Tiffany Rice Talks About Her First Year Without Dajae

"I thought there’d always be a 'next time,'" says Rice, whose son, Dajae Coleman, was shot and killed a year ago in a case of mistaken identity.

Evanston 4th of July Parade. Photo courtesy of the Dajae Coleman Foundation.
Evanston 4th of July Parade. Photo courtesy of the Dajae Coleman Foundation.
Tiffany Rice lost her son, 14-year-old Dajae (“DaeDae”) Coleman, to gun violence in Evanston, Illinois on September 22, 2012. She has since created a foundation to honor her son and “uplift, encourage, empower, and reward” the youth in her community.

This past weekend, the first annual DaeDaeWorld Weekend concluded on the one-year anniversary of Dajae's murder. I asked Tiffany how she’s doing now, where she finds inspiration, and what she’d like to say to those touched by gun violence.      

1. It's been one year since Dajae was shot and killed. What does life feel like for you now? 

It’s still hard and I’m still learning how to adjust. Life is completely different. I’m living a life I never envisioned for myself.  This isn’t something I expected or wanted, but I’ve learned to embrace the change because of God’s grace.

2.How did the first DaeDaeWorld Weekend go? Which moments do you think you'll hold closest from the event?

There were so many good things about the weekend that it’s hard to pick the best takeaway. A highlight for me was the open mic session where young people shared their innermost thoughts, pain, and confusion.  I encouraged that component of the weekend a lot because those are the things the community needs to be addressing.  I also found it exciting to watch them bombard the skate floor that’s typically reserved for adults on Friday nights.  Then just watching them enjoy one another was very fulfilling.  On Saturday, watching the kids put in hard work on the basketball court was very reminiscent of the many times Dajae would work on his craft while I sat raptly watching.  The DC3 E-Town Ballers Basketball Game was a perfect conclusion to the weekend.  It was one of the most exciting games I’ve ever watched.  I think the symbolism of the violence that’s happening in our community is very important here, because the game was a clear depiction of rivalry in its most acceptable form.  Contextualizing rivalry as a competition-based dynamic, the players demonstrated that rivalry should be absent of guns and weapons, and should be internalized to make oneself work just a little harder, play just a little better, and put forth a little bit more effort, not just to win the game, but to win in life.

I do have to say, however, that I couldn’t help but to be drawn back to a piece you published a few months ago.  It was one of your reader’s observations of the foundation in the 4th of July parade.  She mentioned the absence of “white people marching with them.”  First I have to reply by saying that our doors are open, always have been, and always will be.  And while I was thoroughly impressed by the outcome of DaeDaeWorld Weekend, especially since it is our inaugural year, I have to say that I’m somewhat disappointed by my observations.  The lack of white people present, particularly on the Friday night free venue at Fleetwood Jourdain, was very unsettling for me.  The weekend was designed as a community-wide event that sought to engage our entire community, not just specific neighborhoods.  Here we had so many of our youth in one central place, we had their attention, but we didn’t have enough ears to hear them or enough hearts to listen.  That’s something I hope will change for DaeDaeWorld Weekend 2014.

3. Who and what are your biggest sources of support and/or inspiration?

The youth are my biggest inspiration. When they Facebook inbox me just to say hi, or tell me they’re stopping by to drop flowers off for me as one of Dajae’s classmates just recently did, or text me asking me when’s the next event and how can they be involved, it gives me that boost that I at times so desperately need. I feed off of their energy and am instantly eager to do more for them. Their concern tells me there are young people in our community depending on me to be okay.

4. So many people, like me, watch and marvel at how you've found the strength to continue after the tragedy of losing a child to gun violence. It seems to me you've become part of a group (mothers of children killed by guns) that you never imagined joining. Do you ever talk to other mothers who've lost their children to gunfire?

I don’t talk to many.  In the immediate aftermath I had other mothers reach out, but at the time I needed to grieve alone.  I’ve been so busy for practically this entire year that I haven’t had much time to do much of anything, because my focus has been my family, school, and the foundation.  I do, however, have a special friend who lost her son to gun violence a couple of months before Dajae was murdered.  She saw Dajae’s story on the news, and it mirrored her son’s story so much that she and her family blindly came to Evanston from Harvey, IL, not knowing me or my address, but just the name of the street.  She found us and we’ve been in touch ever since.  She too started a foundation, called the Love Day Foundation, to continue the legacy of her son.  We actually plan to collaborate on some projects in the near future.

5. What would you want to say to students at Evanston Township High School and throughout the country who've lost a friend or family member to gun violence?

I’d say don’t accept it.  Don’t sit back and let it continue.  It’s sad and tragedy disables us all, but find the strength to make the difference.

6. What keeps you moving forward?

God’s mercy and my children do.  I say children because I still have two.  While Dajae’s not here in the flesh for me to provide a life for him, I can still provide a legacy for him and a better life for our youth.

 7. If you were sitting across the dinner table with Dajae tonight, what would you want to say to him?

I’d tell him “yes I’ll take you practice driving right now” and “yes I’ll go get the band to your watch adjusted now.” These are things I told him I’d do last year, but never got the chance to because I thought there’d always be a “next time.”  I’d seize the moment and make him happy in every way he desired.

Please leave a comment for Tiffany Rice and the Dajae Coleman Foundation in the comments section below.
j September 25, 2013 at 06:23 PM
I agree not sure these have impact. Also curious non of local politicians appear in pictures. Nor did I see much information on it was taking place. Patch article says planning to have no specifics.
Procrustes' Foil September 28, 2013 at 06:46 AM
Christine, do you know if Asians and Hispanics attended this event? It appears that the ever-widening racial, cultural and class divide in the US is becoming insurmountable. Try attending a classical music event and you will see few, if any, blacks present. I'm very worried about this. Hilda and Dana, your point is well taken.
Elizabeth Hunt October 03, 2013 at 12:06 AM
You have to consider these events as having more distally positive outcomes than immediate, concrete benefits. Consider the number of kids who attended from neighborhoods/wards that have disproportionate amounts of violence in their daily lives because of where they live. At this event, these kids were given an outlet to express themselves while witnessing a showing of support from the community. Positive youth development focuses on building the positive attributes young people need in order to be successful, emphasizing the supports and services necessary to help youth transition through various stages of their development. States and policymakers are beginning to use this framework to develop policies and programs that will ensure that all youth are ready for college, work and life. Thus, I believe events like DaeDaeWorld Weekend contribute to positive youth development. I will attend next year and will put out the word as much as I can. Sorry to have missed it.
Helen's Daughter October 03, 2013 at 07:50 PM
Thank you Elizabeth, I concur. The folks who are most affected, and at risk for victimhood, attended these events. They (the youth) also asked for more events like these which provided guided activities, artist forums, athletic events and positive reinforcement. What are we going to do to provide more outlets for them?
Christine Wolf October 06, 2013 at 02:49 PM
Helen's Daughter, I'm deeply involved in a project at Church and Dodge to help our youth have more access and opportunities to the very activities you ask mention. The spirit and mission involve building positive self esteem and social engagement. I cannot wait to share more.


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