GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. –When violence turns deadly on the southeast side of Grand Rapids, the Gillespie family often sees the end result.
For 27 years, their funeral home has buried thousands of people, including youth lost to violence.
“We don’t just have a kid that’s dead,” Sherman Gillespie, the owner, said. “We’ve got mothers, brothers, and sisters, that’s uncles, and a community that are at a loss.”
“We’re in business to care for the dead, but through life’s normal process and life’s normal process is not burying all of our kids,” he said.
Of the eight homicides police said happened in just a one month period, Gillespie said he’s buried all eight.
Now a part of the family business, his son and nephew were in the streets.
Tahj Gillespie said he did time in prison on drug and gun charges.
After turning his life around, he lends his voice to help others heading down the wrong path.
At a press conference organized by the Grand Rapids Police Department and aimed at addressing community violence, he said the solution starts in the home.
“And if the family is not raising the children properly, I don’t care what they’re being taught in school and the church. When they go home and it’s different, and it’s back to the old ways of doing things… drugs, hustling, whatever, stealing, robbing and killing,” he said.
“That’s what they’re comfortable with. So if we ain’t changing that, then we not changing anything. These solutions is just mere talk,” he added.
With his family’s help, Tahj Gillespie started ‘Life’s Connections,’ a non-profit organization aimed at empowering families and at-risk youth.
For one, he said it takes mentors who can relate to and reach at-risk youth.
“It’s a disconnect there and if you don’t utilize the people that have those connects, to be able to touch the spots you can’t touch, maybe with the message, maybe with a different verbiage, then how do you get your point across,” he questioned.
“We have to be strategic in helping these children because they living in a life where they don’t think they’re worthy of living,” he added.
Sherman Gillespie said those on the wrong path need to consider these things.
“Thinking about tomorrow, what are the consequences of your act? Will you be the next one to die? Or will you spend the rest of your life in prison,” Gillespie asked.
If you’re interested in Life’s Connections, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 616-821-9977.