Steven F. Wilson
October 1, 2018
“There’s no bond like that between mother and child,” Oluwadurotimi (“Timi”) Oyebola, an eleventh-grade student at Brooklyn Ascend High School, wrote his mother on her birthday last month.
“You know me in ways no one else ever will. You are my mentor, my confidant, my hero. I am so blessed to have you in my life. Thank you for always, always being at my side and having my back.”
A week after he wrote this message, Timi was shot down in a playground just blocks from the school, the victim of a stray bullet.
Timi’s future was bright; his favorite subjects in school were math and science, and he planned a career as a doctor or engineer. A dedicated student, he often stayed at school into the evening to study and meet with his teachers. He was quiet and witty, and he was seldom without his basketball; he was passionate about the sport. He also loved to sing.
“He was a fun character, but determined,” said one of his closest friends, who was with him that afternoon in the playground and tried to save life. “From what I know, he never gave up, when he set his mind to something. He was that type of person. But he loved to make people laugh. Everybody had some kind of interaction with him that made them grow.”
Timi’s friend attempted to console another student that night. “I know J. was sad for a long time; he was crying late that night,” Timi’s friend continued. “I told him we need to set an example and show other people that we are positive. We can’t show people that we are hurting; we need to brighten the mood because that’s something Timi would want. He wouldn’t want us crying over his death or anything. He’d want us laughing or playing around.”
I asked him if that was possible. He said, “I think it is. I think it is.” For they had all known one another a long time. Their humor was shared. “We can bring it back. But we can’t do it as good as Timi.”
In April, Timi had joined students from across the country for the National School Walkout for Gun Safety, demanding action against gun violence.
There are more than 300 million guns in America, nearly one for every citizen. Every day, 96 Americans are killed by guns. Our rate of gun homicide is 25 times that of other high-income countries, with deaths concentrated in urban communities with high rates of poverty. Black Americans are ten times more likely to die by gun homicide than white Americans. Guns are the leading cause of death for black children and teens.
I asked a classmate of Timi’s how easy it was to get a gun in Brownsville. “I think it’s pretty easy,” he said. “Because Saturday night, one person told me that if you need to protect yourself, you can get a gun for free, with at least one to three bullets. His brother told him that there are people selling guns in the street for, what, $200 to $300, depending on how many bullets are left in the gun.”
These statistics, however staggering, distance us from the human toll of gun violence, the trauma, fear, and devastation each senseless death sows. That loss is incalculable.
His friends will no longer hear Timi sing or watch him land a shot on the basketball court. His classmates are left without his insights. No patients in the future will benefit from his care. Whatever he might have invented will be left to others to conceive.
Timi’s letter to his mother continued: “I treasure you and love you. You have always taught by example. I hope you break 100 with good health and a strong mind. There’ll never be a day in my life when I won’t need you. Happy Birthday, mummy. You make the world a better place.”
The entire Ascend community mourns Timi’s loss.