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Friends, Family Honor Teen Activist Caleb Reed

Story and Photos by Meredith Goldberg

Family and friends of 17-year-old activist Caleb Reed held a press conference outside Mather High School to honor his legacy Tuesday, just days after his death. Reed was discovered July 31 on a sidewalk with a gunshot wound to his head. He died two days later.

Sabrina Pleasant, the mother of Caleb Reed. Photo by Meredith Goldberg.

Caleb Reed was a leader in Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE). VOYCE is a collaboration of six community organizations based in Chicago and led by students of color. VOYCE focuses on education and racial justice in Chicago, and has been fighting to remove police from Chicago Public Schools.

“I’m feeling so much grief right now about my son, Caleb,” Sabrina Pleasant, Reed’s mother, told the crowd through an ASL translator. “He was such a good boy. He cared about people so much. It’s so hard for me to express it. I don’t even have words. I just have to say I love you Caleb. That’s all I can say right now.”

Jasmine Bradley, her arm around her brother Jermaine Pleasant, described the pride they all had in their younger brother, Caleb.

“That boy was loved,” said Bradley. “We all showed him that we loved him every day,” she said, calling Reed “her angel.” “He’s resting in power and it’s a beautiful thing.”

Derrianna Ford, 17, a rising senior at Mather High School, was Caleb’s girlfriend of three years.

“This has to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” said Ford. “I dated Caleb for three years, and I can’t believe I’ve got to bury my boyfriend. He was too kind for this world. Too nice, too caring. He cared about everybody.”

Ford said the two were inseparable and had planned out their entire lives together.

“To be in this position, it hurts. It hurts so much,” she said.”

Ford also talked about how they both could not wait to turn 18 so they could get their own apartment and move out of the city.

“When I graduate I’m going to make sure I do it for him because we couldn’t wait to walk that stage,” she said. “We talked about getting our diplomas.”

Derrianna Ford, the girlfriend of teen activist Caleb Reed. Reed was shot and killed the first weekend of August. Photo by Meredith Goldberg.

Those tasked with teaching Caleb told of how they learned from the young man. Daniel Clucas, Caleb Reed’s guidance counselor at Mather High School, said this.

“That laugh, I will always remember that laugh that young boy had. One of the unique abilities that Caleb had was the ability to connect emotionally. The ability to get vulnerable. To have ruthless self-examination where he looked inside himself and challenged himself to get better on a daily basis.”

“I believe I have a piece of Caleb Reed with me in my spirit in my soul that I’m going to carry on,” Clucas added.

Also present was Eric Wilkins of Broken Winggz. Broken Winggz is an organization that helps those paralyzed by gun violence. Wilkins was himself paralyzed after being shot in 1999. He apologized for the violence he himself (Wilkins) played in the past.

Wilkins addressed his fear that his two sons could be lost to the same violence plaguing his community, “We have to speak up…what age do I allow it to be safe to say it’s ok for my son to leave,” he said. “18 you’re just getting started…So many of my friends have lost kids.”

Wilkins made it clear he felt faith must be joined by hard work.

“We have to make some serious moves that go past marching, that goes to every neighborhood and let them know like I’m taking my block back, I’m taking my street back,” said Wilkins.

He promised those gathered that his children would “make it past 18…past 25.”

“These young people out here will make it past 18, they will make it past 30. They will see their kids’ kids. They will see their grandkids.”

After concluding their remarks for the afternoon, those gathered released balloons, some gold in the shapes of stars and some round in orange, Caleb’s favorite color.

Friends and family of teen activist Caleb Reed, who was shot and killed the first weekend of August, release balloons in his memory. Photo by Meredith Goldberg.

Ford later described how she and Caleb met and how they became a couple. Like so many other high school sweethearts, theirs was as she said “a meet cute” story.

“It was the day after Halloween. He asked if he could get some of my candy and I was like sure and I reached my hand into my bag and he touched my hand and it was like hmm, a little spark. I was like I think he likes me. We were always in school just playing around. We went to the park and he was beating around the bush at first but we made it official on 11.14.17. That’s when he asked me out. I was like yaaaay!.”

Along with being serious she also said “He was just a super goofy person. I have the funniest pictures of him in here. He always had his sunglasses on and he was always just dancing funny. If you were having a bad day go see Caleb because he could make you smile.”

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