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Family remembers young activist slain in West Rogers Park. ‘To see him speaking out so millions could see him ... it meant a lot to us.’

Caleb Reed had been outspoken on racial justice issues, his family says, but this summer the 17-year-old became a leader in his community as he called for the removal of Chicago police officers from public schools.

“To actually see him speaking out so millions could see him ... it meant a lot to us,” said Reed’s older sister Jasmine Bradley. “It really did mean a lot to us.”

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Last Friday afternoon, Reed was found on a sidewalk in the 1900 block of West Granville Avenue in West Rogers Park with a gunshot wound to the head, police said. He was taken to Amita Health St. Francis Hospital Evanston, where he died Sunday morning.

Caleb Reed's brother Jermaine Pleasant, left, and his girlfriend, Alexis Johnson, watch balloons drift away above Cicero Avenue in Chicago on Aug. 3, 2020, after a vigil for the slain teen activist.
Caleb Reed's brother Jermaine Pleasant, left, and his girlfriend, Alexis Johnson, watch balloons drift away above Cicero Avenue in Chicago on Aug. 3, 2020, after a vigil for the slain teen activist. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

Police have released few details of the shooting and have reported no arrests. Reed would have been a senior this year at Mather High School.

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He was killed on the last day of the most violent month in Chicago in 28 years. At least 107 people were killed in July, more than double the same month last year, according to data kept by the Tribune. That’s the most homicides the city has seen in a single month since September 1992, when 109 were recorded.

Reed was a leader with Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, a coalition of community organizations advocating for racial justice in the education system. Members saw Reed as a young activist full of potential, always pushing himself and others to work harder.

“He was a powerful young man,” said Derion Smith, a leader with VOYCE and Communities United. “No matter what was going on, Caleb made sure we all focused on one thing, and that was us getting the resources and the rights that we need.

“He was planning to do a lot,” Smith added. “He wanted change in his community.”

To Meyiya Coleman, Reed was like a little brother. She watched him grow during his time in the organization and proudly stood beside him as he spoke at his first news conference early this summer.

Mourners gather on West Superior Street in Chicago on Aug. 3, 2020, to memorialize slain teen activist Caleb Reed.
Mourners gather on West Superior Street in Chicago on Aug. 3, 2020, to memorialize slain teen activist Caleb Reed. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

Reed wanted the money spent on school policing to be diverted to mental health and other services for students.

“He was solely focused on getting the help that Black and brown people needed,” Coleman said. “Whether it was to talk to a counselor or a peace program. … He was just so focused on that, letting people know that Black and brown young people are important and they matter.”

On June 9, he spoke with VOYCE members at a news conference supporting a proposed ordinance that would have terminated the $33 million contract between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Police Department and removed school resource officers from schools.

Reed said having a police presence in schools labeled students as potentially dangerous criminals. He shared his experience of being arrested for not having an ID at a school basketball game.

Reed said he left to use the bathroom at halftime. When he returned, an officer asked for his ID, which he did not have. Reed said he walked away, but another school resource officer was called in and arrested him. He was detained in a cell for six hours.

“While I was sitting in that cell I felt angry and confused, but I remained calm because I knew the situation could have escalated real quick,” Reed said. “The situation was wrong because I did nothing wrong. I would have wanted the officer to ask me to leave, but that didn’t happen that day.”

“He wanted to change how young Black men were seen and how they were being treated,” VOYCE said in a statement. “His work included changing the narrative of how we love and support young people of color.”

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As word of Reed’s death spread, fellow activists as well as elected officials took to social media to pay tribute to him.

The nonviolence group GoodKids MadCity wrote in a tweet that Reed was a “freedom fighter,” adding “this tragedy is traumatizing & heartbreaking. We can honor him by continuing the call to end (gun violence) & get students resources for healing.”

Ald. Andre Vasquez, 40th, who has supported the removal of officers from schools, called Reed “a light in our community that was extinguished too soon. We need to address the root causes of #GunViolence so that we stop losing our people.”

The Chicago Teachers Union began a protest Monday by honoring Reed. “Let his passion ignite something in you and continue to fight for the freedom of future generations,” CTU member Norma Noriega told the crowd, gathered to demonstrate against CPS plans for the fall.

Mourners gather on West Superior Street in Chicago on Aug. 3, 2020, to memorialize slain teen activist Caleb Reed.
Mourners gather on West Superior Street in Chicago on Aug. 3, 2020, to memorialize slain teen activist Caleb Reed. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

Reed was the second youngest of eight siblings, born and raised on the West Side of Chicago. Both Reed’s parents are hearing impaired, and according to VOYCE members, he was learning American Sign Language to better communicate with them.

In his free time, his sister said he loved to play sports: football, basketball and boxing. “He was very active, he was tall, a friendly giant,” Bradley said.

As a junior in high school, Reed was looking forward to applying to colleges soon, hoping to attend somewhere out of state.

“He wanted to go elsewhere just so he could experience something new, rather than staying in the city of Chicago.” Bradley said. “He spent all of his years here, he never really got a chance to go (to) different places.”

Monday evening, Reed’s family gathered outside their home on the West Side and released balloons in his memory.

On the side of their building, Bradley taped pictures of her younger brother and a white poster board for friends to leave behind messages.

Bradley and her mother stood in front of the pictures of Reed, holding each other in a tight embrace.

“He was supposed to be here right now,” Bradley said with her forehead leaning against the wall.

About 6:35 a.m. Sunday, Bradley said, doctors called her and told her that Caleb’s “heart had stopped beating.”

In his honor, at 6:35 p.m. Monday, Bradley and her parents released silver balloons, spelling out C-A-L-E-B,, into the air.

As they flew away, Bradley called out, “Take care of him.”

ssherry@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @SophiePSherry

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