Many of you are aware by now that on Sunday, July 22nd my youngest son, Darren B. Easterling was shot and killed in the city of Park Forest, IL. However, you may not be aware that the morning after his murder an article with the headline “Man Shot to death in Park Forest had drug, weapon convictions” appeared in the Southtown Star newspaper. Let me be clear, the content of the article as it appeared was completely factual as it related to the things my son had done and the conviction record he had established for himself. I was, although not surprised, disheartened by the reader’s comments which expressed no compassion for the life that was lost; but rather disdain for “thugs” coming into their beautiful city and giving it a bad name with their criminal activity. Upon looking over the commentary of the readers, I felt it necessary to speak up on behalf of my son in an effort to humanize him and set him apart from being displayed as just another young black man – murdered during the commission of a crime. My son was a person who loved and was loved and at the very least the City of Park Forest should know this truth. To date the Southtown Star has not confirmed whether or not they will print my article. Praise God for another venue.
In the wake of the shooting which took place in Park Forest on Sunday, July 22nd and resulted in the death of a 25 year-old young man, I too am pained and dismayed; however not for the same reasons as many of your readers who opined that this tragedy has further infiltrated the splendor of their beautiful tree laden city and left a nasty stain. Rather my pain and dismay comes from the loss my family and I now live with as our faith is tested and we find ourselves challenged to move forward as, the young man who was killed in that shooting incident - Darren B. Easterling - was my youngest son.
It is not my objective to make any excuses or to even dispute the facts stated in the recent article that appeared in your publication outlining the criminal record my son established for himself, you see that’s the thing about facts, they are typically indisputable. However they are often distinguishable from the truth and I’ve deemed it absolutely necessary that I take this opportunity to make a distinction between the facts as they relate to the things my son did vs. the truth as it relates to who my son was, while simultaneously humanizing the person who has been referred to by Park Forest residents as trash, a thug and an out-of-town clown.
Allow me to share just a portion of his legacy. Darren Bernard Easterling, Jr. (affectionately known as D.J.) is 5 years-old, wise beyond his years, and a natural-born leader. Jada Denise Easterling is 3 ½ years-old, shares her grandmother’s middle name as well as her no-nonsense attitude. These are the beautiful children who carry his name and bear his likeness.
The beautiful thing I have come to recognize about the experience of being Darren’s mother, is that his love for me made me just a little bit happier about being me. I could feel his love and the warmth of his embrace (he never forsook an opportunity to hug his mother) whenever I was in his presence and although I always knew he loved me, it wasn’t until his life ended that I learned (through some of his friends that I had never met) the level to which he respected me and the lifestyle I live, albeit a stark contrast to the one he chose for himself.
At the age of eleven Darren began to play football with the Pop Warner League which ignited a passion in him and every fall for the next six years we spent Friday nights as well as many Saturday and Sunday afternoons in one football stadium or another. Whether he was playing defensive back or quarter back, he was a stellar athlete and dreamed of being a success in life and on the football field. As I eulogized my son on last Sunday, I told the young men present that during the years that they had known him, Darren had assimilated into a world where he did not fit nor did he belong and it was in that world that he died. Therefore, as a tribute to the son and the man I knew and as a staunch representation of the truth of who my son was, his ashes will be spread across the football field where he came to life week after week and he will rest in the world he belonged.
It is my desire that all who read my words will know and more importantly understand that there is a story attached to the actions of every individual on the face of this earth and that our lives are strategically interwoven for a divine purpose. The life of my son will not go forgotten and his legacy will not fall to the ground and wither after a blaze of gunfire. I am positive, however, that even after reading my words many will still stand firm on their position as to who Darren B. Easterling was based on what the court records show, and will insist on believing that he was a trash laden thug from another town (we are former residents of Park Forest and he had many associations in the city). However, the truth is that my son, just like many before him, has a mother who loved him (and misses him) dearly, he was a brother, a father, a nephew, a friend to many and a young man whose passing has left a void in the lives of everyone who knew and loved him. You all have the right to own your perspective, but I have spoken my son’s truth.