It has been less than a month since the senseless beating of 16-year-old Chicago honor student Derrion Albert, which was caught on video for the whole world to see. His death has brought the issue of youth violence to the forefront in Chicago, even bringing Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder out to discuss ways in which the federal government can better help the ongoing situation. But one person still reeling from this tremendous loss is Joseph Walker, Derrion’s grandfather, who believes his grandson’s death was not in vain. Walker spoke to ESSENCE.com about how he is coping after losing his only grandson, the one person who has really come to his family’s aid, and why he has very little to say to Holder or Duncan.
ESSENCE.COM: What has this loss been like for your family?
JOSPEH WALKER: It’s such a tragic loss because he was the love of our life, but I have some very good memories of my grandson. I used to get up early on Saturday mornings and take Derrion for bike rides when he was about 10 years old. He would be ready at 5:30 A.M., waking me up saying he’s ready to go. I thank God that at least I had 16 years of blessings.
ESSENCE.COM: Derrion was living with you when he died. What was he like?
WALKER: He came in one day and showed me his honor roll certificate. I was so proud of him. That Tuesday night before he was killed, Derrion was at Bible class at church. He was there every Tuesday night and at church on Sundays. I was blessed with an angel and didn’t even know it.
ESSENCE.COM: Do you know how the fight started?
WALKER: We have a school in Chicago called Carver Military Academy. Altgeld Gardens housing project is located in the same complex as Carver. Some of the kids who live in Atgeld Gardens have to get up at 5:30 A.M. and take three Chicago buses to get to Fenger High School. On the way there, they have to pass through the Roseland area where those kids throw bottles at the bus. This has been going on since last year until things escalated into this big fight, where in the end, my grandson got attacked. These kids from Altgeld Gardens are going to school in fear every day. There wasn’t anything done about it until now. I’m going to be a strong advocate to keep these kids safe. The only way that I can fill the grief is to not let Derrion’s death go down in vain.
ESSENCE.COM: Have you been surprised at all by the attention and support you have received since his death?
WALKER: Well, I credit that to the video and his picture in the paper. Without that you may have only heard about this story just one day. I gave permission for his picture to be used. I didn’t want him to be known as another number.
ESSENCE.COM: Have you seen the video?
WALKER: I can’t watch that. I haven’t even watched the news since it happened. I can’t see what happened to my baby and I wasn’t there to protect him. If I was there, I would have taken every blow they gave him.
ESSENCE.COM: So far, four boys have been arrested for beating your grandson. Are you following this case closely?
WALKER: Yes, I’m waiting on the court date. I’m just going to let the laws of the land prevail. I’m not going to pass judgment because that’s God’s work. I will say that this case has brought out anger in the young people in a good way. They are making me so proud the way they are rallying, having peace meetings, and creating peace clubs in school to talk about things. The mayor is talking about more police. Man, you don’t need that. We need to make programs where these kids can stop being territorial and start learning about each other. If we just continue to do the same thing, nothing will change.
ESSENCE.COM: What have you been most shocked to see as a result of Derrion’s death?
WALKER: We were coming to the cemetery and I was so shocked to see Reverend Jesse Jackson and Minister Louis Farrakhan standing there next to each other, waiting on us. That tells you the type of grandson I had. He was able to bring these two powerhouses together and that’s saying something. Plus, I heard that was the first time the Minister had ever been in a Baptist church.
ESSENCE.COM: What did you think when you found out that the secretary of education and attorney general were coming to Chicago to discuss youth violence as a result of Derrion’s passing?
WALKER: I’m not looking at Mayor Daley, Secretary Duncan or Attorney General Holder, who came all the way from Washington, D.C., but didn’t step one foot on the South Side where the incident happened to my grandson. Neither the mayor nor anyone from Washington, D.C., has reached out to me or my family. They couldn’t even say God bless you or come to our home or call. Do you know what it would have meant to this community if either of those men would have come here? Reverend Jesse Jackson is the only one who came to our home and uplifted this house and family. It made me see that I have to get out there and try to encourage these kids and do whatever I can do to speak out about my grandson.
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