by Marcus Harrison Green
“I still talk to him every morning. I say: Mama loves you.” Ayanna Brown shares as she delicately grasp a branch belonging to the Japanese Maple tree she and her husband planted in memory of her son Alajawan.
The 12 year old boy tragically had his life whisked away from him fours years ago walking from a bus stop near the Skyway 7-11 on Martin Luther King Jr Way and 129th street, when Curtis Walker – a member of the street gang The Bloods – mistook him for a rival and fired four shots directly at Alajawan. The only one to strike his body punctured his lungs, eventually leaving him dead in one of the convenience store’s parking stalls, just a few feet away from where the tree now flourishes in an adjoining enclosure.
“You know that tree isn’t even supposed to be here, that’s what the woman who dug the hole for it said. It’s some sort of miracle that it’s even there.” She says as she makes her way around the parking lot, retracing the steps from the last few moments of her son’s life, coming ever closer to where she saw his body laying those four frightful years ago.
What is equally miraculous is how she is able to roam around the parking lot as if it were nothing but an extension of her living room. The site would more than likely trigger a hail of horrendous memories for most in her situation, but Ayanna has become a permanent fixture of the 7-11, so much so that her presence has become as synonymous with the store as its sporadically operational Slurpee machine .
“It says no loitering.” she chuckles, referring to the sign adhered to the store’s main window that is positioned just low enough for the cashier working inside to be able to acknowledge her with a wave and a smile as she journys around the former crime scene.“I’ve never paid any attention to it though.”
These frequent sojourns are her way of keeping connected to Alajawan, as she continues to cope with his passing. The time clock associated with the grief she feels for burying her youngest child, before he barely scratched life’s potential, has no hands attached to it.
“The Fourth of July is torture for me, all the helicopters, ambulances and fire trucks… it all makes me think back to that day when I lost him. My favorite show used to be CSI, but I can’t watch it anymore because of the autopsies. I just see his face every time. It never gets any easier for me. You just try to get acclimated to the feeling that he’s gone the best you can.”
While her son’s loss still haunts her, it also continues to resonate within the community of Skyway where her precocious 12 year old seemed the frontrunner for mayor had his age not prevented him from being electable.
“He gave up his Saturday mornings to tutor younger kids at a math academy. He would feed people he would see outside of the stores begging for food. He would actually go inside the store and buy food for them with his own money, so they would not go hungry. He would save up to buy his own school supplies so that me and his father didn’t have to. He loved Skyway, and said he always wanted to make a difference here” she says as her mind savors nectarous recollections.
While it would have been understandable for her to have departed the area immediately after Alajawan’s death, forsaking it in the wake of tragedy, Ayanna has credited the Skyway Community for gifting her with strength during ghastly times.
“The people of this community have really rallied around me. I believe in the people who live here in the Skyway/West area. As tragic as Alajawan’s death was, I really don’t think any other community or neighborhood anywhere would have given me and my family the love that we received here.”
She realizes the surprise her statement might cause those whose familiarity with the Skyway area is limited to what currently passes for news coverage on the neighborhood.
“I’m not saying that we don’t have our problems, but so does Bellevue. From my own experience, the majority of the (violence and crime) that happens in Skyway is perpetuated by people who don’t live here. They bring their drama from their respective communities and leave the residents here to deal with the consequences and take the blame.”
She hopes to return all the support that she’s received from the community, while keeping her son’s memory alive, via the Alajawan Brown Foundation- operating as Alajawan’s hands- which besides offering tutoring services to area elementary aged children, provides Thanksgiving dinners to those residents who would starve on the holiday, and organizes a back-to- school supply drive that will be kicking off later today at the Sam’s Club in Renton.
In addition, the foundation offers scholarships to those children who would otherwise be unable to participate in youth sporting activities – including football, Alajawan’s favorite sport- because of the often prohibitive fees associated with them. Of all the charitable enterprises that the foundation participates in, it is this offering that Ayanna seems most proud.
“Before he passed away he wanted to play football. The season was four months away and the fee to participate was $160. Me and his father were going to try to scrape it together, but he told us not to worry about it. He would pay for it himself. The day after he died we found a budget in his room that he had worked out. He had figured out that he had needed to make $40 dollars a month, and he had planned out how many lawns he needed to mow in order to reach his goal.”
“All this work that we’re doing with the foundation is really nothing but continuing on with what he was doing with his life, giving people opportunities that he wanted for himself and others. He would always tell me, ‘Mom, I want to make a difference. That’s my dream, and dreams never die if you don’t let them.” She continues.
“I refuse to let my baby’s memory die. I refuse to allow him to be just another dead black male. He’s not going to be just another statistic as long as I’m breathing.”
As she passes the Japanese Maple one last time before she gets ready to depart from the 7-11 parking lot, only to reconvene there with it again tomorrow, she can’t help but reflect on the trees tenacity. “Yeah, they said that he wouldn’t survive because his roots were too close to the cement in the ground, but look at him now. He’s thriving anyway!”
If you would like to donate to the Alajawan’s Hands back to school drive you can drop off school supplies today between the hours of 9:00am and 3:00pm at the Sam’s Club located at 901 S Grady Way, Renton, WA 98057. You can also deposit your school supply donations at any Puget Sound area Wendy’s collection box until August 20th. You can contact Alajawan’s Hands directly at http://www.alajawanshands.com.