WEST RIDGE — This month marks a year since youth activist Caleb Reed was fatally shot near Emmerson Park.
As Reed’s family and friends mourn the 17-year-old, they are trying to find a place to install a mural painted in honor of the organizer who was part of the movement to get police officers out of Chicago’s public schools.
Reed’s loved ones hope the mural can be displayed near Emmerson Park or Mather High School, where he would have been a senior. Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) supports their efforts to find a place for it.
“Caleb wanted to better his community and shared his story about being arrested at a basketball game because he thought that once his voice was heard, that once he spoke up, changes would have to happen,” said Marques Watts, one of Caleb’s friends. “Now we want to keep his legacy going.”
Reed was killed July 31, 2020, while walking down Granville Avenue near the park.
Authorities initially said Reed was shot by someone passing them in a car. Later, prosecutors charged Caleb’s friend, Genove Martin, saying Martin shot at the car and mistakenly hit Reed.
Reed was taken to St. Francis Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He would have graduated from Mather this year.
Reed had many quirks, his mother said. He loved Home Run Inn pizza and anime.
“Caleb loved ‘Dragon Ball Z.’ It was his favorite show,” Reed’s mother Sabrina Pleasant said through an American Sign Language interpreter. “I remember he’d get us all to all watch ‘Dragon Ball Z’ together as a family.”
Reed was also a big fan of actor Michael B. Jordan and his film, “Creed,” Pleasant said.
In the film, Jordan plays the son of fictional boxer Apollo Creed, coming to terms with his heritage while helping Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky character overcome depression and a cancer diagnosis. The film, like its 1976 predecessor, “Rocky,” is a story about persevering despite an overwhelming feeling of loss and helplessness.
“He was a big fan of him in that movie. And Caleb became very interested in learning boxing and developing that psychology of never giving up from the film. He wanted to honor that,” Pleasant said.
When Reed was a sophomore, police officers detained him at a high school basketball game because he did not have his student ID. After that experience, friends and family said, Reed took up the fight to remove police from schools and became an outspoken youth leader with Voices of Youth in Chicago Education.
Less than two weeks after Reed was killed, Mather’s Local School Council voted 6-4 in favor of removing police officers from the school. In the year since, the majority of CPS schools have opted to reduce police presence in their buildings.
“I’m still very heartbroken over his death. I love him so much still, for standing up for what he believed in after those police officers were harassing him,” said Jermaine “Jerome” Bradley, Reed’s stepfather, through an ASL interpreter. “He thought so strongly about fighting for what’s right for him and his fellow students. His mom and I were very impressed with what he had become and what the future might have held for him. I’m still grieving. We still miss him.”
Artist Dwight White II created the mural memorializing Reed. It was unveiled at a Juneteenth rally at Daley Plaza where Pleasant also shared memories of her son.
“I spent several months of engagement with the youth who were close to him and were inspired by him and his community at large. Just sitting and listening,” White said. “And I spent time explaining how to utilize art for healing. It wasn’t just myself executing the mural but it was a full, beautiful collaborative process with them.”
Vasquez, whose ward includes Mather, said it’s been difficult to navigate the city’s process for installing the mural at the park or school. Others who have lost loved ones to gun violence also have faced similar lags in trying get murals approved for city-owned property.
“The work Caleb did as an organizer is something we should be highlighting,” Vasquez said. “He looked at how to find ways to improve the system. The work he was doing to get the police out of schools, because of how traumatic it is for people of color, we need to uplift that so others can continue the work.”
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If the city’s process to find a home for the mural doesn’t pan out, Watts hopes a business or building owner near the park or high school with enough space could host the mural instead. Outreach efforts on that front haven’t yet been successful.
“If there’s anyone with a business or property, even Lincoln Avenue, that has space for a mural we’d be supportive of that to help bring a spotlight to Caleb. We’d champion that too,” Vasquez said.
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