Editor's note: Judy Atchinson is executive director of QUEST, a not-for-profit group in Hamilton Hill whose goal is to help children who are considered at-risk lead healthier, happier and more productive lives. Today she remembers Sha'hiim Nelligan, who died recently. He attended QUEST.
I remember a slip of a boy, a toddler, who absolutely sparkled, shot off little green sparks when he moved. And oh boy did he move, like a pro. And everyone just adored him, they carried him everywhere. In their arms -- on their shoulders and in their hearts. He was funny, he was a ham, he was smart, he could have been a player in any Disney movie.
In his early days at QUEST he liked to hang out with the girls, who carried him everywhere; we have a picture of him perched on a young girl's shoulder and surrounded by female pulchritude. But he played both sides, and loved to shoot baskets with the big boys. He was a mascot and a running streak at the age of 3.
He took ballet every week and was talented -- maybe no Baryshnikov, but good feet and carriage, and a real instinct for movement. He learned about behaving and following directions. The only problem was at every performance and outing he stole all the attention. “Oh.. look at the little one,” everyone said. And he damn well knew how cute he was and milked it. Every last drop. It got so we had to keep him off the stage to give everyone else their taste of fame, and at the end he’d announce his name and did a small solo just for him and then participated in the grand finale.
And how the seniors loved him; they couldn’t wait to hug him. He had this little buck and wing step he would do and sing a hook from a rap and then finish and bow. He would do this at the drop of a hat anywhere, anytime. What a born performer. Cuteness personified. He took part in our poetry and art workshops as soon as he could hold a pencil and sign his name. Active, inquisitive and quiet. He kept himself to himself and always wanted to be by his grandma. They loved each other. It was so deep and profound it was almost palpable.
Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, he came to all parties. He was sweet and funny in costumes and he never gave anyone a lick of trouble. I don’t mean to say he was perfect, he was not, he was a little child experimenting with life.
He loved dogs; when he came to visit me at my home, he and my 70-pound rescue dog went right to each other (Wilber, the black long haired dog). Wilber would become very, very still and stand quietly just leaning gently against Sha’ hiim. Wilber knows good people, he would have gone right home with this small person. I must admit I was a tad jealous.
I saw him and his grandmother and his three step sisters on the Wednesday before he died. Sha and Grandma stayed in the car with me, and Gloria and I talked quietly and privately, and he slept, very soundly indeed, in the back seat. I did not know then that that would be the last time I would ever see him. Except in my dreams, of course, I see him just standing in the air and kind of smiling. A real smile, not a sad one.
A lot of people came to QUEST this week just to sit and talk and try to understand. But there is no understanding this. It’s a Greek tragedy. The sadness it brings is beyond comprehension.
Kids asking me “Why?” saying, “I thought Gloria was one of the good people. She used to play with us and bring us great food.” And she was and she did and maybe we will never know what happened but seeing Gloria in court was heart rending. She looks so frail and sad and alone. She can’t even stand, she is so disabled.
Gloria baked and cooked and cleaned and sewed and tutored and lived quietly, as quietly as possible with four kids in the house, along with family cats and dogs. She helped community wherever she went. And was known everywhere as a kind, good woman.
Volunteers to the rescue
I’ve written here about calling in a suicide threat by a 13-year-old boy, and having DSS along with CPS coming to my home. My home!!! They actually took my cell phone and went through my call logs and messages. They did all this before going to the young man's home to make sure he was all right. Turns out, he was not and spent three weeks at a psychiatric center for juveniles.
We always go on the longest possible road available for our kids. Frustrating and difficult as it may be, we are here for our families, for whatever, however and how long it is needed. Do not threaten us again. I have issued this invitation countless times, come on down, donate some time and effort; we need volunteers.
And speaking of volunteers, we had a fancy group of volunteers, young men, in every guise of street wear possible from tattoos to gold teeth to sensible clothing. “We came to clean ma’am,” they said; there were at least 12 of them and clean they did. They divided into “crews” -- 3 crews. Each took one floor and they mopped and scrubbed and hauled stuff too heavy for us to carry and left the place spotless. The best part was they all shook my hand and introduced themselves and said, “Whenever you want us, just call, we clean, we paint, we do construction work. Just call.” So we made a tentative arrangement for every two weeks that has left me grinning from ear to ear. What have you done lately for life in your community?
Oh yes — Ty Quan, real life sweatshirt- hoodie. He’s still wearing it. 15 days and counting. Little things can make such a difference in a child’s life.
March is here. Can we say spring? Can we say snowdrops? Can we take the time to visit a neighbor in need? Can we say spring equinox? Can we sing and dance in the streets? Well, we will have to avoid the mud. March is mud month, after all. But we can color eggs, and have kids deliver secret baskets of goodies. We can draw on the sidewalks. We can hold each other dear. Let us all stop and whisper a prayer or blessing for Sha’hiim who died in a tragic accident on the last Saturday in February 2013. May he zoom with the angels and shower laughter and blessings on us all. Love you still, Gloria, peace be with you. I have a shoulder to weep on anytime, anytime at all.
“A work of art has a maker, and yet a perfect work of art is also anonymous, as if intimidated by the anonymity of the art of the divine. And so does the beauty of the world offer proof of God, who is at once personal and impersonal and neither the one or the other.”
-- Simone Weil
Until we meet again
The Lord Bless You and
The Lord make his face
Shine upon you and
Grant you peace
All we need is love.