For the past few years, Milwaukee has grappled with a triple digit homicide rate, and among the victims have been children. Some have been involved in gangs and criminal activity; others were innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. WUWM’s Marti Mikkelson talked to one young gunshot survivor, as part of our series, Project Milwaukee: Youth Violence.
It’s 5:00 on a glorious afternoon on 24th and Keefe in Milwaukee’s central city. The kids are home from school for the day. Several are chatting on the street corner, while another shoots hoops. A couple dogs are sunning themselves. Nearby, a homeowner is mowing his lawn.
In the midst of this peaceful scene, two neighbors are screaming at each other from their front porches. It’s the kind of tension Jadea Mack lives with constantly. It’s also eerily reminiscent of eight years ago, when the 18-year-old was shot in this neighborhood, on another spring afternoon.
“I was at the babysitter’s house at the time. I was about ten years old, and me, my little sister and my little brother were playing outside. All of a sudden I seen a man, he ran from the next door neighbor’s house, from out their backyard and he ran down the street. Not even five minutes later, another guy came out, and he was shooting down the street. My first instinct was to tell my sister and brother to go in the house and that’s what I did, and he looked over at me. He smiled at me and then he shot me, and I thought to myself if I don’t run, this man is going to kill me, so I got up and I ran, and while I was running he was still shooting at me,” Mack says.
Mack says somehow, she managed to stumble inside the house and lock the door. Then, she collapsed and doesn’t remember anything until she woke up in the hospital. Although the shooter fired several rounds, only one bullet hit her, in the back of the leg.
Doctors removed the bullet, and after a few days, she returned home to recuperate. Mack says the police never apprehended the suspect and that bothered her for a long time.
“They found the bullet, they found the bullet shell and all that, but they couldn’t catch the man. I couldn’t sleep at night, and I would not sleep at night at all. I was in a depression mode for about two or three years after that. I was very uncomfortable just around anything. If I felt anybody or anything was going to bring me harm, I would just flip out,” Mack says.
Mack says after she was released from the hospital, she stayed inside for weeks, fearing the shooter would come back to finish the job. She was even too afraid to go to school, missing three months of classes. Mack says eventually, things started to get back to normal.
That’s because of Project Ujima. It’s a program that helps kids who’ve been the victims of violence recover from their physical and emotional wounds. Project Ujima was available to Mack at Children’s Hospital in Wauwatosa, where she was rushed after the shooting. Case worker Ramona Santiago counseled the girl frequently, both immediately afterward and during the years following the shooting. Santiago also introduced Mack to children who had undergone similar ordeals.
“She started getting involved more and understanding that it was okay to be angry at what happened to her and that it wasn’t okay what happened to her, but to accept it and move on to help others, and I think that’s helped her,” Santiago says.
Today, Jadea Mack is spokesperson for Project Ujima. She speaks to MPS students and youth groups about her experience, and of the dangers of getting involved in gangs. She graduated this week from the Milwaukee High School of the Arts, and has received a full scholarship to attend UW-Parkside.
In addition to the help Mack received from Project Ujima, she credits her church and strong family unit with helping put her life back together. Her mother, Andrea Mack, says once in awhile, she thinks about the shooter, and wonders if he’s still out there. But, she says her faith has gotten her through those sleepless nights.
“My dad was telling us when this happened, don’t worry about that. God is going to take care of him, and who knows, he might already be locked up for something else or been shot or something himself, already in the ground, you know?” Mack says.
Mack says it took her daughter five or six years to recover psychologically from the shooting, which is considered typical for a 10-year-old girl. But while the emotional scars are behind her, there are physical reminders. The shooting left a mark on the back of Jaeda’s leg, and she still walks with a slight limp.