Sixteen-year-old Ruby Macsai-Goren learned about the shooting death of Dajae Coleman via Facebook last Sunday, the day after he was gunned down on Church Street.
Macsai-Goren, a junior at Evanston Township High School, noticed a lot of conversation on Facebook about Dajae’s death. While she didn’t know the 14-year-old freshman, she could tell that many, many people in the ETHS community were affected by the news, as she was.
That day she created a Facebook group called Stop the Violence in Evanston as a place where people could gather, virtually, to discuss what had happened and what they might be able to do to prevent another violent death in the community.
“If somebody else wasn’t going to start it, I will,” she said of her decision. “Somebody died. It’s not the first time [that’s happened in Evanston]. I find that unacceptable.”
Nine days later, the group has more than 4,000 members and has become a robust forum for both teens and adults in the community. ETHS students, alum and parents are sharing thoughts and information, and the page’s fans include many local politicians, including Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.
Among other things, the group helped spread the word to wear red to school last Monday in Dajae’s honor, has publicized candlelight vigils and fundraisers, brainstormed about a memorial page to Dajae in the yearbook, shared information about the arrest of the gang member police say shot Dajae in a case of mistaken identity, and celebrated the fact that LeBron James and other NBA players Tweeted about Dajae’s death.
Daje Coleman: The story so far
There has been some arguing among the page's members about whether the group has turned Dajae’s death into “a project,” particularly since so many of the page’s members didn’t know him. But Macsai-Goren has stressed repeatedly on the site (and in an interview) that the page’s goal is not to try to understand the grief of those close to Dajae, but to try to create a space for the community to gather and discuss how to prevent future tragedies.
“It’s been difficult, but it’s worth it,” she said of the online criticism. “There’s nothing else I would rather be doing right now than trying to help.”
Karen Maxwell, whose stepchildren go to ETHS, joined the group the day after it formed and has been an active participant.
“Kids were using it for all kinds of purposes. They were expressing themselves openly. I loved it,” she said. “I believe the site was cathartic for many, regardless of the tensions.”
Maxwell helped organize Saturday’s candlelight walk, which Macsai-Goren posted as an event on the page. Maxwell said there’s no way the walk would have attracted 250 people — half students and half adults — without Stop the Violence in Evanston’s help.
As for future events, Macsai-Goren is planning to keep a low profile for a while, so as not to upset any more of Dajae’s close friends and family who voiced their displeasure about the page. Eventually she’d like to be organizing activities promoting peace.
In six months, she said, she hopes “we’re still around. I hope we have a distinct plan.”
In the meantime, she’s working with another student organization called Paint Evanston Beautiful to create a mural promoting non-violence. “It’s something — we can start with that.”
“Teenagers have ideas, everyone, not just me,” she said. “They can change the world. And we can start in Evanston.”