RIP Feen || Why his story matters
I had someone tell me this summer that they could never do what we do at the Street School. I laughed, replying that the Lord had custom made him for his job as a nurse (who has to deal with needles all day– woof), just as He has created us for our positions.
After all, God gave me long legs so I can run toward fights faster than most and a screechy voice that can quiet a room of rowdy teenagers (and apparently scare off bears, but that’s a story for another day). I was #blessed with an “interesting” childhood and family so I can empathize with our students. And Lord knows He gave me enough sass to hold my own with the crazies of Colfax… It wasn’t until another friend pointed out just how weird my compulsive graffiti reading habit is that I realized just how much the Lord has woven DSS into the way my mind works as well.
Doesn’t everyone try to decode the notes spray painted under highway overpasses or notice when graffiti is put up or taken down? Apparently not… 🤷🏽♀️
Nearly four years ago, a message appeared on a light pole in the middle of eastbound 6th Avenue. It was a phrase that had been spray painted all across the “West Side” and one that made tears catch in my throat every time I saw it. RIP Feen. Seven simple letters that packed a punch and served as a constant reminder of the murder of one of our then-DSS students (Johnny), his father (Jason), and best friend, “Feen” (Jayson).
As time passed, those messages were painted over or (understandably) sand blasted away by disgruntled homeowners and the poor sap in the city of Denver whose job it is to keep aesthetics up and graffiti down. One day last school year I drove past “Feen’s light pole” on 6th Avenue and burst into tears when I realized the message marking his memory had been erased. In that moment my tears were equal parts sorrow over the homicide that had shaken our community in 2014 and anger over the thought of his story slipping away forever.
“DOES ANYONE EVEN CARE THAT THEY ARE GONE?! DOES ANYONE EVEN CARE THAT PEOPLE ARE DYING BECAUSE OF GANG VIOLENCE IN THIS CITY WHEN THEY DON’T HAVE TO? DOES ANYONE EVEN CARE THAT SOME PEOPLE DON’T HAVE HOPE?!” I yelled like a crazy person to God and everyone in traffic around me.
I wrestle with these questions often as I walk into the Street School. Similarly, so many of our new students will walk into DSS next week likely feeling invisible, marginalized by our society, wondering if anyone would even notice if they disappeared. Our calling, at DSS and as a part of the church, is to scream, Yes! We would notice if you weren’t here. You were created in the image of God and therefore have purpose and place here among us!
In July, I drove down 6th Avenue on my way to a friend’s house, thinking about Johnny, Feen, and Jason as I do nearly every time I drive this strip of highway. Heavy hearted, I asked myself those same questions, wondering who else remembered those boys every time they drove this road. Lost in my thoughts, I looked to my left and read the exact words my mind was expecting not to see. They were a blur at 60 miles an hour. So much so that I couldn’t help but exit and double back, wondering if my mind was playing tricks on me. Sure enough, since I had last driven that road in May, someone had braved running across the highway to ensure that Feen would be remembered on the streets, if nowhere else.
While we may not be armed with cans of spray paint at DSS, I believe the Lord has called us to proclaim the names and stories of the young men and women we have lost so they will be remembered, just as Feen’s friend ran across traffic to do in his own way. Perhaps in telling their stories, history will stop repeating itself in the ‘hood. Maybe one day these stories will become more redemptive than tragic, serving as a wake up call both to our current students and to our larger society, proclaiming a problem within our cities, and urging people to be a part of the solution.
I am grateful that you, my dear friends, have committed yourselves in one way or another to being a part of that solution; because as you partner with us at the Street School, you are providing hope to kiddos like Johnny and Jayson who are facing the immediacy of death in a very real way if they don’t learn a new way to live.
Your partnership and prayers are helping to bring Hope where it may not currently exist and to provide an education that points to the possibility of life and Life Abundant where our students may not be able to see their own futures.
Thank you for standing in the gap for Denver’s at-risk youth with Jesus and our team.
Current Prayer Requests
- School starts Monday! We will have 36 students at East Campus this quarter and while that may sound small, we will have our hands full. We would love prayers for the speedy development of relationships with our new students and for our returning student leaders to have the positive boldness they will need to help us set a healthy school culture.
- We get to welcome back 6 students we LOVE who unfortunately made some really knuckleheaded decisions last school year, resulting in them being expelled or incarcerated. We’re excited to offer them a second (third… tenth…) chance and continue to walk down the loooong path toward maturity with them, but our staff would genuinely appreciate prayers for wisdom on how to love and teach them best.
- Anniversaries of tragedy are tricky to navigate. This time last year I wrote you explaining that the older sister of two of our students had been murdered in gang warfare, just two weeks after their mom had died of cancer. Somehow a year has already passed and this sweet family is being faced with their grief yet again. Would you pray that they would find the healing their hearts crave in the tender love of Christ?
Hesed Project Update
One of the highlights of my summer was being able to offer The Hesed Project’s wonderful Joanna Moyer a full-time teaching position at DSS for the 18-19 school year!
Joanna will teach several elective classes at East including a Hesed Project Discipleship class! The objective of this class is to more intentionally shepherd those of our students who currently profess faith in Christ or a desire to grow in relationship with Him. Would you pray for Joanna and her little cohort as they meet Monday & Wednesday mornings to dig into scripture and ask questions? For more information on The Hesed Project’s other initiatives around Colorado, click here.
Want to get involved at the Street School?
Contact me or Sheryl.Witt@ DenverStreetSchool.org if you are interested in getting plugged in at DSS in any of the following ways:
- Sponsor our outdoor leadership course (or donate your old gear)
- Bring a hot lunch once a month/quarter
- Rally your small group to sponsor a field trip
- Help stock our snack room (a box of cereal & a few gallons of milk goes a long way!)
- Start a food drive at your church to support our cooking & baking classes
- Celebrate our students’ birthdays once a month by bringing in cupcakes
- Coordinate a gift card drive to support our advocacy program
- Partner with us financially by clicking here
Come Hang Out With Us!
Our students love visitors and I would love to show you first hand what the “DSS difference” looks like. Shoot me an e-mail and schedule a campus tour today. Or! If you would be interested in being a guest speaker in one of my teachers’ classes, we have a variety of opportunities for that to happen this fall in our cooking/baking, outdoor leadership, data & technology, economics, and core classes!
No one has ever accused me of being tech savvy…
It came to my attention recently that I only posted our wrap up video from last year’s Journey to the High Places Conference in Alaska to my own Facebook, but didn’t send it out to you, my lovely support team. (My B.) That being said, it can be found for your current viewing pleasure above. Thank you again to everyone who made last year’s conference a success and stay tuned for info on what is to come in 2019!
Thank you all for everything you do to support the Street School mission and continually point me back to Jesus. I truly have the best community around.
All of my love from the ‘hood,