In the name of the son
on December 6, 2010
Landrin Kelly’s entire adult life revolved around his only son, Terrance. But two days before “T.K.” was supposed to go off to college, the high school football star was shot and killed. Now Landrin, with the help of his family and friends, is helping to bring up the next generation of Richmond kids with a simple but ambitious goal: to prevent what happened to his only child from happening again. The first in a two-part series.
The moment Landrin Kelly unhinges the locks on the small red trunk, the dozens of letters inside cascade onto the forest green bedspread. He shuffles through the seemingly endless pile of envelopes addressed to his son, Terrance, as his five-year-old step-grandson, Emari, looks on. UCLA. Washington. Colorado. Wisconsin. Nebraska. Just about every college football program in the country wanted to recruit “T.K.,” a star linebacker who played for one of the best prep football programs in the country.
Terrance ultimately chose the University of Oregon—where he won a full athletic scholarship—so he could stay close to his family. He had big dreams: He wanted to play in the NFL or become a sports agent to help other young black athletes.
Landrin grew up in Richmond and became a father at 17. He was determined to protect Terrance from the city’s rough streets and to be the strong, loving father figure that he himself never had. Many of Landrin’s friends couldn’t do this for their children, he says, because they were either locked up—or dead.
After settling a custody dispute with Terrance’s mother, Landrin brought the boy home when he was 18-months old. They lived with Landrin’s mother, Bevelyn Kelly, and became a tight-knit family under the same roof.
Bevelyn raised Terrance as if he were her own. From hiring Terrance’s private tutors to cheering him on at his games, she was a constant presence in her grandson’s life.
Landrin worked two jobs to put Terrance through private school. He coached his son’s baseball teams and attended all of his games. “As I was growing up and learning how to be a parent,” Landrin says, “he was growing up and I was teaching him how to be a man.”
When Terrance was ready for high school, he was accepted into De La Salle, a private, all-boys Catholic school in suburban Concord. At De La Salle, long renowned for its football program, Terrance bloomed into a standout athlete. He also earned a 3.5 grade point average.
In his application to the University of Oregon, Terrance wrote an essay about his troubled hometown. “Many people imagine the life of a teenager as being carefree and simple, but that is not the case in the city I live in,” he wrote. “…Not very many of the youth in the community understand the importance of an education, much less if they live or die… I am determined not to end up like so many of my peers. I have a strong sense of purpose and direction for my life.”
But on Aug. 12, 2004, two days before Terrance was set to leave for Oregon, a 15-year-old boy armed with an apparent grudge—and a stolen .22-caliber Marlin rifle—ended it all. A few days later, 3,500 people packed into a 1,400-seat church for Terrance’s funeral.
Bevelyn had a massive heart attack the night Terrance was murdered, and died a few months later. “She was so heartbroken she just didn’t want to live any more,” says Mary Kelly, Landrin’s wife.
Landrin remembers the days after Terrance’s death as the worst of his life. He couldn’t get out of bed for a month. He turned to alcohol and sleeping pills to numb his heartbreak. He moved out of Richmond to try to escape the world that killed his child. It got so bad he even considered killing himself.
But at his lowest moment, Landrin says he found God—and what he believed was the purpose of his life: He wanted to break the cycle of violence in Richmond and make something positive of a horrible situation.
The encouraging words a friend offered shortly after Terrance’s death kept running through his mind:
‘Landrin, you could do something. You’ve been helping kids all your life,’ the friend told him. ‘You’ve got to give back. Don’t let them have the power over you. You already know what to do.’
And so Landrin decided not to turn away from the violent world that had claimed his child. He decided to create a foundation honoring Terrance, the Terrance “T.K.” Kelly Youth Foundation. Its purpose would be to teach Richmond’s at-risk kids the importance of staying out of trouble.
Landrin enrolled in classes on how to run a nonprofit. He found people to serve on the board. He wrote grant requests and sought corporations willing to make donations. He shifted the running of his janitorial business to nights so he could work for the foundation during the day.
The effort became a family affair. Landrin recruited his sister to plan the curriculum and handle the paperwork; his wife, to drive one of the foundation’s 12-passenger vans; his brother, to chaperone trips; and his niece, to tutor schoolchildren.
“It just came together,” Landrin says. “It was like the right thing for everybody to do.”
Today the room where Landrin keeps Terrance’s recruitment letters doubles as a home office for the foundation.
It’s on the second floor of Landrin and Mary’s home near Fairfield, where the family moved after Terrance’s death. Although his son never got the chance to see it, Landrin calls this space “Terrance’s room.” The room shows this father’s immense pride. From Terrance’s autographed baseball collection to his turf-stained cleats, Landrin has saved just about everything his son ever won or wore. Shelves, walls, and cabinets overflow with photographs, newspaper clippings, trophies, medals, and sporting equipment.
Terrance’s framed jerseys are also on display. On one side hangs his De La Salle jersey, #28, a well-worn testament to the grueling daily work he put in on the football field. On the other side of the room hangs his Oregon jersey, #32. It looks almost brand new.
The cornerstone of the foundation is its unique “E.A.G.L.E.S.” program, short for “Education Allows Growth, Leadership, Empowerment, and Success.” It’s an intensive five-week-long program that runs four times per year. There’s a separate version for girls, but E.A.G.L.E.S. mainly aims to reach middle school-age boys before they succumb to peer pressure and the growing influence of Richmond’s gangs.
Visiting San Quentin State Prison is a key component of the program. The trip had the intended effect on Ivan Orduno, 13.
“What surprised me is this one person,” Orduno says. “He was 15 when he got put in and now he’s 53. He’s still crying about what he did such a long time ago. And it’s just horrible. It made me feel bad. Kind of got me thinking, like, I don’t want to be like that.”
Most of the boys in the program attend Walter T. Helms Middle School. Principal Jose De Leon says E.A.G.L.E.S. has made a real difference.
“The boys that have been through the program have not been getting into trouble,” De Leon says. “It’s been effective. It helps to change the culture of the school.” He says the students are earning good grades and are more focused on academics.
“This program,” Landrin says, “is really designed to show these kids there’s another avenue than violence. So we show them the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
A harsh reality
The students at Helms have seen their share of the ugly. In addition to the normal “tween” struggles, many of these kids have to deal with family members being shot, killed, imprisoned, or deported.
Gang violence, too, is a harsh reality. So many kids find the allure of gangs irresistible that Helms has banned students from wearing red and blue, traditional Richmond gang colors. Despite the policy, some kids still sneak in ways to claim their colors, sporting red or blue shoelaces or drawstrings on hooded sweatshirts. Others come to school wearing red or blue tee shirts underneath their clothes or with bandanas stuffed in their pockets.
Robert Turner works as a site supervisor at Helms and volunteers for the E.A.G.L.E.S. program on the weekends. He was Landrin’s football coach at Kennedy High School. Neither his age—he’s in his 60s—nor a faulty hip replacement seem to have slowed him down much. Over the years, the bond between the two men has deepened. Turner, too, knows the pain of losing loved ones to gun violence: His son and his granddaughter were shot and killed.
At Helms, Turner’s job is to keep a close eye on the school’s 1,000-plus students to make sure they follow the rules and stay out of trouble. It’s not an easy task. Walking around the courtyard between second and third periods on an overcast Thursday morning, Turner points out some of the kids who have been to juvenile hall. At least seven Helms students are wearing court-ordered ankle monitors.
When Helms students get into trouble at school, they first try to work things out at a peer conflict mediation session, a program supervised by Turner. On a Thursday in December, more than a dozen of the students who’ve learned to be mediators sit together in the teacher’s lounge. Speaking candidly, they talk about being solicited by gang members, how they try to avoid trouble, and what the deadly consequences can be if they don’t. (Richmond Confidential is withholding their names to protect their identities.)
“J,” an eighth grader who lives in Central Richmond, recalls a time she was visiting North Richmond when a caravan of six cars approached her.
“One person rode up and was like, ‘Hey, you from here?’” she says. “And I was, like, ‘No, I’m not.’” If J would have said where she was from, she says, “I would have just got shot then and there.”
Not all of her friends have been so lucky. J lists several who have been killed because of gangs. The most recent death happened a month ago; a case, J says, of mistaken identity.
“A,” another eighth grader, recounts the life-or-death situations kids like him face on a daily basis.
“If you try to wear a color, like red or blue, and you’re not in a gang or anything, you get beat up or shot,” A says. “So it makes life a lot harder for people that are not in gangs, especially if you live in a gang-related neighborhood.”
“T,” who’s also in eighth grade, says the gang problem has escalated to the point where he can no longer hang out at the local skate park without being threatened.
“You got to watch out,” T says. “You got to watch how somebody looks. Like, if I’m wearing a big black hoodie, and walk around with my pants sagging, and acting all hard and stuff they’ll probably try and come after [me].”
He speaks from experience. T says his hairstyle makes him a prime target for people looking for a fight, and he’s been accosted twice. He’s learned to walk away, but admits, he’s afraid to walk home by himself.
“M” says gangs are unavoidable, at least for him. He’s only a few months into eighth grade, but says he’s already been involved in several gang-related fights.
“They just started swinging at me,” M says. “I didn’t even want to fight. And when they were done at the end they told me, ‘I just fight you because you’re related to your cousin.’”
Later that day, after the lunch bell rings, students mill around in the courtyard. Turner leans on a guardrail, surveying the scene from the second floor balcony of a classroom building. Most of the groups are just cliques, he says. But he keeps a close eye on a few clusters of kids. He points out a group of aspiring gang members walking across the yard, then gestures toward the basketball courts.
“That’s the North Richmond side,” Turner says. “They don’t mess with the Central Richmond side. That’s a turf battle. If you live on Fifth Street, you can’t go to Seventh Street.”
Life for Richmond’s young people wasn’t always this harsh. Landrin says when he was growing up, gang members firmly held to a street code that they wouldn’t hurt the good kids.
“Now, they don’t even care,” Landrin says. “Anybody could be a victim of this.”
Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for, and about, the people of Richmond, California. Our goal is to produce professional and engaging journalism that is useful for the citizens of the city.