It was a Wednesday in March when 15-year-old Keshawn Brooks was hanging out with his church youth group, telling his friends that one day he was going to be a great football star. But what happened the next day changed those plans.
Keshawn was on his way home from Cabrillo High School on March 12 when a young man tried to grab his backpack before fatally stabbing him, police officials said. An 18-year-old has been charged with murder in relation to the case.
News of the youth’s death, which occurred only two blocks from his home, shook the entire city. City leaders and school and law enforcement officials attended his memorial. The community sought to raise money through fundraisers, car washes, and a Go Fund Me effort, which collected over $8,000 to help Keshawn’s family with the cost of the memorial.
“He was a loving kid. He really had a big heart,” said the boy’s stepfather, Keeyon Layton.
In 2002, Keshawn’s biological father Kevin was shot and killed in Long Beach in a case that has never been solved.
His stepfather first met Keshawn when the boy was four years old, and even then, his character showed. “You could tell he had a big personality,” Layton said.
Anyone who knew Keshawn knew about his passion for football. He was a freshman playing defensive end for Cabrillo High’s football team and he aspired to have a career in the NFL.
At times, his stepfather was unsure if those dreams were realistic, but he became convinced by Keshawn’s passion. “It was really what he wanted to do,” Layton said.
The family even created and signed a personal contract detailing Keshawn’s goals. In addition to his football goals, it included eating healthy, reading his bible, and making sure his chores were done. But there was also time for fun, and he and his stepfather spent a lot of time playing pranks on each other.
Keshawn was very involved with New City Church, where he attended the youth group and volunteered for bible study in the summers. In the youth group, Keshawn was known as an energetic jokester who had a self-assured but caring attitude.
“We used to make jokes all the time,” said Brooks’ friend Sema’j Vannoy, 13.
Brooks also made friends with Timothy Cordova, a 17-year-old who attends Millikan High School and produces hip-hop beats. Cordova says that after Keshawn heard his beats, he encouraged him, saying, “Dude, when you go to the Grammys, let me go with you.”
“We were both goofballs,” Cordova said.
Keshawn was captivated by the movie Drumline, which inspired him to learn drums from his cousin. When he had the chance, he would jump on the drum set during the church choir practice.
He attended a weeklong camp in Idyllwild with his church, an event that his pastor described as a turning point for the teenager. “He made a commitment to follow Christ and he kept that commitment,” said Pastor Carl Kromminga. “He didn’t drop out of church.”
The camp also gave him the chance to meet a diverse group of youth. “Keshawn liked to be with people of different ethnic backgrounds,” said Kromminga.
He had a girlfriend, whose name he wore on a bracelet.
“He was proud of her,” said Emily Smith, a youth leader at the church. Smith recalled how one day Keshawn told her what he liked about his girlfriend, saying, “She goes to church. She’s a Christian woman.”
In light of Keshawn’s passing, many are calling for new measures to address violence in Long Beach streets. “I want to try to make it safer in our neighborhood,” Layton said. “It’s going to take the community as a whole.”
“I saw [Keshawn] the day before [he was killed] so it made me sad,” said his friend Laura Akinola, 14. “He was already almost home. I’ve never seen him with drugs or a knife.”
There were 176 violent crimes in Long Beach in February 2015, according to city data. Over 60 percent of the crimes occurred in the West Division, the area where Brooks lived, attended school, and was killed.
In honor of Keshawn’s passing, VoiceWaves asked some of Keshawn’s friends: How can we stop violence from happening in Long Beach?
Laura Akinola, 14, Lakewood High School:
“There should be regular backpack searches [at schools]. There’s bad kids at school and no one says anything. They bring weed and I’m sure other stuff like knives. I know weed is bad, but not like a knife … I was scared at school before [Keshawn’s death] happened, but it just made me more [scared].”
Sema’j Vannoy, 13, Nelson Academy:
“We should have more officers patrol and make sure everything is going alright. There should be more officers around school areas when the students get out of school, so they feel more safe … I feel safe in the area when they’re driving around … [The officers] ask us how we’re doing, [tell us] to go straight home or to whoever is picking us up.”
Timothy Cordova, 17, Millikan High School:
“I think it starts at a young age. We need to put efforts toward the little ones … They need someone to look up to. And [they’re not finding that] on the streets or on the radio. There would be a lot less violence. I think kids don’t have someone to look up to and they have to learn for themselves.”
Larissa Cordova, 11, Perry Lindsey Middle School:
“We should stop all the young kids from getting involved with the bad people. Just hang out with good people. Follow your heart. If they’re in the street, they should come here to the park, have fun, and have a little picnic.”