Jannette Taylor is tired.
The overnight phone calls. The hospital visits.
The fights, the funerals, the fundraisers for funerals because no one can afford them.
The young lives, paradoxically promising but doomed, cut short in the same maddeningly predicting pattern.
It wears on a person.
Especially a 36-year-old woman of steel whose car has been shot at, who has seen people shot and who has lost cousins, acquaintances and others to gun violence in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods.
When a cousin fell victim last August, dying from complications after being shot 10 months earlier, Jannette decided to leave her job as the head of an Omaha anti-gang nonprofit, Impact One.
She founded the organization in 2009. As the executive director, she hired, planned, budgeted, marketed, taught classes and, at times, was the janitor. She was also on call at any hour of the day.
She told everyone she could finally finish that law degree at Creighton. Three semesters left if she went full-time!
Really, though, she had to get out of the trenches for a while. Put her heart back in her body. And breathe.
The shootings carry a collateral damage beyond the victim and the shooter. Families are shattered. Neighbors are shaken. And people like Jannette who labor against a cycle of poverty, circumstance, choice and dysfunction also face trauma and loss.
They are taxed with sometimes impossible situations. Burials for which no amount of carwashes and spaghetti dinners can pay. Children left fatherless. Younger siblings following the same doomed path. A shell-shocked community that must pick up the pieces.
Jannette, in a 24/7 job that required her to be diplomat, social worker, teacher, confidante and big sister, bore all that.
Impact One seeks to prevent gang violence and steer at-risk youths away from gangs and other bad choices. It offers a summer jobs and education program, offers re-entry services to people leaving prison, does other employment training and offers resource referrals.
In 2009, she was sitting outside a convenience store, on the phone with the head of the local NAACP. Up walked a man wearing a ski mask. He pulled out a gun and started firing.
Jannette put the car in drive, peeled away and called 911.
She returned to see two teenagers on the ground, bleeding. One wasn't moving. Emergency workers began loading the other teen into an ambulance.
Jannette told him it would be OK. His sister arrived, dropped to the ground and screamed.
He died right there.
|FROM THE NOTEBOOK|
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha in their new blog, From the Notebook.|
Later, when Jannette couldn't erase the raw memory, she sought counseling.
She kept at her work, though. She saw evidence that it worked with the youths who finished high school, got jobs, went to college.
Jannette could find hope even in bleak cases, like the 17-year-old boy who seemed destined to meet the fate of his brother, who had been shot and killed.
The teenager lived on a rough street, barely attended alternative school and had racked up criminal charges, including a felony for gun possession.
But he was also smart, charming and focused.
Jannette got him a job, got him back to high school, lined up services and got him hooked up with influential Omahans who helped open doors for him.
But he was too close to forces that would pull him back. He was shot and wounded; Jannette sent him to Florida to get him away from the Omaha scene. He returned only to be convicted on a gun charge. He's in prison now.
Jannette wanted to be an example to the youths Impact One reaches each year in a jobs program that also offers education and a haven from street life.
She had hoped she was showing them that you could be a single mom, as she is, and raise a successful daughter, hold down a job, continue your education and bridge a tough past with a successful future.
Jannette grew up in a rental house at 24th and Pratt Streets with her mother, her twin sister and three other siblings, plus a stepfather addicted to crack.
A strict mother and basketball kept Jannette off the streets. Mostly.
Then basketball ended. Enter a boyfriend, who was into selling drugs and selling guns.
When she crossed the stage at her Northwest High graduation, she was five months pregnant.
She gave up a dream of being a writer and gave up a scholarship to UNO to work full time and support her baby. When her daughter entered kindergarten, Jannette went to college on Saturdays, eventually earning a bachelor's degree in business and a master's degree in organizational leadership. She started a master's in negotiation and dispute resolution. And she started law school.
Then she was tapped to run Impact One, funded largely by Susie Buffett's Sherwood Foundation.
The role required her to hire and manage a staff that includes ex-gang members, go to crime scenes and emergency rooms, talk down angry friends and family bent on retaliation and keep more than 100 youths occupied and employed during the dangerous summer season.
Add to all that diplomacy skills that required an ability to traverse two worlds.
It was manageable until her cousin Damian Cleghorn was shot in November 2011.
The initial report said the injuries weren't “life-threatening.”
But he died 10 months later.
His death devastated her.
A year apart in age, they had grown up together, as close as siblings. At 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds, Cleghorn was Mutt to her “5-feet-8 with heels” Jeff.
After he was shot, Jannette spent nearly every day with him.
He was in a coma for four months and in poor health after that. When it looked like a kidney transplant could help save him, she offered her own.
He would get better and leave the hospital, then get worse again. In August, he got pneumonia and never recovered.
His younger brother had been shot and killed years earlier.
Cleghorn died Aug. 28. She gave notice at Impact One the same day.
“I couldn't take it anymore,” she said.
Jannette tried to dive into her studies at Creighton but found herself distracted.
She vowed not to make late-night hospital visits for Impact One, letting the new executive director do that.
Still, she took Christmas dinner to a 19-year-old who is paralyzed from the waist down from a shooting.
Still, she will speak tonight on a panel after a documentary showing at Film Streams on the war on drugs and how it has affected poor communities.
Still, her phone rings.
We were at lunch earlier this month when her phone rang again. A suspect in the year's first shooting had been arrested.
He was a 20-year-old whom Impact One had tried to help.
“It's hard — hard to get a phone call and not run,” she said over a plate of uneaten shrimp étouffée. “A lot of them are like my family. We have a moral obligation to take care of each other.”
Jannette hasn't given up the fight. She sees reasons for hope. Her stepdad is one.
He finally kicked his crack addiction. Sober for a decade, he is involved in church and has had a stable job.
If anyone can beat something that damaging and destructive, she figures, all things are possible.
As for herself, she's plugging away at law school and hopes that with a little healing time, and eventually this degree, she can return to the fray.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1136, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/ErinGraceOWH