In Funerals, Chicago Student Sees A Future After Violence

Originally published on August 10, 2017 5:47 pm

DaQuan Mosley just graduated high school and will be attending college in the fall. He grew up in Englewood on Chicago's South Side, where he saw violence regularly and was nudged to join that lifestyle. He is planning a life turned directly toward the aftermath of violence and other loss by following a long time goal to become a funeral director and work with the families of victims.

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More than 700 people were shot and killed in Chicago last year. So far, this year looks no different. Our member station, WBEZ, is reporting on the impact of the city's gun violence in a series called Every Other Hour. That's about how often someone was shot in Chicago last year. Today, WBEZ's Susie An introduces us to a teen whose life has been shaped by that violence.

SUSIE AN, BYLINE: Hello. Good morning.

DAQUAN MOSLEY: Hello, Ms. Susie. How you doing?

AN: Good. How are you?

MOSLEY: I'm good.

AN: Eighteen-year-old DaQuan Mosley mostly grew up in Englewood, one of Chicago's poorest and most violent neighborhoods. Last year, 50 people were murdered there, including a few of his classmates. That's why Mosley doesn't spend much time outside.

MOSLEY: I wish I could drive from my porch to my car every morning, but I can't, you know? At night - I don't take the garbage out at night because I have fears of taking the trash out, you know? It's in the alley, you know? I've witnessed bodies in my alley, you know, just taking the trash out.

AN: Mosley himself was shot at last year. His mother, Toni Blakley, gets emotional when talking about that night. Her grandmother had just passed away, and the family was gathered at her house. Mosley and his younger sister left early to get ready for school the next morning.

TONI BLAKLEY: As soon as they hit the corner, I just heard gunshots ringing. And I looked down the street, and I just heard him - brakes squeaking, turning really, really fast out onto a busy street. And some guys that were standing on the corner actually walked up and started shooting at the car.

AN: After getting voicemail on their phones, Blakley jumped in her car to look for her kids and eventually found them shaken but safe. Blakley doesn't think the day could come soon enough when her son heads to college at Southern Illinois University.

BLAKLEY: You see so many kids in the news, and it's like, oh, he was on his way to college. And you have kids that were just killed the day before prom or prom night. It's like, Lord, you've worked with me this far. You kept him this far. Please let him make it to college.

AN: As a high school senior, DaQuan Mosley worked as an intern at Leak and Sons Funeral Homes on Chicago's South Side. After he graduated, they offered him a paid position. This is an 18-year-old who owns 14 suits because he likes to look presentable. He's had a passion for the funeral industry ever since he was 9 years old. And he says people are always telling him how strange they think it is.

MOSLEY: I don't get in this business just because I like, you know, dead people or to dress them or anything like that. I'm a very, very good people's person. I love talking to people. I love helping people.

AN: Mosley's mother wants to move her family away, maybe out of the city. But he's determined to come back after college and run a funeral home in the community he grew up in. He already has experience working the funerals of murder victims.

MOSLEY: There are many times when we have to cover up scars and wounds, and we just inform the families during arrangements.

AN: They'll suggest families bring in a hat or a scarf to cover up bullet wounds. Mosley sees the funeral home as a safe space. Earlier this summer, he was on his way to meet some friends at the beach but stopped by the funeral home for a while, and then got an alert on his phone.

MOSLEY: Two 16-year-old teens shot, 31st Beach, you know? And that's where I was on my way to, you know? So that's why I feel like this place has really blessed me and gave me the opportunity to not be out here on the streets, not to be at the beach, you know, being a target, not to be on a corner being a target or standing on my own block taking my own trash out as a target.

AN: While death and grieving may seem like the last things you'd want to be around if you live in a violent neighborhood, Colleen Cicchetti sees it differently. She's a psychologist at Lurie Children's Hospital and says it makes sense that people around trauma are looking to connect.

COLLEEN CICCHETTI: It's a pretty direct link to wanting to help people with the very thing that's become traumatic for you. So while some people avoid the thing that has made them feel anxious, other people sort of want to sort of step into that space and become actively involved in a solution.

AN: Cicchetti also finds this with first responders, social workers and even clergy. Spencer Leak Jr. is a funeral director and Mosley's boss. And he says lots of young people call him interested in a job at the funeral home, though many quickly lose interest after seeing their first body. That wasn't true of Mosley.

SPENCER LEAK JR.: He is very dedicated. He's caring. He wants to know what's going on. He asks questions.

AN: Leak says if Mosley wants it, there will be a job for him after he graduates college. Mosley already knows what the job will require and says he's comfortable with grieving. But he doesn't think he'll ever get used to escorting a family to see their deceased loved one for the first time.

MOSLEY: The looks on their face always gets me, you know, because it's not an easy job at all. And sometimes when the mom's up there breaking down for a 17-year-old crime victim, it makes me want to break down as an 18-year-old black male as well.

AN: But this Chicago teen hopes he can help grieving families find comfort in the wake of violence that took a loved one from them. For NPR News, I'm Susie An in Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.