This past Monday morning, as students and teachers trickled into Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet High School about two dozen local churchgoers stood by ready to pray for and encourage them.
Some students quietly declined when asked if they wanted prayer, and others accepted the invitation to pray, then walked a few feet to join another huddle of prayer.
When churches reached out to Principal Charles Anderson about how they could support the Michele Clark community after the murder of 16-year-old student Kierra Moore, who was killed in a drive-by shooting Oct. 14th, Anderson’s response was simple: Be the church and be present.
I was sitting in a Sunday service at Chicago West Bible Church, when I heard those words repeated by Pastor Kent Steiner as he announced the church would gather at the school at 7:15 a.m. the next day, Oct. 18th.
As I looked at Kierra’s picture and listened to someone speak of how she was a vibrant teenager with aspirations to play in the WNBA, I couldn’t help but think about another Chicago teenager whose life had been cut short due to gun violence.
In 2013, 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was killed while with a group of friends at Harsh Park in Kenwood, shortly after taking their finals at King College Prep. Hadiya’s death garnered national attention due to the proximity of former President Barack Obama’s Kenwood home and her participation in inauguration events just days before.
A high school student myself at the time, it captured my attention because the shooting took place just across the street from the home of family friends I frequently babysat for. I once saw Harsh Park as a convenient playground I could take the kids to on a sunny summer day — I never saw it the same after that tragic event.
Though I never met Hadiya, one of my high school friends knew her, and I remember Hadiya’s death affecting her. The grief my friend experienced sat with her in classes and walked closely with her in the hallways.
Last Monday morning, Principal Anderson described noticing similar grief with Michele Clark students, noting you could see with some the weight of Kierra’s death was too much. In the same breath, he talked about the power of people being present, showing they care and the importance of students knowing they’re not alone when something like this happens.
I think that’s why I decided to join friends and other church members on that brisk morning as gospel music floated between Harrison Street and the school’s entrance.
I can’t remember if I ever had the right words to console my friend in high school or even knew how to process Hadiya’s death myself, but I can recall the comfort of caring adults being willing to listen and be present amid grief.
“I know these kids are traumatized, I know they are just in another place, having to deal with such an awful, unnecessary death of someone who was a leader, who had a pathway out of poverty,” Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church was quoted saying in a Chicago Sun-Times article. “So we’re here to support them if it’s just nothing but standing with them with a smile and letting them know it’s going to be all right.”
Pastor Steve Epting of Hope Community Church spoke of church leaders deciding it shouldn’t take another person being shot for this type of gathering to happen again.
Informally people will continue to show up on Monday mornings to encourage and pray for the Michele Clark community. Pastor Steiner closed by speaking of how powerful it was for different churches to come out and rally around the same goal: supporting the students during a challenging time.
The community is invited to support the students from 7:15 to 8:20 a.m. Monday, Nov. 1. Stay a few minutes or the entire time.
Jordyn Harrison is a graduate student at Columbia College Chicago studying civic media and a reporter for AustinTalks.