By JR Valrey
I have read social media post after post, about how terrible 2020 has been for the average residents of the U.S.; people who are used to living relatively comfortable lives. It has become trendy to complain about the pandemic, the Shelter in Place orders, the closing down of businesses, the lack of employment, distance learning, the new guidelines on travel and dining, and much more. While we constantly have fun complaining about how miserable our lives have become, a minute few have to deal with life as Oakland resident Iesha James. She has all of the same issues we all are dealing with, during the pandemic, as well as having two of her sons shot, in front of her and her third son, last August in East Oakland. In addition, she had to move in a moment’s notice because the children were shot in front of their house, traumatized, and never wanted to return. Her 14 year old son, Jeremiah, had his femur shattered with the bullet that hit him, and she has had to nurse him back to health, take him to his medical appointments, as well as raise money for the costly months-long stay at hotels, and she has to take care of her other 2 sons. She has been a superwoman, because that is what her sons and life demanded of her up until this point, but we as a community need to begin or continue to show Iesha and her sons love, by way of financial support considering that her sons were totally innocent bystanders. For some this is the Christmas or Kwanzaa season, and it should not be about just consumerism and the accumulation of non-essential gifts, it should be about helping those in need. Iesha, Jeremiah, and their family humbly need our help, here is their story.
JR Valrey: Can you talk a little bit about how your son ended up shot?
Iesha James: Prior to our arrival, surveillance video from Lion Creek Property Management, disclosed that three teenage boys were seen running with McDonald’s bags, from a rented 4 door Black Impala vehicle into our stairwell, right before we arrived home. Oakland Housing Authority Police Department (OHAPD) said, “The Impala waited in the area.”
Therefore we arrived at our residence at the wrong time, and while unloading the vehicle, with my 3 teenage boys carrying McDonald’s bags in their hands, the purchased air mattress falling off the stairway ledge gave the shooters time to stop in the stairway and start firing at my boys, which were not the intended target. OHAPD said, “mistaken identity”.
JR Valrey: How did your family respond?
Iesha James: My oldest Jeremiah was shot in the leg. My youngest Malachi was grazed in the left hand, from the hot metal of the bullet and my middle child Mickel was halfway up the stairs, as bullets were going past his legs, as he ran for his life.
Once respondents finally arrived, Jeremiah was transported to UCSF Children’s Hospital Oakland, as OHAPD canvassed the area of the crime scene. I am thankful for the neighborhood support and care for Jeremiah and I, in the moment of chaos. The next day, my sister and mother arrived with a Uhaul truck and boxes to pack our entire 3-bedroom apartment in two days, and put everything in storage.
JR Valrey: Did you receive any help from the Victims of Violent Crime Fund or any other agency? What was your experience like dealing with them?
Iesha James: Youth Alive showed up at our hotel room, after Jeremiah was discharged. They assisted with filling out the Victims of Violent Crime Application. After the application was filled out, the Youth Alive advocate took the application for processing. After 30 days, I followed up with Victims of Violent Crime to check the status of our application. I was shocked to find out that no application had been received or processed for Jeremiah, after 30 days of waiting. After contacting the advocate regarding the application not being received or processed, I was informed that Youth Alive did not forward the application, because a GoFundMe was in process. I requested that Youth Alive forward or return my application, so I could forward it to Victims of Violent Crime for a response. Victims of Violent Crime informed me of the services rendered, I was informed that funeral funding, reimbursement, and deposit funds are services offered. Jeremiah’s application for services, qualified under reimbursement, therefore his application will not be processed, until all invoices from service rendered are attached to the application. My experience from Youth Alive unfortunately, did not end after the falsely applied application. Before we were able to withdraw from the GoFundMe, Youth Alive offered us 3 days worth of hotel compensation. Unfortunately we never received the hotel compensation. Then the mentor that was or is appointed to Jeremiah for services, has, never, consistently communicated with Jeremiah and I, regarding goals, stipends, or services rendered. Jeremiah and I are residents of the City of Oakland and we participate in a wide variety of sports and community organizations. We were devastated by Nia Carter, David Paris and Glen Upshaw’s response to a family in need, at a desperate time. I still have not been contacted or acknowledged for not receiving services. I’m forever grateful for Adrienne Smith-White and Dawn Love with the Eastbay Asian Local Development Corporation, located at the Lion Creek Crossing Apartment Complex. They advocated, referred, followed up and assisted with all areas of our displacement, while Youth Alive abandoned us.
JR Valrey: When a child is shot, what are some of expenses that need to be paid, when a child is injured in the way your son was?
Iesha James: After-care for Jeremiah included around the clock medication distribution, bed and pillow arranging for comfort, bandage changing and covering for showering and clothing changes, monitoring, transporting, and managing movement in all areas, not to mention, he is a child of only 14 years of age. Expenses that we have to pay are for storage and hotels, because Jeremiah feared going back home after being shot. We need food, snacks, and drinks for 4 people. We need toiletries, soap, lotion, deodorant, toothpaste, mouthwash, washing soap, bleach, disinfecting products for cleaning Jeremiah’s wound on the right leg. The bullet shattered his femur bone. He has a rod and 4 screws in place of the femur bone. Jeremiah is 14 years old, therefore his femur bone will heal, and the rod and 4 screws can be removed. Jeremiah has re-learned how to walk, ride a bike, jump and run. His resilience has been amazing to his doctor, physical therapy staff, family and friends.
JR Valrey: Are you considering therapy for your son and his siblings since he was not the only one shot?
Iesha James: Mickel and Malachi have an awesome UCSF Children’s Hospital therapist. Jeremiah has requested time to heal, before talking to anyone about his mental status. But once he is healed up, both of us will consider therapy.
JR Valrey: How has the community responded so far, to your son’s plight?
Iesha James: The community response from family and friends, has been amazing. The abundance of love and support has been amazing. You never know your support system, until you are in need. Jeremiah and I truly appreciate every thought, word, physical response and financial donation.
JR Valrey: How difficult has it been to find new housing, in a historic pandemic? What have you been up against?
Iesha James: Difficult is an understatement. With the new apartment developments in downtown Oakland, I assumed more Below Market Rate units would be available for renting, only to find out: (1) 3-bedroom was offered in a lottery for below market rent availability. Due to the pandemic, Oakland Housing Authority is closed, therefore, correspondence is only via email and over the phone. I understand that we are only one family in need of assistance, however the process has been slow, and not consistent nor convenient. I have tried not to take it personally, however I do believe that if it is not your situation, your empathy and sympathy will not be on the same level of what is needed.
JR Valrey: How are you and your son doing physically, mentally, and spiritually? How has his sense of safety been affected by this ordeal?
Iesha James: Jeremiah told me, “Mom you prepared me for this, not to get shot, but to understand my environment, and what can happen in a tragedy.” I have been trying my best to hold it all together. My boys, however, know when something is wrong. They know I am a wreck, holding everything together in silence. I am that strong friend, that has needed checking on, and reassurance that everything will work itself out, which is easier said than done. Physically, we look fine, mentally we are drained. And spiritually we are lost. We know GOD knows our hearts. And healing is what we need, before we can get back in the swing of things.
JR Valrey: How could people help you? How could people keep up with you?
Iesha James: Pray for strength and healing for us. We are all enduring a difficult time with the pandemic. I have finally found a 3 bedroom unit. Securing permanent housing is in process, however, a majority of the GoFundMe went to the hotel, care and transportation. Therefore a FundRazr campaign has been started for financial support for moving & purchasing furniture, bedding, and linen for our new home. https://fundrazr.com/11kWZf Cash app $jamesiesha and Venmo @jamesiesha.
Special Thanks to Joe Spina an educator from the San Mateo School District. He read your last article and volunteered tutoring services for Jeremiah. Special shout also to Keyanna Davis-Trahan, the founder of Firmly Rooted Basketball Organization and an advocate for Alameda County Care Connect, Alameda Countywide InHouse HMIS, and Home Stretch Housing Assistance Fund.