The last place Jeannette Barnes wants to be Monday night is at a basketball game in a gymnasium full of rowdy teenagers.
But the 40-year-old single mother is going to push herself to go anyway because at halftime, organizers for Anton Moore’s annual Peace Week Ball 4 Peace Basketball Game will release balloons in memory of her son Zah’Air Chatmon, 21, and his cousin Quincy Cook, 25.
They were fatally shot about 9 p.m. March 26 while sitting inside a car at 23rd and Moore Streets in South Philly. No arrests have been made. In a city that has had 185 homicides this year, the double killing didn’t make much news.
Barnes, who works as a nurse, has been too distraught to return to her job. But she’s going to force herself to be at that game starting 6 p.m. Monday at Universal Audenried Charter High School, 3301 Tasker St. in Grays Ferry.
Barnes is skittish about being in large crowds these days. Also, public speaking isn’t her thing. I’ve talked to her only on the phone, but she’s a mother who loved her son more than her words can fully express.
So Barnes will rise to her feet, take the microphone, and stand at center court to speak out on behalf of her son and his cousin. She knows that somebody has to tell the world that their lives mattered. Somebody has to put a face on their killings.
Their family loved both of them and is staggering under the weight of this loss. Barnes has had to get therapy since the killings. She and other relatives have missed time from work. They’re having trouble sleeping. Their lives are destroyed and they’re having to do the unenviable work of rebuilding them day by day. Nothing is the same. Nor will it ever be.
“I feel like if we don’t do something, then we are condoning it,” Barnes told me.
“I’m not asking them to put the guns down. I’m asking them to put themselves in somebody else’s shoes, whether they can fit them or not. … When it happens to you and you’re gone, your parents is what you left behind. Put yourself in your parents’ shoes. Your mother’s shoes, your father’s shoes, your children’s shoes, if you have any. Your friends and family, their whole lives start over.”
“This is not the life that they want to live,” Barnes added. “I don’t wish this on anybody’s parents, even the parents of the people who killed my son. I don’t want this for them.”
Unity in the Community began Peace Week 12 years ago as a block party and expanded it over time. This year’s lineup of daily events includes a free clinic on how to get a criminal record expunged at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Dixon House, 1920 S. 20th St., awarding of two college scholarships the following day, and a block party starting at 5 p.m. Aug. 3 in the 2000 block of Snyder Avenue.
“Each day is going to be in remembrance of someone that was a victim of gun violence,” said Moore, founder and president of Unity in the Community. “At every event, we will do a moment of silence, let the parents speak, and do a balloon release.”