Kennel-Shank: Five names

Dec 4, 2017 by

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Deonta Turner, Lemont Davis, Alandis Allison, Maurice Purnell and Juan Bahena Jr.

Celeste Kennel-Shank


I felt these five people’s deaths most deeply amid more than 500 fatal shootings this year in Chicago.

Deonta Turner and Lemont Davis were killed next to the community garden I tend along with others from our Anabaptist congregations nearby. Juan Bahena Jr. was shot a block away from my house. Although I pass the spots where each of these three young men were slain as part of my regular routines, I try not to become resigned to this reality.

Alandis Allison and Maurice Purnell were the sons of parents I met through Chicago Pilgrim Walk, an effort to mourn the people who have died in the city’s gun violence and to lift up peacemakers.

It started with Peter, the chaplain I volunteer with at a hospital near the church and garden, and Krista, who works for Mennonite Central Committee and also volunteers at the hospital. Peter told us his vision for a pilgrimage. We all knew people who had walked the Camino Santiago across Spain. Peter thought, Why travel across the ocean to go to holy places? There are holy sites in Chicago, places made holy because Christ suffers alongside us when people are killed and where resurrection shines through community organizations transforming conflict.

With the vision before us, Krista, Peter and I joined with three others from Peter’s congregation to plan a three-day walk in the seven Chicago neighborhoods most affected by gun violence: Back of the Yards, Englewood, Auburn-Gresham, Brighton Park, Lawndale, Garfield Park and Austin. Garfield Park is home to my church, the garden and the hospital. The police district that includes Garfield Park topped the list for homicides this year.

Our group of 15 to 20 people — mostly Mennonite and Catholic — prayed with our feet for 36 miles on an October weekend. We stopped at community organizations, churches and places where victims died. At each stop we prayed, sang and read the names of a portion of the people slain. We heard stories from survivors who lost loved ones to gun violence. One father had buried three sons, the youngest — 16 years old — died in May: Alandis Allison. I was moved not only by the father’s grief but by his determination to do all he can to prevent other parents from suffering.

Hearing such stories made the weight of each life lost more real. Yet each time I listened to the names being recited, the complexity of the problem overwhelmed me.

Organizations we met with sparked hope. One works with at-risk youth, sticking with them even if they commit an act of violence and visiting those incarcerated.

I have no illusions that Chicago Pilgrim Walk was a solution by itself. But I trust, as I read at our closing service from Ken Untener’s “Reflection on Ministry,” that what we do “may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.”

The rest includes the Spirit animating our continued work through relationships we built along the way, addressing the root causes of violence, including racism and poverty. We are advocating for legislation to hold gun dealers accountable. However, we know that many of the guns on Chicago’s streets come from outside of Illinois.

Of the hundreds shot to death in Chicago this year, I carry five names close to me — Deonta Turner, Lemont Davis, Alandis Allison, Maurice Purnell and Juan Bahena Jr. — as we seek an end to the violence.

Celeste Kennel-Shank, a former MWR assistant editor, is an editor and community gardener in Chicago.

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