A Lesson From Kevin's Mom: Our Tears Won't Save Chicago's Youth
Kevin Ambrose danced.
He wasn’t good at it — his “Harlem Shake” looked a seizure — and his best pals laughed at his moves.
Still, Kevin danced.
Awkwardly. Passionately. Ceaselessly.
He studied classic moves at The Joffrey Ballet and learned high-energy hip-hop routines at After School Matters. Kevin practiced in his mom’s basement apartment and performed at open-mic nights typically dominated by spoken word poets and singers.
On Sunday, it became clear that Kevin inherited that stubborn tenacity from his mother, Ebony Ambrose, who despite all her pain refused to cry at her only son’s funeral.
Kevin was murdered on May 7 — gunned down by a thug near the 47th Street Green Line station.
Kevin had gone there to meet his pal Michael Dye so he wouldn’t have to walk the few blocks from the “L” stop alone at night.
Kevin ran for his life and collapsed under the elevated tracks and later died at Stroger Hospital.
Kevin’s mom refused to be another weeping mother of an innocent victim to senseless violence in Chicago.
She insisted that Kevin’s memorial celebrate her son’s life — all 7,056 days of it.
“I need everyone to walk away from here remembering Kevin in the best light,” Ebony Ambrose said.
She pleaded with family and friends not to project their own sadness on her. She found no comfort in it. Go home and love your family, she told them.
Kevin’s sister, Kristen, was strong like her mom, too. She smiled and hugged her friends.
After a morning of dancing, poems and songs, Kristen sat at the piano and played “Linus and Lucy” — the Peanuts comics theme song which wordlessly tells of the bond between a brother and sister. In some ways, that’s how she and Kevin were together.
Kristen asked everyone not to be too sad over her brother’s passing.
“If I’m not crying,” she said, “you shouldn’t be crying.”
While you might think that all seems strange know this: The absence of tears was not for lack of love.
“I need for them to focus on the number of days that he lived and not focus on that one unfortunate day,” Kevin’s mom said to the hundreds gathered at the Gary Comer Youth Center.
“Because the person that did this does not deserve to outshine my son.”
In that moment, Ebony Ambrose passed on to her loved ones the same stubborn tenacity that she had instilled in Kevin, the stuff that kept him dancing even though everyone told that he’d never be Chris Brown.
For me, Ebony’s stoic insistence that Kevin’s life be celebrated in dance, poems and music got to the heart of tragedies caused by all the shooting in Chicago.
We have publicly wept enough over the death of innocents, her son among them — and the not-so innocents, too.
Our tears haven’t mattered one bit. Our wet cheeks haven’t saved one life. Our anger hasn’t changed the violent reality that our children face.
We offer our sympathy, donate to charities and walk in peace marches, but it seems that there’s never enough to overcome cynicism that tells us there’s no solution.
On Sunday, Kevin’s mom said she doesn’t want our sympathy. That goes for Kevin’s sister and friends, too.
When I watched them tearlessly tell stories about Kevin — tales of their late pal’s goofy dance moves, practical jokes and love of music and dance that made the struggle to grow up happy on the South Side easier — it numbed death’s sting just enough to offer clarity.
Kevin didn’t deserve to die, but neither his murder nor a lack of overwhelming outrage shocks us.
Kevin’s mom didn’t get call from the White House or a visit from the mayor.
Kevin’s name won’t be memorialized on an anti-violence bill in Congress — or probably anywhere at all.
Tears won’t change that.
So for Kevin they danced.
They sang songs.
They told funny stories.
Poet Jasmine Barker made an unplanned trip to the microphone to express in verse a sentiment that’s been simmering in the black community — most recently in neighborhoods facing the reality of school closing next year — and among black youth who refuse to give in to pervasive hopelessness.
“Chicago Blues,” she calls it.
It ends like this: “We are the future. This generation has the resolution. We can conquer all. Help your brothers and sisters. Don’t let your homies fall,” she said. “We don’t need the President or Rahm. We got all that we need is in our soul. So will you save Chicago or will you once again fold.”
Already, Kevin’s pals Michael Dye and Justin Harris have started their own fight for the soul of Chicago.
They were there the night Kevin got shot.
And as Kevin fought for his life, they raced to the nearest South Side trauma center, Stroger Hospital. Nearby University of Chicago Hospital in Hyde Park, one of the best hospitals in the world, is much closer than the eight miles, about a 20-minute drive, to Stroger.
Kevin's friends beat the ambulance there.
That didn’t seem right to them.
So at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, they’ll call on folks to join them in protest at the hospital at 1212 E. 59th Street.
Then, they’ll meet with hospital administrators and demand that U of C show compassion and take responsibility for helping save lives in nearby neighborhoods where gun violence takes so many lives by opening a top trauma center for adults. At Kevin’s memorial, Dye asked everyone to follow his Twitter handle @DJ_Pancake for details.
Dye and Harris certainly are not the first people to wage this fight for more trauma centers on the South Side, but the college freshmen might be among the youngest.
They’re an example of a pulsating unrest among a generation of Chicago kids — many whose grandparents marched through Marquette Park with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights movement — who are losing trust in their leaders.
The world will watch the start of their generation’s revolution on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube — where Chicago youth have started to publish their poems, songs and manifestos — until it spills out on the street.
With clear eyes and love in her heart, Kevin’s mom showed everyone that our tears our useless.
If we want real change — it’s time to dance.