This is written for 12-year-old Kelvin Jones (and every other kid in New Orleans like him) with a dream.
Yes, I know you have no idea who Kelvin Jones is. I didn’t either before Monday.
He was the only person at St. Roch Playground when I arrived.
He sat there alone, waiting for a friend to show up so they could play basketball.
I asked him what he wanted to be when he gets older.
“A football player,” responded Jones, who just completed his sixth-grade year at Lafayette Charter School.
About 30 yards away were two stuffed animals, propped up against a pole. Jones didn’t know why they were there.
He didn’t know they were there in memory of Johan Kenner who, like Jones, also hoped to be a football player someday.
He didn’t know that Kenner was shot and killed less than 24 hours earlier, just a few yards away from where we stood.
Kenner, like so many other African-American youth all across the country, won’t get to pursue his dream because of a senseless, violent murder.
He was only 17, eagerly anticipating his senior season at Landry-Walker High School.
He played football and basketball for the Charging Buccaneers.
Landry-Walker football coach Emanuel Powell used words like “very coachable” and “very respectable” to describe Kenner.
“He was just a young man who everybody liked,” said Brian Gibson, the school’s basketball coach. “His best days were ahead of him. That’s what was so devastating for us. We know he was a quality individual.”
Gibson was still having a hard time dealing with the tragedy.
“It’s never easy, especially when all you want is to see all these people succeed,” Gibson said. “One of our biggest goals as educators is that we have given them experiences and exposures to have a chance.”
Senseless violence is wiping away those chances.
Gun violence is the leading cause of death among black children and teens, according to a report last August by the Children’s Defense Fund, a nonprofit child-advocacy group.
The numbers, which we have all heard so many times, are mind-boggling.
Young black males die from gun violence at a rate 2.5 times higher than Latino males and eight times higher than white males, according to the report.
Want to hear an even more disturbing number?
Kenner’s violent death wasn’t the only teenage death of the day.
Another teenager, this one 15, was shot and killed just 30 minutes later on Bartholomew Street. Officer Frank B. Robertson III of the New Orleans Police Department Public Affairs Division said the shootings weren’t related.
Family members said they do not believe Kenner, who was recovering from knee surgery, was the intended target.
“The sad part is he was coming off the injury and wasn’t even able to try to get out of harm’s way,” said Gibson, who went on to say something we all could agree with.
“I wish these kids could find a better way to resolve conflict. A lot of this conflict and violence is just tearing people’s lives to pieces. Now we are left mourning this kid who won’t get a chance to realize his dreams.”
Dreams have been born at St. Roch Playground before.
Marshall Faulk once played here before running his way right to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Kenner was hoping to beat the odds and someday do the same.
Other than two stuffed animals, there was little indication Monday that a murder had taken place at St. Roche Playground on Sunday evening.
“He certainly had the potential to be a great football player,” Gibson said. “We will never know what kind of difference he would have made in this world.”
As Kelvin Jones sat there and waited for his friend, here’s hoping he gets his chance.