This column features stories from students in The Hive Learning Network programs. Yun and Ricardo are members of WNYC's Radio Rookies, a Peabody Award-winning program that trains teenagers how to report stories in their own lives and communities.
Last October, 18-year-old Keith Salgado was out late on a Saturday night playing dice in Campos Plaza, a group of public housing projects on the Lower East Side with a community center in the middle. Keith had been hanging out there since he was little; everybody knew him. Witnesses said there were 45 people in the plaza when suddenly someone opened fire. Soon after, Keith's mom, Aida, got a call saying her son had just been shot. "Once he was brought into the hospital he went straight into surgery. He was never conscious," Aida told us. "'If there was something that I would have wanted, it would be to let him know I was there, that he wasn't alone."
Keith was still in high school, just like us, when he died.
We read an article on local blog The Lo-Down NY about how Aida has been trying for years to keep her son and her neighborhood safe. She invited us over to her house to meet her. We were really nervous because we knew she was going to cry and were afraid we wouldn't know what to say.
Aida told us that a few years ago she started worrying about Keith -- he was hanging out in the streets, getting chased, jumped and even shot at. And she knows what can happen on the streets here because she grew up on the Lower East Side and she got into her share of trouble. Aida tried over and over to get help from the police, but she says that didn't change anything.
She and her best friend Maize decided to start a group called Mothers and Fathers in Arms to try to put a stop to the youth violence in their neighborhood. Maize told us, "We're trying to help other parents that are going through what we go through." They weren't just trying to keep their own kids safe, but others kids too.
Last year Keith got into some serious trouble. He was stopped, searched and arrested for possession of a gun and ended up serving four months in Rikers Island. "That's when I realized that things were a lot worse than what I thought they were, because if my child was walking around with a gun he must've felt that his life was in jeopardy in our own community," Aida told us.
After Keith got out of Rikers, Aida said he was working to stay out of trouble. He went back to school and got an internship at a law firm. He was just starting his senior year when he was murdered.
We asked Aida if she had a hard time going into Keith's room. She paused and said, "I think the problem is exiting his room." She led us through his bedroom door. "I'm always in here. I sleep here. I'm in here a lot." When you walk in there's a mural of Keith with angel wings that takes up one whole wall. "And as old as he was, he still snuck into my bed and slept in my bed every once in a while."
A few weeks after Keith was killed, there was another shooting at Campos Plaza. It was also a teenager, but thankfully he lived. That shooting motivated Aida to organize a candle lighting outside her apartment to commemorate all the young people in the neighborhood who have passed away.
"We are aware of what's going on in the community," she told the crowd of family and friends, "And we are going to continue to mention it and talk about it because we're not going to continue to throw this under the rug."
Most of the public housing buildings in the neighborhood have security cameras, but Campos doesn't. City Councilmember Rosie Mendez set aside $400,000 in last year's budget for cameras last year, but they still haven't been installed. Aida is working to change that. "If we had cameras there, I don't think this would have taken place, it wouldn't have happened to my son."
In Keith's room, legendary local graffiti artist Chico painted a mural of Keith with angel wings that takes up one whole wall.