Last Saturday, Quanita “Tay” Jackson was organizing a youth basketball tournament in Moody Park, Milwaukee. The purpose of the event was to promote peace; though only 20-years-old, Jackson had already made a name for herself as an anti-violence activist and organizer.
A day later, Jackson was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting, across the street from the park she had been dancing and laughing in less than 24 hours before.
Vaun Mayes, the founder of Program the Parks MKE, which put on the Saturday event, said Jackson was at her best on Saturday.
“Tay was glowing. She was happy. She was dancing,” Mayes told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We had youth ambassador shirts made and she was so excited about that, and that’s what makes it worse. That she’s gone just a day later.”
“She had an amazing talent,” Tom Schneider, executive director of Children’s Outing Association Youth & Family Centers of Milwaukee, said Monday night.
“But she had more than talent,” Schneider said. “She had heart.”
Local attorney Michael Hupy offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in Jackson’s death. According to Milwaukee’s Fox 6 News, Hupy serves on the board of the COA Youth and Family Centers, an organization Jackson volunteered with.
“I want to do something for this family and COA,” Hupy said at a press briefing.
Police say Jackson didn’t appear to be the intended target of the shooting.
While violent crime is down in Milwaukee overall, certain neighborhoods are disproportionately represented in the city’s gun violence stats. According to Wisconsin public radio, 12 of Milwaukee’s nearly 200 neighborhoods made up nearly half of the city’s 476 non-fatal shootings last year.
“Those neighborhoods are predominantly located on the far south, west and north sides of Milwaukee,” WPR writes. “Many border Milwaukee’s 53206 zip code, where unemployment and poverty are widespread.”
Jackson’s sudden and tragic death has sparked an outpouring of love and grief throughout the community. She worked for a variety of youth-centered organizations in Milwaukee, and was a musician with True Skool, with whom she wrote and performed music encouraging people to “put the guns down,” the Journal Sentinel writes.
“We should be celebrating a person going to school or getting a new job, but instead we are mourning a senseless death,” Kimberly Mahan, a close friend of Jackson’s family, told reporters at the Tru Skool memorial for Jackson’s death.
Mayes penned a moving tribute to the young activist, published Thursday night on OnMilwaukee.com.
“I wish I was you at 20 years old. I wish I had more time with you, knowing now what I know. I’d pull up a chair and ask that you teach us more,” Mayes wrote. “Around you, smiles and laughs were mandatory. Success was a must. Progress was required. The phrase ‘I can’t’ didn’t exist.
“Today, I myself must reflect and regroup. Here I am thinking I was the example for you. Thinking I was YOUR mentor. How foolish of me. Of U.S. When we think of veterans, living and dying in service, we don’t think of the soldiers of our own community, doing exactly the same.”