I arrived at my daughter Janyah’s high school graduation on a warm day in May. When I stepped into the building, staff began shutting all the doors to the auditorium where the  ceremony was taking place because people were sneaking in without tickets. I started to worry. As I fought back tears, I thought to myself, “Jaree, you need to get in there to see your baby girl get her diploma because you won’t be able to see your son walk across the stage next year.”

My son, Rishawn Hendricks, was shot and killed in North Lawndale on October 22, 2022. He was 16 years old — and like hundreds of Black Chicagoans, I still don’t know who did it. Rishawn was scheduled to graduate from high school in 2024, which made seeing my daughter walk across the stage feel so important. I keep these milestones close to my heart. Rishawn was a good kid who didn’t bother anybody. I now know this can happen to anyone, and that I may never get the justice my son deserves.

I never imagined my life would turn out this way. As a child, I had many dreams. I wanted to graduate from high school, go to college, and pursue a degree in criminal justice. All of that changed in 2004 when I became pregnant at age 16. Seven days after Janyah was born, I thought my life was over. I had a seizure, a stroke, and an aneurysm. I was placed in a coma. Those first few months after leaving the hospital were hell. I had to battle depression while being on several medications and learning how to be a mom. I knew I had to get better for my daughter. 

A year later, I noticed something felt off, and I discovered that I was pregnant. Because of my medical history, this was a high-risk pregnancy, and I couldn’t afford two kids at a time. My boyfriend at the time and I considered not moving forward with the pregnancy, but I decided to keep my child. My boyfriend named our son, but he died in a car accident in April 2006. On August 21, 2006, Rishawn was born. I immediately knew that I had made the right decision. 

Years passed and we got our own place in North Lawndale. My kids never gave me any problems. Shawn was amazing, respectful, joyful, helpful and strong. When he was about 9, he had his tonsils taken out. Shawn insisted that he was OK and demanded to go to school. He loved being around his friends. I eventually let him go. I just knew Shawn was going to be a strong kid like me. 

A woman poses with a large cutout of a young Black man wearing a white polo shirt and a lanyard
A family of five sits on a couch together, flanked by large photos of a young man. One of them reads
Jaree Noel poses with several photos of her late son Rishawn Hendricks, joined by her family and his friends. (Carolina Sanchez for The Trace)

When Rishawn made it to high school, he was on the basketball and football teams. All he wanted to do was enjoy his friends, play sports, play on his PS5, and listen to his music, especially Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and Fantasia’s “When I See You.” 

The last day I saw my son was October 22. Earlier that day, I was joking and laughing with him. I wanted to barbecue because the weather was so pleasant. He asked if he could go outside. I said it was OK. I watched him leave through the rear gate and head toward a playground about a block away. 

When I stepped inside the house to check on the macaroni I was making, my partner started yelling.

“You heard that?” 

“What happened?” I asked. 

“They were shooting,” he said.

“Where were they shooting?” 

He pointed toward the playground.

“Call Shawn now,” I remember saying. 

My partner called Shawn about three times. I called his phone but there was no response. From my backyard, I could hear children calling Shawn’s name. I thought “OK, there are several children named Shawn,” but at the same time, I was terrified it was my Shawn. 

I was nervous as I walked to the playground. As I got close, two kids came running, crying, telling me Rishawn had been shot. I asked them if he was OK, but they said they had no idea. Before I got close, I saw him lying on the ground while the paramedics tried to revive him. I noticed my baby was not moving. I knew he was gone. I had to go to the hospital, where I saw he still wasn’t moving. The physicians said what no parent wants to hear: “I’m sorry. We did the best we could. He came in without a pulse.” That moment permanently damaged my life. 

Now, when I see young men walking, laughing, and playing around my neighborhood, all I want to do is cry, because I know my son is meant to be here. I often ask myself, what was the point? Rishawn was a good kid who didn’t deserve this. It’s been over* a year since Rishawn was killed, and we still don’t know who shot him. It’s painful to think that we might never know. Please put the guns down. Too many people are gone for no reason. 

Every day I hear about another child losing their life. Many are killed like Rishawn — by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We parents will never be the same, especially those of us who don’t get justice. And every day, I wish we could get justice. Justice for losing a child, a friend, a family member. Justice for living in a city where there’s no real control over guns. I constantly ask myself what would that even look like for people like me? How would it feel? Part of me wants the person who did this to be found by the police. But I also know that isn’t going to bring Shawn back. Even if we find out, I’m still going to hurt because I’m never getting my son, my heart, back.

I was eventually able to get into my daughter’s graduation. One of my son’s coaches heard that I was stuck outside. He and Rishawn were close, and he knew how important this moment was to me. I was excited to see my daughter walk across the stage, to see all her hard work pay off. But I could sense the pain my daughter felt because my son wasn’t there to watch her. 

I’m now organizing Rishawn’s graduation. We plan to have our own ceremony with close family and friends. I wish I could have had more time with my baby boy, but I know he is with me every day. I can’t be selfish because I still have to make sure I’m OK for myself and my daughter. 

Son, I know you’re on this long journey, and I can’t join you right now, but we will meet again.