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Maurice Scott towers over Wheeler Road SE. His bright, brown eyes and dimpled grin stand 10 feet tall on the side of Holiday Market, just a few blocks from Somerset Prep DC, where he went to school. After classes ended Monday afternoon, a slow stream of teenagers wandered over to the convenience store, groups of Scott’s classmates coming to see the mural. Some kids laughed and took photos. Others just stood still and looked.
Scott was shot and killed in front of Holiday Market on May 26. He was 15 years old.
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Cory Stowers stood nearby for a few minutes, chatting with his students as they came and went. He was Scott’s digital journalism teacher at Somerset, and he co-created the mural with the help of his friend Nessar Jahanbin (who paints under the moniker Jah-One). Stowers says his goal was to preserve the memory of his student and at the same time, help Scott’s classmates and neighbors heal. “Every one of these kids goes to that store,” he explains. “Maurice died at the door of the store, trying to get to safety. So every time they go, they have to touch that door. The idea was, can we do something that can help change that energy? That was the whole point of doing this mural right there.”
In the classroom, Scott was a fierce mix of intelligence and charisma. “If you hear the other kids talk about him, it’s just like … ‘Always making somebody laugh. Always trying to make somebody feel good,’” says Stowers. “I never saw him out of that character.” But he also was one of Stowers’ most diligent students. Scott was at the top of the class up until the day he died, and he inspired others to follow his lead. Stowers says that he would come in every day and sit down, “headphones on, just going. And after a week or so [of class with Scott], some of the other kids started just following suit.”
Scott’s family held a vigil for their son on Saturday evening, and the mourners stopped at the mural to sing. Jahanbin and Stowers had started working that morning at 7 a.m., with Jahanbin painting the portrait and Stowers helping where he could. They needed to “have something prepared, really, for the Scott family, on the day that they decided to celebrate Maurice’s life.” And as they worked, Stowers says, people came by to watch and to share memories of Maurice. Scott’s twin sister, Melissa, who also attends Somerset, walked over, and so did other family members, neighbors, and friends.
Stowers wants the store to become a monument to Scott as he was. “That’s going to be where they’re going to go when they want to remember him,” he says. “It’s just the small part that we could do to help with the healing process.”
That healing process is made even harder because so many other shootings, in Congress Heights and in the District at large, preceded Scott’s. According to Stowers, those memories makes Scott’s death even more damaging for his students—far too many of them have been through this before. “And unfortunately, there’s this chance that a couple months from now, people aren’t going to be talking about Maurice. They’re going to be talking about someone else, someone else who lost their life in a similar fashion,” he says. “Nothing can be reversed. There need to be some more opportunities for these kids.”
But Stowers hopes, at least, that Holiday Market can become a place of celebration, not only a place of trauma. “In a place that would maybe bring you to tears,” he says, “maybe those tears could be tears of joy.”
After school on Monday, one of Scott’s former deans came down to the store with a couple of her students. As the kids fooled around, she stood quietly in front of the mural, looking up at Maurice’s giant eyes and movie-star grin. “It’s so beautiful,” she said. “That was his smile.”
“His smile is everything.”