Education

He left a gang and was near graduation. Then he was shot and killed.

Being Muslim in America: A look at four South Florida families

The Miami Herald spent several months with four Muslim-American families who live in South Florida. In time for the month-long Islamic holiday Ramadan, they share their stories and experiences.
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The Miami Herald spent several months with four Muslim-American families who live in South Florida. In time for the month-long Islamic holiday Ramadan, they share their stories and experiences.

Jovantae Jackson had been trying to cut ties with a local gang and was beginning to turn his life around, his grandmother said, when he was shot dead walking home from school.

He had recently finished a court-ordered house arrest for a gun charge. The 18-year-old senior at Stellar Leadership Academy Charter School had just found a job at a local fast food restaurant and was two weeks from graduating high school.

Three weeks ago, he learned he was going to be a father.

“He was a pretty good kid. He didn’t want to live like that. He wanted to live a better life,” said Ramone Davis, one of Jackson’s teachers. “That’s what he was trying to do. He was trying to not make the mistakes his parents made.”

According to family and friends, Jackson was walking with classmates near the intersection of Northwest 82nd Street and 25th Avenue at around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, when someone pulled up in a car and opened fire. He was struck five times, his grandmother Yvonne Jackson said.

Classmates fled. Some were picked up and driven back to school.

Principal Angel Chaisson said Jackson’s panicked friends ran into the school and told her, “Jovantae has just gotten shot.”

She calmed the students. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue workers who were unable to unlock Jackson’s cellphone called the school trying to find out his name. They knew he attended Stellar Leadership because of his school uniform.

Jovantae was transported to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center, where, Chaisson said, he died after falling into a coma and undergoing surgery.

He cut his hair, got a job and was trying to get things together, get his life together.

Principal Angel Chaisson

“A lot of the students looked up to him. He was very popular,” Chaisson said. “He cut his hair, got a job and was trying to get things together, get his life together.”

Davis, Jackson’s teacher, said he first noticed Jackson during first period reading class, because the teen was wearing an ankle bracelet — one ordered by a court. Stellar Academy is an alternative program for students who have left regular high schools because of behavioral and attendance issues.

Davis said Jackson checked in each morning to share his daily plans and talk to the teacher about his well-being. Davis said his student had just learned that his girlfriend was pregnant. He was excited about becoming a father.

Others said Jackson stood out because he was funny.

“He could really make you laugh,” said Ellis Jenoure, the school’s dean of students. “He had a beautiful heart, he had a beautiful spirit, he was a great person.”

The week before he was killed, Jackson received his first academic award — a certificate for being the most improved student in Davis’ reading class.

“He wore it like a championship belt,” Davis said. “He was walking around with it [tucked] in his pants, so happy and so proud.”

“He might have showed something on the outside, but boy he was a beautiful person on the inside,” Jenoure said. “He was one person that once you sat down and you talked to him and you got to know him, he was a phenomenal individual.”

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