In the upper left corner of a large mural painted in Adam Toledo’s memory at the intersection of Ogden and Lawndale avenues is a very sharp, black-and-white sketch. It’s a drawing of a car with detailed spokes and boxy, clean lines.
The image came straight out of the spiral notebook the teen sketched in, his family members said, just minutes before they stood shoulder to shoulder beneath the mural Wednesday to announce plans to open a rural haven in his name for youths growing up in troubled city neighborhoods.
The announcement came on what would have been Toledo’s 14th birthday, and the plans for “Adam’s Place,” as outlined by his mother, described something that many might take for granted: a place to run around freely, learn and grow with friends without getting lured astray.
Toledo was shot and killed March 29 by a Chicago police officer in a Little Village alley during a foot chase.
“Today would have been Adam’s 14th birthday. It is hard for me to say these words,” Elizabeth Toledo said in a statement read by her attorney. “I wish he were here and we were having pizza and cake, just something simple like that. ... What I really want is to have Adam back and I can’t do that. But we can try to help other families protect their sons from the temptations that took Adam into the street that night, the night that he was killed.”
Adam’s Place would be a setting where teens like him can stay out of trouble, the statement said.
“We want (Adam’s Place) to be the kind of place where boys can run around and learn to love the outdoors. We want Adam’s Place to be the kind of place where boys can learn and grow and have a chance to fulfill their ambitions.”
The new effort is modeled after the Boys Farm program in South Carolina that provides a rural residential facility for youth. The Toledo family and their advisers are in the process of securing land in Wisconsin for the home. They have established as a not-for-profit corporation and set up a board of directors, with hopes to break ground within a year and build housing to accommodate up to eight young boys from Chicago and a barn to house livestock.
Toledo was shot after officers responded to a call of shots fired near 24th Street and Sawyer Avenue. Ruben Roman, 21, was arrested during the chase and later charged with several felonies, including for firing a gun on the street that night and endangering the life of a child.
The family’s announcement came the same day Chicago police announced a new policy intended to control and head off dangerous foot pursuits like the one that ended with Toledo’s shooting.
Toledo had secretly left their house prior to the shooting, the family said, in a statement issued before the event Wednesday.
“Despite his parents’ best efforts, he snuck out of the house the night he died, lured by older youth and the thrill of the street,” the statement said.
Ogden and Lawndale, where the mural in Toledo’s honor was erected and the event was held, is a busy intersection, a part of the city that has struggled for decades with persistent gun violence and is near some of the city’s sharpest gang dividing lines.
The stakes are high for many young people in communities that have suffered decades from lacking resources, poverty and poor access to jobs. Some experts have argued that policymakers have for too long relied on police, rather than social services, to find solutions to the deeply entrenched gang problems that drive much of the violence.
Just hours before the Wednesday event, the mural itself was vandalized and painted over with gang symbols, a tactic of disrespect common among factions. An attorney for the family denounced the desecration during the news conference. And later, the artist, Milt Coronado, said he was sad to see the damage.
“Somebody damaged my work. That’s minimal. But they continue to lash out and throw stones at this family this way, and that’s what really hurts,” he said.
The damage, however, had been repaired by community members and Coronado before the Toledo family stood on the stage, beneath the image.
At the event, Toledo’s older sister, Esmeralda Toledo, 24, spoke at length, her voice breaking, about watching her brother’s “little mustache” begin to grow and his voice start to change.
One mistake he made, she said, should not have cost so much.
“Adam was 13. He deserved to be here right now celebrating his 14th birthday with his friends and family,” she said. “He was a kid who was just learning his way around the world and he deserved the chance to make mistakes and learn from them as we all do and we have before. Because no one is perfect.”