At service for slain teen, pleas to end violence

Youth had wanted to help troubled neighborhoods

By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / May 14, 2010

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Tears fell freely down Nicole Martin’s face and chest, but she was too drained to wipe them away.

As she stared forward at the light-blue casket that held the body of her 14-year-old son, relatives sitting at her side gently dabbed her cheeks, neck, and chest.

Hundreds of mourners packed Greater Love Tabernacle yesterday for the funeral of Jaewon Martin, and remembered him as a bright, promising youth with a aptitude for math who planned a career in finance and wanted to help the city’s troubled neighborhoods.

The two-hour service was the culmination of an emotional week during which political leaders, police, and ministers expressed outrage and shock over the shooting of Martin, an honor student at James P. Timilty Middle School with no ties to gangs and no criminal record. He was shot Saturday afternoon on a Roxbury basketball court by an unidentified gunman.

The church thundered at times with the booming voices of preachers and relatives who called on the young men and women gathered inside not to become apathetic and numb to the violence that has plagued their neighborhoods.

Nicole Martin, a petite woman who raised her son with the help of her mother and uncles, was immobile throughout the service, her narrow shoulders slumped, her head bowed. But when the service ended, the young mother paused on the steps outside the Dorchester church and voiced her grief in a long wail.

“No!’’ she cried over and over before collapsing into the arms of relatives.

Jaewon Martin’s killing has galvanized city leaders to redouble their efforts to combat crime as the summer approaches. Mayor Thomas M. Menino has pledged regular meetings with clergy around the city in the hope of creating a strong strategy to stem violence. Police have vowed to apprehend the killer. Priests and ministers said they will hit the streets and train young men in their church to mentor disaffected youth in Boston.

Yesterday, the ministers and relatives who spoke at Martin’s funeral begged those present not to forget the youth’s legacy or his mother as she struggles to move on without her only child.

“Don’t think you can say what Nicole is going through,’’ said the Rev. William E. Dickerson II, pastor of the church. “You don’t know what Nicole is going through.’’

Martin’s teachers, fellow students, school administrators, and relatives got up one by one to speak about the teen, who would have graduated this spring and had hoped to go to college — as his cousin, Cedirick Steele, once did too. Steele, an 18-year-old student at Bunker Hill Community College, was fatally shot in 2007 by gang members prosecutors say wanted to kill a person chosen at random.

Steele’s mother, Natasha, addressed the congregation yesterday with a poem, but the words were directed at Nicole Martin.

“How can I tell a mother that God knows best?’’ Steele said, her voice quavering. “How can I tell a mother it was her son’s time to be laid at rest? . . . How can I tell a mother that some days can be long? How can I tell a mother that her life will go on?’’

The service was attended by dozens of students from Timilty, some of them wearing maroon and gold sweat shirts, their school colors.

They have pledged to keep Martin’s memory alive by raising funds for charity and sponsoring a basketball game to collect money for the Martin family.

The school’s principal, Valerie Lowe-Barehmi, read aloud from an essay Martin wrote last year that outlined his solutions for preventing violence.

“Jaewon’s vision of making peace will live in our hearts and minds,’’ she told the congregation.

Sobbing and holding on to one another, the students listened as ministers and relatives of the victim pleaded with them and other teenagers in the congregation to lead lives of peace.

“Young people today, black people today, you need to lay down your guns,’’ James Martin, the victim’s great-uncle, said in a powerful voice that filled the simply decorated church. “You are our future. You all need to stand up and speak up.’’

Shouting into a microphone, Dickerson demanded that those gathered, especially the young men, make something of themselves and be responsible leaders in their communities and families.

“What are you going to do when you leave here? Are you going to hook up with the talkers?’’ he thundered. “Or are you going to hook up with the doers? We’ve got enough men in here where we can turn this city around!’’

The crowd yelled their approval, rising from their seats.

At the end of the service, students stood outside waiting for the casket to be placed in the hearse that would go to Oak Lawn Cemetery in Roslindale.

Steven Johnson, who was in Martin’s homeroom, said Dickerson’s words moved him.

“I think he encouraged a lot of young men to get off the streets and pay attention to their schoolwork,’’ he said.

Asked whether he thought the message got through to the other youths and men in the pews, Johnson paused.

He said, “It got through to me.’’

Maria Cramer can be reached at

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