Alajawan Brown, 12, was fatally shot in the back by a gang member in 2010. Now Alajawan's parents want to help other children in Skyway, where gangs and poverty are a constant presence.
On the days her home is unbearably quiet, Ayanna Brown busies herself running “useless errands.” When she doesn’t have money for gas, she just sits in her car outside her Skyway apartment, often waiting for hours for her husband to return from work so she doesn’t have to be alone with the silence.
It’s been two years and three months since Brown’s youngest child, Alajawan, was gunned down, shot in the back by a gang member as he stepped off a Metro bus with a brand new pair of football cleats he’d bought with his own money.
Alajawan’s parents and older siblings attended every day of his killer’s three-week trial in January, and they were in court in February when a jury found Curtis Walker guilty of first-degree murder. The family was back in King County Superior Court in March when Walker, now 37, was sentenced to 50 years in prison. A member of the Blood Pirus gang, Walker mistakenly thought Alajawan was a member of the rival Crips gang involved in a nearby shootout minutes before the 12-year-old was shot.
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Once the criminal case was over, Ayanna Brown and her husband, Louis, were confronted with the same question so many victims of violence face once justice has seemingly been served: Now what?
The couple has established the Alajawan Brown Foundation, also known as Alajawan’s Hands. The charity’s board is made up of the Browns, Alajawan’s godmother, a local pastor and his wife, and a Seattle attorney who reached out to the family. They hope one day to open a community center and offer mentoring programs, but those are lofty, future goals. In the short term, they want to raise funds to help send kids to camp or pay for their registration fees to participate in sports and other activities.
As a first step in nonprofit giving, the Browns are looking to collect 1,000 backpacks and enough school supplies to make sure each child-recipient has at least the basics — pencils, erasers, notebooks — when they start school this fall. On July 8, what would’ve been Alajawan’s 15th birthday, the couple hosted a party and received some of their first donations: 25 backpacks and a couple boxes of supplies. With two upcoming collection drives at the Walmart in Renton, they remain hopeful they can meet their target.
They plan to distribute the bags on Aug. 24 but are still working out details.
Though they won’t turn any parent away, the Browns would like to see most of the backpacks go to neighborhood kids who attend Campbell Hill Elementary and Dimmit Middle School, both in the Renton School District. They especially want to help “economically challenged” parents raising multiple children.
“For me, it’s my way of surviving and it’s my way of fighting back,” Ayanna Brown, a bus driver for the Tukwila School District, said of starting the foundation. “You may have physically taken my baby, but you can’t stop him from living (on). I am just determined I will not let his death be in vain. My baby didn’t die for nothing. Something positive has to come out of this tragedy.”
Alajawan’s death in a 7-Eleven parking lot on April 29, 2010, left a gaping hole for his family. Though his oldest sister, 22-year-old Louketa or “Keke,” lives and works in Federal Way, his other siblings — sister Louketra, 20, and brother Louis, 18 — both moved out of state soon after Alajawan was killed. Louketra returned to Texas, where the family lived before moving to Washington in 2006. Louis, now attending a Mississippi college on a volleyball scholarship, moved in with his maternal uncle in California to finish high school because “he couldn’t handle being in the house without his little brother,” said his father, the general manager of a fast-food restaurant in Bellevue.
Without the cacophony of four kids bounding up and down stairs or wrestling in the living room, the Browns’ home has become strangely quiet. Even after their apartment flooded and they had to move across the street, the couple set up Alajawan’s new room, with a couple baskets of dirty laundry and football gear in the closet, just as he’d left it.
“He and I have balanced each other out,” Ayanna Brown said of her husband. “At times he’s had a hard time coping and dealing and I’m the strong one who is able to hold and console him. Then vice versa, when I’m falling apart, he has a strong shoulder for me.”
Louis Brown makes weekly trips to visit his son’s grave at Greenwood Memorial Park in Renton but doesn’t like returning to the spot where Alajawan died. Though his wife occasionally visits the cemetery, she goes to the 7-Eleven at South 129th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, less than two miles from her home, almost daily to visit the 2-foot-tall Japanese maple that the family planted soon after Alajawan’s death.
“If I was there any more, I could start receiving mail there,” Ayanna Brown said with a laugh. “I go there because there’s something alive.”
When she drives by on her way to work, she rolls down her car window — even in the pouring rain — and calls out, “Good morning, baby! Mommy loves you.”
She decorates the tree at Christmas, and regularly picks up any trash that accumulates near it. Someone — she doesn’t know who — planted flowers around the tree’s base, and often fresh flowers are left there, too.
For Ayanna Brown, the tree is hugely symbolic: “The roots represent the teachings and love established by his family. The trunk depicts his strength and his growth. The branches and leaves represent the people he has reached out to and the lives he’s touched.”
Even though he was only 12 when he died, Alajawan often spoke of wanting to make a difference in his community of Skyway, a largely working-class neighborhood south of Seattle’s city limits where poverty and gangs are a constant presence. He was a natural leader, his parents said, the kind of kid who would give his last dollar to a homeless person or encourage a less-athletic teammate to keep pushing on the playfield.
The day after he was shot, Ayanna Brown found a piece of lined, loose-leaf paper in her son’s bedroom. In red ink, he’d calculated how much he needed to save — $40 a month for four months — to pay for his football registration with the nonprofit Renton Rangers Junior Football team with money he made doing yard work for neighbors.
“Alajawan didn’t want me and his dad to pay too much for things,” said Ayanna Brown, recalling that one year, Alajawan bought all of his shirts for school, with his parents only paying for his pants.
Sometimes when the couple sit and watch TV in their living room, they can hear kids “walking up and down the street, bored, just cussing each other out,” Louis Brown said.
His own children knew there was no way “as long as I was living that they’d be on the streets,” he said, but “I think a lot of parents don’t care where their kids are or what they’re doing.”
He and his wife hope Alajawan’s Hands can offer an alternative to gangs, and let kids know that someone cares about them.
“Curtis is in his mid-30s and he’s still gang banging,” Ayanna Brown said of her son’s killer. “If we can save one kid, if we can be the side road they took to not living that lifestyle, mission accomplished.”
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or email@example.com