Brinkley—whose nephew is Curtis Brinkley (who Anderson was close with and considered a mentor) —is tight with Big Shawn and knew Anderson since he was a baby. He says Anderson knew how to fight, but he didn’t carry a gun. And he doesn’t believe he was involved in the McDonald’s shooting. “But by the same token he was recognized as an Abbottsford leader. He mighta took up for some people.”
“He had a thousand people there at his funeral,” says Aziz. “You ask any of those kids what they think of Shawnee, they like, ‘He was the shit. He was like our leader up here.’ He was an athlete, he was personable, he had that charisma, and young people follow.
“He had this bravado about him, like, ‘I ain’t takin’ no shit because I’m from Abbottsford.’ I can tell you he had a fierce love for Abbottsford. He identified with Abbottsford—that’s his crew and his hood.”
Both Brinkley and Aziz acknowledge that Anderson’s parents don’t want to hear that, but, says Aziz, “We gotta say it like it is. It was more or less a hit on the leader. I feel bad it happened. I love the kid and his family. But sometimes you gotta tell it like it is so you can save other kids.”
The pair say they’ve been driving around Allegheny, trying to talk to kids around 32nd Street, hoping to broker some kind of truce. Maybe get someone to give up Anderson’s killer because “it’s the right thing to do.” Aziz says the tension in that neighborhood is palpable; kids tell him they’re expecting retaliation from Abbottsford at any minute. “They one up on Abbottsford,” says Aziz. “And to the outside, [Abbottsford’s] sayin’, ‘It’s cool, it’s cool, everything’s alright, we ain’t gonna do nothin’ about it.’ But to themselves they sayin’, ‘This is Abbottsford, we don’t take no shit.’ So somebody’s gonna take that up. This kid was a loved figure up there by the other kids. You seen it at the funeral. You think they gonna let that go by? There’s no way. They gonna be like, ‘Fuck that, they killed Shawnee. Fuck that, somebody got to go over there.’ It’s up to us to stop it.”
“We can stop it,” says Brinkley. “I’ve got to believe that. We just gotta figure out how we’re gonna do the intervention process with stakeholders across the bridge. We got a working group from Abbottsford; we need a working group from Allegheny. We gotta say to them, ‘If your child is not involved, fine, but when the shooting starts, your child isn’t safe either.’ We need to encourage our communities to come together. Failure is not an option.”
In their living room, surrounded by photos of their son, Big Shawn and Mincey ponder the deeper causes of street violence and how to stop it. “It starts at home,” says Mincey, who used to counsel teens at West Philadelphia High School. “If you got a child at home, sit down and talk to that child and listen to that child like myself and Shawnee’s dad did with Shawnee. Your child could be goin’ through so much and you don’t even realize because you’re probably too busy working. Sit down and really ask your child, ‘How you doin’?’ Go to the school, see what they’re doin’. Get involved in their life.”
And, they say, the city needs to take responsibility, too. Big Shawn and others at Abbottsford have been trying for years to get after-school and evening programs—basketball, computer training, tutoring, anger-management counseling, movie nights, and more; the kind of programs Big Shawn had as a kid to keep him out of trouble—going at the Community Center again. But they say that ever since the Philadelphia Housing Authority (which has owned the Abbottsford property since the 1940s) took over full-time management of the projects from the Abbottsford Tenant Management Association in 2002, the building is locked most of the time, and when it’s not, it’s being used for PHA meetings.
“When kids ain’t got nothin’ to do, they gonna find something to do and it ain’t gonna be good,” says Big Shawn. “At least during that time they’re doing those activities at the Center, that’s one less chance they’re gonna be out there and something bad happen to ’em.”
Big Shawn says there’s plenty of adults at Abbottsford who will volunteer their time at the Center, they just need the PHA to make the facility available to residents and provide some modest funds to make those programs a reality. “We ain’t askin’ for a lot. It’s somethin’ small that can make a big difference.”
Make no mistake about it—Anderson’s parents want their son’s killer found and brought to justice. “I think death would be too easy,” says Mincey. “I want him to suffer … I mean suffer. How about being in a hole 23 hours a day, pure darkness. You don’t even know if it’s day or night. For the rest of your life.”
But both she and Big Shawn say their focus now is on becoming anti-violence activists, going to community meetings and candlelight vigils for murder victims all over the city, telling their story, and demanding Mayor Nutter do more to get guns off the streets. Mincey’s got a meeting scheduled next month with Mothers in Charge—the Philadelphia advocacy group formed by mothers who’ve lost their sons or daughters to street violence. And Big Shawn says he’ll go out and talk to anyone who will listen to his story. “I can’t just let it ride. I got to be out there. I don’t wanna see nobody go through what I’m going through right now. You can’t even imagine what it’s like.”
“They gonna hear our voice,” says Mincey. “They gonna hear my son’s voice. Shawnee isn’t just a number. He’s not just ‘the 38th male murdered in Philadelphia this year.’ Rashawn was a son. A grandson. An uncle. A nephew. He was a senior in high school getting ready to graduate. He was a person. He has a voice. I’ll never let them forget my boy.”
There are big plans for the future: a group home for boys, a college scholarship at Roxborough High in Shawnee's name, a citywide mentoring program, and a basketball league. But even in its beginning stages, S4S has already shown itself to be a promising tool in bringing youth together to help stem the city’s violence—without the preachy, off-putting approach the city often employs to little effect.
Anderson—the Roxborough High School senior and budding basketball star—was gunned down near his apartment in the Abbottsford Homes projects. Police now believe that Anderson’s death is related to at least two other high-profile shootings in the area.