Community calls for peace at 14-year-old boy’s funeral

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It was standing-room only at Corinthian Temple Church of God in Christ Saturday for 14-year-old Damani Henard’s funeral.

He was shot about 1 a.m. July 3 while riding his bike on North Avenue in Austin.

His family moved to nearby Oak Park last year to escape the violence of the Humboldt Park neighborhood, where Henard would still ride his bike to visit friends.

Much of the crowd wore all white to the funeral in solidarity with Damani’s family.

One neighbor remembered Damani as sweet. The mourners laughed as she recalled how she knew Henard had eaten a donut in her kitchen because one of his fingers that he was known to suck was covered in chocolate.

Henard’s older sister Zapria said he acted like he was her big brother – always trying to protect her by riding his bike behind her as she walked to a nearby park.

One of Damani’s two older brothers talked about being in and out of jail.

“I’m a gangbanger. I went this way, but I told Damani to go that way,” he said.

The 14-year-old was enrolled in Oak Park and River Forest High School for the fall. He loved drawing, basketball, football, skateboarding, Yu-Gi-Oh and hanging out with family and friends, according to his obituary.

The Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church and an anti-violence activist, officiated the funeral.

Acree said he’s tired of going to more funerals than graduations and hopes Henard’s death won’t be in vain.

“There is power in the blood of the innocent,” said Acree.

He said he wants to see Damani’s blood cause politicians to look in the mirror and speak to pastors who “hide behind stained glass.”

Acree addressed all the parents at the crowded funeral.

“What in the world are we raising when our kids kill each other over nothing, over turf?” he asked.

“We cannot be satisfied with this madness. We cannot be comfortable or complacent with this madness,” he said.

The Rev. Oscar Crear of New Tiberia Missionary Baptist Church also spoke.

“One of the tragedies of living in Chicago these days is when our kids leave home, we don’t know if they’re going to come back,” he said.

Damani is one of 17 people killed in Austin so far this year, according to data compiled by the RedEye homicide tracker. Two other homicides were teenagers, and the youngest Austin victim was just 8.

Two of Damani’s friends – Edgar, 14, and Gianni, 15 -said the three were like brothers and had been close since the second grade.

Gianni wore a specially made white T-shirt with a picture of the two boys and the words, “My brother’s keeper.”

He said the last time he saw Damani was at their eighth-grade graduation from West Park Elementary Academy in June.

The boys laughed as they told the story of why Damani’s family and friends affectionately called him “Swolle.”

“He had a big head; it looked swollen,” they said.

Gianni said he was supposed to see Damani the day he was killed, but he made plans to see other friends in Humboldt Park.

“If it happened to him, it can happen to anyone,” said Edgar.

Gianni agreed: “It makes me scared. I need peace in the streets.”

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