a downtown attorney, was one of those caring adults. He tutored Reggie, as Baker called him, for four years, beginning when Reggie was in fifth grade. "He was a young man with plans about what he wanted to do in the world," Baker remembers. "We'd talk about college a lot."

Reggie's mom, Latrice Hudson, a resident of Chicago's Henry Horner public housing, had made sure Reggie got into the tutoring program, just as she'd made sure to get him into good private schools -- elementary school at St. Malachy and high school at Holy Trinity.

"I tried to impress upon him how many people were invested in him, how much he could do," Baker said. "When we were robbed of him, there's this sense of loss, a vacuum of opportunity. All of these investments in him were well-placed, because he was valuable."

Baker was there at Reggie's memorial service at St. Malachy's. He was sitting in the back. Unnoticed and quiet. "That kid did more for me than I did for him. Working with him caused me to set priorities, then other priorities can fall in order. I had to show up. It makes you better."

Latrice Hudson shepherded Reggie and four other children through the perils of life in one of Chicago's most dangerous communities. "I tried to give them everything -- integrity, good schools and mentoring programs. If there was some resource concerning young people, I tried to put them into it," Hudson recalled.

She said that her surviving children are "all in shock and disbelief" at Reggie's murder, but that she is also "starting to see the anger a little bit, anger at violence. They're angry that violence exists and that in this culture, it's acceptable to some degree. They understand that where you live can determine whether you have a better future than someone else."

Hudson remembers her son Reggie as someone who was worried about the kids growing up in his neighborhood who didn't have the opportunities he did. "He wanted to let them know they were not forgotten, the struggles of the young men around him. Whatever he got, he shared. He introduced the kids to his mentors. He wanted them to have that opportunity to feel loved."

"He wanted so much more for us," she went on. "He was the kid who would tell people, don't settle for this; work for something better. His spirit is telling me to move forward, not to quit. I am going to be a voice, because I know that's what he wants for me. I am going to try to find that voice for him."

The day Hudson buried her son, it had been raining. She worried that rain would fall on mourners, on the casket. Then, just as she came to the gravesite, the sky cleared. "When I walked out there, the sun was so bright and so warm. God understood I needed that sun on my face. I looked up and blinked my eyes and felt such love. I felt secure that nothing else could ever harm him again."

Who was Reginald Jackson, whose death went almost unnoticed by a city plagued with gun violence? A child of his family and his community. Child of my church. Beloved child of God, precious and valuable, safe from harm now and forever.

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