It was a beautifully warm summer evening in June 2021. I was eight months pregnant and still queasy most days, but I decided to get some tacos from a restaurant in West Englewood that I visited often. I took a shower, threw on my favorite black sundress and matching Ivy Park slides, and headed out into the perfect Chicago summer night. 

After getting my food, I headed over to say hello to my best friend, Angela, just a couple of  blocks away. When I arrived, I saw another friend, Yogi, who was excited about my pregnancy. We joked, chatted about what she was going to cook for my baby shower, and updated each other on the latest viral Reels. I waved goodbye, styrofoam taco container still in hand, and heard gunshots. 

As I lay on the ground in a pool of blood, all the worst thoughts played in my head: stories of people who died before reaching a trauma center, my unborn child not surviving, the devastation this would bring my family. 

More than two years later, I’m still healing from my injuries. I’ll never be the same. My journey to recovery, which started with so many mishaps in the hospital, has been long and excruciating. It has shown me the heavy burden society places on survivors of gun violence to heal themselves. In a city with thousands of gun violence victims, and over 7,000 hospital beds, I felt failed by the healthcare system. It’s hard to believe that the standard of care is so low for survivors. 

I’ve always found confidence in my strength. My physical well-being was always a priority. I worked out regularly, ran track, and was an avid soccer player for years. When you’re young, you can’t control many things, but my physical ability was something I felt like I had power over. It sustained me in my work as a longtime community organizer and chef. It helped me start my own catering company that helped to feed community members in low-income neighborhoods. But the mass shooting that injured me, 10 others, and took Yogi’s life, shook that foundation. I’m sharing the details so people can witness what happened to me and understand what happens to other victims of gun violence every day. 

As the bullets rang out, I remember telling myself to get down. I remember people running in every direction — some of their dashes curtailed by the force of the firearms. I remember watching bodies fall to the ground while I was still getting shot. I remember searching to feel the ground through the blood beneath me. I remember how a police officer stepped over me with no acknowledgement as I begged for a tourniquet. I remember the male EMT who inspected my stomach and left my sundress rolled above my pelvis before walking away to attend to others. 

I spent about a week-and-a-half in the hospital. My experience there was another trauma. My pain was excruciating and due to my pregnancy, there was not much medicinal relief offered. My left foot, left calf, right leg, thigh, and arm all had been hit. The damage to my right leg was the most severe — it broke my tibia completely, causing severe nerve damage that still limits my walking and balance. I had to beg hospital staff for simple things like a wheelchair, commode, gauze, and a shower chair. I was discouraged from having those necessities billed to my insurance and told to buy them myself. While still in a traumatized state, I was given little instructions and was expected to know how to care for an injury I never had before. 

All I could think about was how would I deliver a baby in my condition, how would I get home and inside my apartment, how would I use the bathroom, what would motherhood look like now? With the help of family and advocates, I was able to get home with a few supplies to carry me over for a week. And just like that I was expected to start healing. 

The truth is that this is when the lasting trauma began. I visualized the terror from that night constantly, believing the shooters who haven’t been caught would return at any moment to finish me off. The bulk of my days were spent attempting to guide my thoughts away from the shooting, so that I could pretend I was OK. The unknown was the scariest part: How would I take care of this baby? Would I ever walk? Who even am I now? My ambitions, my drive, my dreams ran out of me as quickly as the blood in my body. 

The lack of adequate care that survivors often receive can worsen our conditions, create mistrust, and prevent us from accessing the healing we deserve. It wasn’t until I turned to a community of survivors that I was able to set myself on a path toward recovery. These were friends and family who had been shot themselves — people I love and respect who are able to successfully navigate their day-to-day lives despite their disabilities. From them, I learned where to get free gauze and which types would work best for my wounds. A friend instructed me on the necessity of leg warmers and heating pads during the Chicago winter because the cold heightens the pain of the bullet fragments that are still in my body, making it feel like I’m being sliced from the inside. Another friend walked me through the best way of getting up and down my stairs on FaceTime. Connecting with a community of other survivors made me feel less alone. It has helped me process my emotions. And it lit a spark in me. 

I joined community organizations and projects that focus on educating and empowering our neighborhoods. I threw a Black joy event with a focus on training people in the community to respond to shootings. We gave first medical kits to businesses in the area where I was shot, in case community members needed to provide first aid to gunshot victims as they waited for help. I hosted a winter wonderland toy drive just a few yards from where I was shot. Some people questioned why I would go back, but this is my community. Where else would I go?

I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl in September 2021. She was healthy and perfect, and she gave me a daily dose of strength and motivation that I needed. I always loved being a mom, watching my kids grow, and being able to guide them on their journeys. My life was always so fast-paced, but now I’m taking in motherhood moment by moment. I’ve made sure to celebrate each of our milestones together.

Taking time for myself was necessary, but new to me. I’m still physically struggling with everyday tasks and trying to get back to a routine. My life still feels like a roller coaster. But this community has helped me realize that I was always strong — not because of my physical abilities, but because of the inner strength I possess. Sometimes, you just need people who’ve had similar experiences to guide you.