Reese Grant-Cobb‘s mom didn’t spend his birthday last week crying. Instead, Beverly Grant sang.
For four consecutive years, Grant has gathered people on July 20 to celebrate Reese’s life. He was stabbed to death on July 1, 2018, on East Colfax Avenue near the Colorado Capitol at age 17, just weeks after graduating from what was then known as DSST Stapleton. He planned to attend the University of Northern Colorado to study bio-medical engineering the following fall.
Grant channeled her sorrow into organizing the annual event, called Random Gestures of Compassion Day. Grieving was unavoidable, she said, but she wanted to do it in a positive way. The annual event aims to honor Reese’s gregarious, loving embrace of life.
“It’s a way to not ever feel sad on this day — because something good is going to happen on this day,” Grant said. “When I’m here at the park, I’m not going to have time to be sad. People are medicine, just like food and music.”
As Denver continues to grapple with an increase in violence impacting youth, more than 100 people gathered last week in Fuller Park to celebrate Reese on what would’ve been his 21st birthday. He was one of nine teenagers killed in homicides in 2018. Since that year, 18 more teens have been shot or stabbed to death.
The energy at the park was exactly what Grant hoped for: comforting, easy, loving. People practiced yoga, gathered supplies to give to people who are without homes, and caught up with people they hadn’t seen during the pandemic. The group formed one giant circle, holding hands, to sing songs, recite poetry and offer affirmations.
“I want y’all to know that you are loved and deserve everything in this life,” Daniey Bere told the crowd. “If nobody has told y’all today, I love you.”
Reese was the youngest of Grant’s three children. He was her gentle giant, she said.
He excelled at sports and making friends. When Reese was 4 years old, Grant said, he continued to try to befriend a girl who lived nearby even though she wasn’t particularly nice to him. Grant decided to speak with him and explain that perhaps the girl wasn’t his friend because she did not treat him well.
“He yelled at me, ‘She is my friend, she just doesn’t know it yet!’” Grant said. “For 17 years, he lived that as his principle.”
It became apparent that Reese lived that motto even as he grew up when more than 700 people attended his funeral, Grant said. Hundreds more attended vigils. Lines of his friends came to tell Grant stories about Reese. The stories inspired her to create an event that would celebrate human connection and compassion.
“I was just a shell of a person there listening, but it was so heartwarming,” Grant said. “You can build so many relationships just being kind and compassionate.”
His friends continue to comment on his Instagram account. His posts show him playing basketball, hanging out with friends, attending a cotillion dance. His second to last post, made less than a month before he died, was a selfie with the caption “live your BEST LIFE” and hashtags for the University of Northern Colorado.
In March, a friend commented, “Miss you, would be doing incredible things right now.”
Three weeks ago, another friend wrote: “I miss you so much.”
One week ago, another friend added: “Even today Reese is still making an impact on alotta us. Not a day goes by I’m not grateful.”
Law enforcement officials said Reese was attacked the night of July 1, 2018, by a group of people near the Bourbon Grill in Capitol Hill and prosecutors charged a 19-year-old with his killing. The suspect pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the killing and in 2019 was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Reese’s father, Roger Cobb, said he still thinks about the 19-year-old, who had no family or supporters come to his court hearings.
“As time goes on, I still worry about him,” Cobb said. “Now we have two lives gone.”
The entire month leading up to Reese’s birthday is difficult, Cobb said. First, there’s Father’s Day in late June. Then there’s the July 1 anniversary of Reese’s death. Then, a few weeks later, Reese’s birthday.
His son’s birthday leaves him feeling airy and raw, he said, but he came to the Random Gestures of Compassion Day to support Grant. He still subconsciously searches for Reese. He expects to see him every time he walks into a gym, where Reese spent so much time playing basketball. A parent never stops searching for their child, he said.
But Cobb felt Reese’s spirit and love at the gathering, he told the crowd.
“I think I’m going to go home and cry a little bit — in joy — for all you being here,” he said.
Grant spent most of the evening with her arms outstretched to give hugs, including to one mother whose daughter was recently killed.
In the years since Reese’s death, Grant has helped other parents whose kids were murdered and has been supported by others who’ve experienced the same loss. She tells parents dealing with a recent loss that the emptiness they feel is normal.
“I want to help them remember that this is a catastrophic disturbance in your being,” she said. “The feeling that nothing is going to be the same is valid, because nothing is the same and it cannot be the same.”
But that doesn’t mean the grief is impossible to wade through. Grant found solace in her yoga practice, at her farmers markets and among her friends. She hopes that people who hear Reese’s story will be inspired to take a moment to introduce themselves to someone new, or to reach out to someone they haven’t talked to in a while.
“Take the time to make a connection you’ve been waiting on,” she said. “This is what I wish for his legacy.”
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