It has been more than two years since Nyisha Beemon’s daughter was shot and killed inside a convenience store on 79th Street and Avalon Avenue.
Beemon says not a day goes by that she doesn’t wish she’d told her daughter not to stop by the store.
“I go back and forth. I wish I could tell her no you can’t go, but how? How can I tell an 18-year-old, ‘No you can’t go, no you can’t do this,’” Beemon said. “She was going to the Shedd Aquarium. She wasn’t going to a party or a lounge; she went to the Shedd Aquarium.”
Jaya Beemon was with her boyfriend and was picking up snacks before heading to the Shedd Aquarium in Feb. 2020. Her mother was going to pick her up after the visit.
“So I just wonder, did she see it coming? Did she go instantly?” Nyisha Beemon said.
Jaya Beemon had her whole life ahead of her. She planned to follow in her mother’s footsteps and was studying to become a nurse at Malcom X College. She dreamt of becoming a traveling nurse one day.
“I told her loved her every day. I told everything I do and done is because of her, because she was first born,” her mother said. “She was my motivation, my why for everything. Why I went so hard and still is.”
The teenager was killed when three people opened fire, shooting into the store. Twenty-two bullets were fired, killing Jaya and injuring five others.
One 15-year-old was charged in the shooting and two other adults are still at-large.
Beemon said she feels like the judicial system is failing her.
“I get kicked out of court just for asking questions,” she said. “I feel victimized even going to court. The last two court appearances I didn’t even get into court.”
Mothers, like Beemon, who are raising children in Chicago neighborhoods long plagued by gun violence face tough realities.
More than 200 shootings have been reported so far this year in the area where Jaya was shot and killed. Citywide, the Chicago Police Department has logged upwards of 800 shooting incidents in the past five months.
“If I leave, if I run, if I go, who is going to bring awareness to our problem? Who is going to bring awareness to the terrorists on the South Side of Chicago?” Beemon said. “We are plagued with domestic terrorism.”
The mother of four has since turned her pain into purpose. She started the Jaya Beemon Foundation, an organization she says is dedicated to helping steer young adults away from violence.
She has also been working to buy the property where her daughter was killed.
“I want to turn it into a hub for the foundation, add an extension on it, make it look bigger and offer classes, warrior mom support groups, peer support, grief counseling, so we can know what the peers need,” Beemon said.
The hurdle now is getting the money to buy the property. The owner wants $159,000 in cash.
While she works to find help to purchase the convenience store, Beemon is buying properties through the Cook County Tax Scavenger Sale, a program through which buyers can make cash bids on properties that have more than three years of unpaid taxes.
Her plan is to turn empty lots into resource gardens for the community. Actions, she says, that are meant to create positive change.
“I just worry, am I doing what she wants me to do? I talk to my kids and they say, yeah.”
Despite the days, weeks and years that have gone by without her daughter, Beemon says the pain and trauma never leave.
“I will never be healed,” Beemon said. “This is my coping process.”
Through her work with the foundation, Beemon has found a purpose.
“This is my work now. I’m not angry. I don’t want to be angry,” she said. “I don’t want to blame the police. I don’t want to blame the judicial system. I just want be part of the change. And yes, I’m upset, hurt … I can ride in the car and hear a song she liked and start crying, that’s my life now. That’s my kids’ life now. The hardest thing in the world is to be a mom after you lost a child.”
A three-part series from WTTW News, Pain Into Purpose tells the stories of three grieving mothers whose children have been killed by gun violence and the ways in which they turned that pain into action. Their stories will continue to air Tuesday and Wednesday on “Chicago Tonight”.