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In the name of the son: Part two

on December 7, 2010

Landrin Kelly’s 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. He has a simple but ambitious goal: to prevent what happened to his child from happening again.

In Part 1, Richmond teens talk candidly about the gang pressures that surround them. Today, in the second of a two-part series: The Terrance Kelly Youth Foundation brings teenagers face to face with the harsh consequences of drugs and crime, and helps them to choose a better path.

“Y’all ready to see a body?” asks Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Deputy Tim Biggs. He gets a less-than-enthusiastic response from the dozen or so boys gathered outside a building in Martinez. They’re participating in today’s E.A.G.L.E.S. session, a program sponsored by the Terrance “T.K.” Kelly Youth Foundation. “Well,” he says, reaching for the door handle, “you’ll get to see feet.”

As soon as Biggs, an investigator with the coroner’s division, opens the heavy door to the room-sized refrigerator, the putrid smell of decomposing bodies overwhelms the crowd, prompting many of the boys to cough. They cover their faces with their sleeves to mask the smell, but it doesn’t help much. Shivering and reluctant, the boys eventually heed Landrin’s orders to go inside.

As the boys walk into the room, they see several sheet-covered bodies on stainless steel tables. Instantly, all eyes  focus on the feet poking out from beneath the covers: the feet. Some are covered with dirt, some are bruised and beginning to shrivel. Some are hairy, with thick, jagged toenails. Each pair is equipped with a final accessory: a coroner’s tag identifying the person as the victim of a suspicious death.

Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Deputy Tim Biggs (left) reads a list of 2010 homicide statistics to boys in the E.A.G.L.E.S. group.

Biggs points to a purplish, discolored pair. “That’s what a body starts to look like when it begins to decompose,” he says. “She was out for about ten days before she was found.”

“It doesn’t look good, huh?” Biggs says as the door opens and the boys begin to clear out of the giant fridge much faster than when they came in. “And you saw the nice parts.”

The next stop is the autopsy room. Biggs explain in grisly detail how the work is done. He pulls out a pair of bright purple gloves from a pocket in his cargo pants, explaining that he never knows what he’s going to have to touch.

“Let me ask you guys something,” Biggs says as the group prepares to leave the room. “How many of you guys know someone who was murdered?”

Every person raises a hand.

“How many of you guys had a family member?”

Half of the group keeps a hand up.

Biggs has one final request before saying goodbye.

“I don’t want to see you back here unless you’re standing, walking, and talking, alright?”

“This is life or death.”

As the group prepares to head to Rolling Hills Memorial Park, the cemetery where Terrance is buried, Landrin addresses the boys in the parking lot. He wants to make sure they got the point of talking to Deputy Biggs.

“So when you guys are going back to school and thinking of these gangs, and these central and south side and north and all that, it ain’t cool,” he says. “It’s cool to be in school. It’s a fool to be in these gangs.”

Terrance’s final resting place is inside the community mausoleum at Rolling Hills Memorial Park. His grandmother, Bevelyn, is buried a few rows above him.

Some of the boys are talking among themselves, not paying attention. Lanny, Landrin’s brother, standing a few steps away from Landrin, seizes the moment to speak up.

“Don’t have the idea that ‘It won’t happen to me,’” Lanny says, clearly aggravated. “It could happen to anybody. Anybody. I mean, our family wasn’t even in a gang. We were into sports and it happened to us.”

Landrin’s eyes well up as his brother continues.

“Trying to keep you all off the streets—and it still happened to us,” Lanny says. “Thought we made it out. Four hours before he was on his way out here—on a scholarship—‘We out of Richmond!’ And it happened.”

Tears are streaming down Landrin’s face. He speaks for the first time since Lanny commanded the boys’ attention.

“It’s about saving your life. It’s not thinking everything is so funny, playing around,” Landrin says.

He chokes up, his voice cracking.

“I know you guys are kids. You get antsy at times, but this is serious. This is life or death.”

The boys go silent. As they file into the vans, they don’t utter a word.

The darkest days

Landrin remembers Thursday, August 12, 2004 as if it was yesterday.

He had been preparing for a going-away party for Terrance and his friends. It was set for that Friday night, the last evening Terrance was supposed to spend at home in Richmond before boarding a plane to Oregon.

Landrin had dozed off on his couch watching a baseball game when his 6’0, 210-pound son jumped on him, plastering his face with kisses. Terrance wanted to borrow his dad’s car to go play basketball with friends. Landrin resisted at first, then relented, telling Terrance to buy something to eat because he was too tired to cook.

Later that evening, Terrance’s grandmother Bevelyn called Landrin. She wanted Terrance to come home to start packing. Landrin agreed, then dialed Terrance’s number. It would be the last time he spoke to his son.

James Lewis, 16, looks out the window during the E.A.G.L.E.S. tour of Rolling Hills Memorial Park. The cemetery, located near Hilltop Mall in Richmond, is where Terrance Kelly is buried.

“I was like, ‘Man, get on home,’” Landrin says. “‘It’s getting dark and you don’t need to be hanging out.’ And he was like, ‘Dad, why you trippin’?’”

Less than ten minutes after that call, Terrance was dead. Darren Pratcher, then 15, ambushed Terrance as he sat in Landrin’s car, waiting for a friend. Pratcher pulled the trigger four times, shooting Terrance in his face, head, and back.

At Pratcher’s trial, defense attorneys said it was a case of mistaken identity. But prosecutors argued it was premeditated, “cold-blooded murder, ” and a jury agreed. Landrin says the boy was jealous of Terrance and all he had accomplished. Pratcher, tried as an adult, was convicted of first-degree murder and sent to Salinas Valley State Prison, where he is serving a sentence of 50 years to life.

Terrance’s tragic death rocked Richmond to its core. The community grieved  alongside his friends and family, mourning the loss of a life filled with so much promise. Three weeks after Terrance’s death, his De La Salle Spartans lost their first game in 12 years, ending their record-breaking 151-game winning streak.

At the beginning of the trial, Pratcher wrote a letter to Landrin, apologizing for his actions and saying that he accepted the consequences of what he had done. It took time, but Landrin said he eventually summoned the strength to forgive his son’s killer. Letting go of the anger and bitterness, as well as working with the foundation, helped him move on with his life.

“This is his way of therapy,” Robert Turner says. “As time goes by, he’s going to continue doing better. It won’t hurt as much. He’s going to heal.”

He nods, with certainty.

“It will heal.”

Making an impact

In the six years since the Terrance Kelly Youth Foundation began, its programs have served more than a thousand children. Among other things, the foundation has bought computers for kids whose families couldn’t afford them and helped several boys secure scholarships to De La Salle and to college.

Antoine Pickett, 16, is one of them. Now a senior at De La Salle, he credits the E.A.G.L.E.S. program with turning around his life.

The Terrance Kelly Youth Foundation owns two 12-passenger vans, which they use to take the boys to different E.A.G.L.E.S. sessions on the weekends.

“If I hadn’t been in the T.K. Foundation and Landrin hadn’t been around to help my family,” Pickett says, “I’d probably be doing the same stuff I was doing—hanging around with the wrong group of kids and just going down the wrong path. Like a lot of my friends are right now.” The E.A.G.L.E.S. program, Pickett says, taught him discipline, maturity, and self-confidence.

The trip to talk with inmates at San Quentin, he says, made a deep impression on him.

“A lot of them weren’t bad people, but they made bad decisions. And that’s the thing that Landrin and the rest of his staff teach well. They try to teach the kids in the program to try to make better decisions,” Pickett says. “It just made me think about my life and my future in front of me.”

Pickett is considering scholarship offers from several schools, following in Terrance’s footsteps.  Terrance’s varsity jersey number at De La Salle was 28. It’s not a coincidence that Pickett chose 29.

Looking forward

Emari, Landrin’s grandson, is sitting on Terrance’s bed.

“I wish my uncle was here,” the five-year-old says.

“Me too,” Landrin replies, putting the trunk of envelopes away. “Me too.”

Landrin’s step-grandson, Emari, spends a lot of time in Uncle Terrance’s room. On the day of the big Cal-Oregon game, he’s dressed in a kid-sized version of Terrance’s De La Salle jersey.

Emari never got to meet his Uncle Terrance, who died a year before the boy was born. But that hasn’t stopped Emari from wanting to be like him. The five-year-old—who lives with Landrin, Mary, and his mother— spends a lot of time in Terrance’s room. He’s frustrated that he can’t play football yet because he’s too small, but he proudly wears a kid-sized version of Terrance’s De La Salle jersey. Emari says when he gets bigger, he wants to play  for his two favorite teams: the De La Salle Spartans and the Oregon Ducks.

Mary, who watched Terrance’s athletic abilities begin to blossom when he was very young, says her grandson is showing an early knack for sports, too. Emari has started playing T-ball, as Terrance did when he was five. And as he was with Terrance, Landrin is with Emari every step of the way.

“These little boys, my grandson, they motivate me to keep going and making it a better place,” Landrin says. “I want to make this place a better place than when I came in the world.”

“My only son was taken from us,” Landrin says. He pauses for a moment, then smiles. “But I got a whole bunch of T.K.’s now.”

20101202_kelly_movie|The foundation’s backstory|Video courtesy Landrin Kelly|20101129_KELLY_slideshow|Landrin on Terrance|What his son was like, in his own words

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