Each life lost is precious in some way.
I get that.
But when senseless gun violence takes the life of a talented young person on the cusp of adulthood, it raises that death to a whole other level of tragedy, one deserving of acknowledgment in a big way. These lives shouldn’t be reduced to a few lines in a crime roundup story. I feel strongly about that.
So, even though I have been avoiding large crowds and sticking close to home because of the coronavirus pandemic, I took a chance and stopped by the vigil organized in memory of Jasmine Lewis on Tuesday night. It was held on the basketball courts at Sturgis Playground in East Oak Lane where she fell in love with the game.
As I got out of my car, I was met by an all-too-familiar sight — hundreds of mourners holding helium-filled balloons, candles arrayed on the ground in front of posters, and sad-faced young people in white T-shirts with an image of the deceased emblazoned across the front. The sound system wasn’t good, but I could hear activists calling for an end to gun violence and asking the rhetorical question, “When do Black lives really matter?”
“They are killing our women and children,” Colwin Williams, a street supervisor with Philadelphia Cure Violence, told the crowd.
It’s too late for Lewis, a strapping basketball player who stood 5 feet, 11 inches tall and last played for Lackawanna College in Scranton.
The 20-year-old East Oak Lane resident, who dreamed of playing for the WNBA, was fatally wounded last month while driving in the 6000 block of Wister Street in East Germantown. Her large, close-knit family is devastated by the loss of the fun-loving Mastery Charter North graduate with the big smile.
“From what they’re saying, it was crossfire. We’re not sure yet,” Shakeah Robinson, Lewis’ oldest sibling, told me.
“She was in the process of transferring over to a college in New York,” Robinson, 38, said, adding that she wasn’t sure which one. “She wanted to play basketball overseas. I don’t know why she was so adamant on that.”
Lewis was determined to reach the next level in her basketball career.
“She was on her way to transferring to another school, and she had called me in June, and she had said, ’Coach, this is what I want to do. This is where I want to go,’” recalled Joya Whittington, Lackawanna’s head women’s basketball coach and athletic director. “And we were excited for her. It was great to hear from her, and it’s just been a tragic loss for our entire community. She touched a lot of people here, and it was well, well beyond the basketball court. It was as a person.”
Last Thursday, the day she was fatally wounded, Lewis had played one-on-one basketball with her younger sister and nephew at the Salvation Army Kroc Center. Lewis handily beat both of them.
Afterward, “she came home. She was in my room getting dressed,” her sister Jaylah Robinson, 16, told me.
The sisters, who were best friends, discussed which pair of Jordans sneakers Lewis should wear with the white T-shirt and light blue distressed jeans she had on. They settled on a blue-and-white pair. As she headed out, Lewis accidentally took her nephew’s brush. When she was reminded about it, Lewis promised to return it. But she never made it home again.
Philadelphia police later reported that a female had been shot once in the head while operating a vehicle and transported to Einstein Medical Center in critical condition. She died two days later. Late Wednesday, authorities reported that no arrests had been made and the investigation was continuing.
After Tuesday’s vigil, Lewis’ great-aunt Natalie Mitchell pointed out, “She had a great future ahead of her which was swiped away from her.”