ENGLEWOOD — An Englewood activist is hosting a birthday bash to celebrate his niece’s first birthday nearly a year after she was critically wounded in a mass shooting — and the entire community is invited.
Charles McKenzie, founder of Englewood First Responders and the self-proclaimed “Mayor of Englewood,” wants neighbors to join him and family as they celebrate his niece, Terriana Smith. The party is 1-5:30 p.m. Saturday at The Center of Englewood, 838 W. Marquette Rd.
Terriana, then 1 month old, was shot in the head in July 2021 after three people got out of a Jeep and fired at a crowd of people in the 6500 block of South Halsted Street. The shooting happened a block away from where McKenzie planned to host a neighborhood youth event the following day. Besides Terriana, six other people ages 15 to 45 were wounded.
Now 1 year old, McKenzie said Terriana is doing great. She’s walking and is smiling every time he sees her, he said. She loves “Baby Shark,” too.
All neighbors are welcome at the party. Presents are appreciated, but not required, and there will be food, music and a bounce house for kids, McKenzie said.
“I want to show people that just because tragedy happened, it doesn’t mean we have to be sad,” McKenzie said. “We have to continue to go on and fight for what’s right. She’s recovering and doing good now, and her story might impact others who went through the same thing.”
Whenever McKenzie and his sister talk on the phone about his niece, they get emotional, he said. A lot of children have been shot and killed in the city, and they’re not here to celebrate, McKenzie said. Terriana’s life is a miracle, he said.
“My 1-month-old baby was shot, and she made it to 1 year old. She is a special child, and this is a special topic,” McKenzie said. “We’re grateful. We thank God that she’s still here with us physically and not spiritually every day.”
Terriana’s family credits Officer Ella French, who was shot and killed during a traffic stop in Englewood the month after Terriana was hurt, for saving the toddler’s life. French was one of the officers that rushed Terriana to Comer Children’s Hospital and comforted her mother after the shooting, McKenzie said.
McKenzie said they haven’t forgotten what French did for their family and said her relatives are most welcome at Terriana’s birthday if they wanted to attend.
“It would mean a lot if her family could be there,” McKenzie said. “Their daughter played a big part in helping save Terriana’s life.”
McKenzie said he knows Terriana won’t remember her first birthday party but he hopes that seeing smiling, joyous faces celebrating a year of life will inspire happiness in the community.
The Englewood First Responders will keep their boots on the ground to engage with the community and deter crime as they have done for years.
“Our main goal is to help stop shootings, and we’re making an impact,” McKenzie said. “This party might be for my niece, but I’m fighting for everybody’s daughter, mother, cousin and so on. They talk about the bad in Englewood, but this is something good that is coming out of it, as well.”
One day, maybe his niece’s journey can inspire others, he said.
“By the grace of God, he kept her here, and when she gets older, she can tell her story, too,” McKenzie said. “Her life is a testimony.”
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