Beverly Price is a native Washingtonian film photographer and teacher. She documents African American culture in D.C. from the perspective of a black Washingtonian. She grew up in Capitol Hill and now lives in Congress Heights.
I heard that Karon Brown died two days before hosting a party. He was 11 years old and got shot and killed in Southeast D.C., just a few blocks away from my house. I felt sick.
During the party, we had a moment of silence for him. I talked about how we all have a responsibility to protect children growing up in this trauma.
I couldn’t sleep that night. The thought of a child being intentionally killed kept me from rest. The suffering that Karon Brown went through, and that his family and friends currently go through, is too common.
I decided to go to his funeral. It was a hot and humid day on July 29, and for a while the church wouldn’t allow anyone inside except for the close family and a few police officers. People who came to honor Brown’s life milled around outside, including his friends, a group of small black boys no older than 13.
They seemed OK before they went into the church. I saw them all change when they left. Even I changed after I saw this young boy in the casket.
His story and similar stories of youth getting killed in my community reawakened in me a sense of humanity and a love for my neighbors, including the ones I have not yet met. I called around to see if I could get in touch with Brown’s family, but I didn’t have much luck. A few days later, I decided to pick up my camera and find them in Woodland Terrace myself. Once I got there, I called a good friend named Von, who has lived in Woodland Terrace his entire life. He walked me to Quentin Brown, the brother of Karon, and his friends.
As we walked the neighborhood, I began to have a nostalgic feeling from seeing clotheslines with clothes hanging and the sound of an ice cream truck. We walked up to an abandoned housing unit with bars and locks on the doors. The boys were on the steps, and Von told them that I wanted to photograph them. I got the feeling that they didn’t want a stranger taking their picture, so I looked them in the eye with my camera down and told them that I didn’t want to ask them details about what happened, I just cared about how they felt and wanted to know if they were OK. One of the friends then said that I could photograph them.
Standing in front of the abandoned house with the children, I recalled the trauma of being in high school and losing my best friend to the same type of murder. Her death unraveled me, and I went to prison a year later. I wished I was asked whether I was OK, and had someone to mentor me so I could have avoided jail. So many children have been exposed to violence, drugs, and crimes in their homes, schools, and communities. Going through this trauma can have long lasting effects on even the most resilient spirits. With that in mind, I knew my personal experience called for me to act, to look out for Karon Brown’s brother and friends.
After that day, I spent time with the young boys and their families, and talked with their parents about me using photography to support the children in telling their story.
I spent two weeks photographing the group of friends, and I was impressed with how smart and strong they are. They congregate to listen to music and watch music videos, finding time to play and laugh in a world that violently took their brother and friend from them.
One of the boys, Adrian Brooks, is an honor student at The Children’s Guild Public Charter School. All of them are talented and creative. They told me they are bored in their community—that they want to travel, create music, and have more mentors looking out for them. Talking to them reminded me that early intervention and mental health treatment are key.
We need to raise children who won’t have to recover from their childhoods. Our efforts cannot succeed without community members, parents, government, community leaders, and educators working together in the best interest of our children, now and in the future. Everyone plays an active role in protecting children exposed to violence. We need to listen to the children speak.
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