Tuesday night, about 60 people held hands in a circle and prayed for peace in Austin.
The group was there to mark the death and remember the life of Marcus Greer, a 17-year-old boy shot dead six years ago this week in an apartment building near the corner of South Lotus Avenue and West Congress Parkway.
Among those at the this year’s prayer vigil were Greer’s friends and family, community activists, pastors and church members from around the West Side.
“We’re gathered here today just to raise the awareness and ask folks to consciously begin to change their minds about the acts that can change the very fiber in our community,” 29th Ward Ald. Deborah Graham told the group.
Graham described Greer, who had enrolled in an alternative high school just three months before he was killed, as “a young man who was asking for a second chance.”
Others remembered him as a fun, talkative youth who was the life of the party.
“He was always funny,” said John Meyers. “We always joking and laughing around so much. Always enjoying ourselves. And he always had a lot of women!”
Meyers grew up with Greer, and he’s one of more than 20 people in the rap crew “Lil’ Dude Gang,” which started after Greer died – in his honor.
“He’s the reason that we’re still doing what we’re doing right now as far as music out here and trying to stay focused,” Xavier Cooper said. “His name was Lil’ Dude, so we call ourselves ‘Lil’ Dude Gang.’”
Cooper’s group made up almost a third of the crowd. They go by “415 Boyz” in reference to the address of the building where Greer was killed and the date he died. One member showed off the “Lil’ Dude Gang” tattoo above his left eye.
Attendees cycled in and out through the early evening, at times the prayer circle broke apart into smaller groups, spilling out into the street so that the event looked more like a block party than a vigil.
“Lil’ Dude Gang” posed for pictures in front of the entrance to 415 S. Lotus Ave.
“We do it every year. It’s like a holiday seriously, it’s like a holiday. This is what we do,” Courtney Owens said.
Owens grew up across the street from the Greer family, just about a half block down on Congress from the vigil. She acknowledged it was a sad holiday, but a holiday all the same.
In between prayers the younger friends and siblings clustered away from the older religious and community leaders.
But organizer James Shannon or one of the pastors would pull them back to the corner with a plea through a bullhorn.
“Marcus has lost his life, and God we don’t want … his life just to go unnoticed. God we want to bring awareness to the fact that lives have been lost, kids are gone and the next generation will be no more,” Pastor Phyllis Upshire-Davis prayed with the group.
“The entire neighborhood was in an uproar,” she said, because they were so surprised that Greer was the victim.
Most of the people at the vigil had memories of the night Marcus was killed.
His oldest sister Taneesha Cobb remembered rushing down to the old neighborhood when she heard he’d been shot – and standing with her family when he was pronounced dead.
Meyers felt empty upon hearing the news but didn’t cry until the next day.
“I woke up and thought about it and just – tears for hours,” Meyers said.
Tyson Harris was one of the 20-or-so people partying in the hallway when Greer was shot.
“When I seen it I couldn’t even sleep, man. I couldn’t sleep for about a week,” he said.
The person who shot Marcus Greer was a teenager himself – just 16 years old. Some say it was an accident, but Marcus Greer’s sister Jamilia Greer says she has heard so many stories she doesn’t know what to believe.
The shooter was tried as a juvenile so his name is not publicly available. He is out of prison now.
Accident or not, all agreed it was a tragedy that Marcus Greer was taken so young by a gun.
Andre Williams remembered him always with a smile on his face.
“Kept a nice smile on him, man. You know what I’m saying, he was always happy. So for things to happen to shorties like that in this neighborhood wasn’t new to me. We’ve been losing 15- or 16 year olds since I was 15 or 16,” Williams said.
Listen to the voices of the vigil at WBEZ’s Sound Cloud page.
Patrick Smith is a producer and reporter for WBEZ. He is a freelance reporter for AustinTalks. Follow him on twitter @pksmid.