Meet the Juju-Man
In 2011 and 2012, while more than 900 people were being murdered on the streets of Chicago, creative-writing students from DePaul University fanned out all over the city to interview people whose lives have been changed by the bloodshed. The result is How Long Will I Cry?: Voices of Youth Violence, an extraordinary and eye-opening work of oral history.
Told by real people in their own words, the book contains the extraordinary stories of 34 Chicagoans. This is one of them.
When we visit 9-year-old Julian at his house on the Northwest Side, he seems like any other kid with a passion for skateboarding. “I was going up the ramp, and I was like, ‘Ahhh,’” he says, motioning with his hands to illustrate his adventures at a skate park. “I would be like this high in the air!”
But Julian’s childhood has been anything but normal since Halloween night of 2009. That’s when his brother Manuel “Manny” Roman was shot in Humboldt Park while driving with another brother, Damian. Twenty-three-yearold Manny was on life support for several weeks, until his parents decided to allow him to die. He left behind a wife, an unborn daughter and twin sons. Police—who say that the attack was unprovoked and that Manny and Damian were innocent victims—filed charges against Andrew Ruiz, a paraplegic gang member with a lengthy criminal record. As this book went to press, the case was still awaiting trial.
When Julian’s mother, Myrna Roman, tells the story of the murder and its aftermath, tears fill her eyes as Julian jumps in to console her. Afterward, the energetic and articulate boy settles in the kitchen. Occasionally breaking his story to hum or draw or play with a tiny toy skateboard, Julian begins to discuss life without Manny.
Can I show you something? It’s in my backpack. You’ll probably think it is just a binder, but I will tell you the story. I know I kind of doodled on it, but I will always, always, always treasure this binder. This is the last thing Manny gave me on the day he died.
Manny was like “Hey Juj!”—he called me Juj that time—“Come here! Come here!” I said, “What’s up?” And he was like, “Here.”
I opened the binder. It had nine basketball cards inside. Ron Mercer, Magic Johnson… He gave them to me. It was the last thing he ever gave anybody. After we left, we started collecting candy. Then we went to dinner. He went out. He died. Simple as that. I treasure this binder like it is my brother.
My name is Julian, my nickname is Juju, my nickname for my nickname is Juju-man. And my nickname for my nickname for my nickname is Juj. I am 9. I am in fourth grade at a Montessori school. It is not like schools you watch on TV. I like it because it is a unique school, and I’d rather be unique than normal. Normal schools have desks and get tests every day. This school we get a table with chairs and a work plan.
I like the kids I go to school with, but not all of them. Some of them are bullies. One of them walks to the corner, right? My grandma and I passed by, and we saw him with a bunch of other kids, and their underwears were coming out. I could tell they were bad by the way they sag their pants and act like bullies. Becoming gangbangers, that scares kids.
One time I was at school, right? I saw these kids playing basketball or whatever. This one kid wanted to play, and they denied him. Simple as that. Like, “No!” Just because the way he was. No one really likes him, except for me. I didn’t really do anything to stop it, but I helped him. I told him, “Hey, come here! Come play with us.” That’s what I did.
I know this for a fact. Bullying starts off with a push, then somebody gets addicted. Then it starts being a bunch of bullies and being a gang. A mini gang, then becoming a big gang. Then they get older and become real gangbangers. So it starts from something small to huge. Either way, if you become a part of a gang you are just kidding yourself.
I could explain the day Manny got shot like it was just a moment ago. It was Halloween, and I think I was The Scream. But I am not a hundred percent sure. That day, I was like, “Oh my God, it’s Halloween! It’s Halloween! It’s Halloween!” Then we set sail. Me, my grandma, my mom, my dad and my two cousins went trick-or-treating, along with Manny and his two sons. Manny was nothing that year. One person thought he was, what do you call that? They thought his Halloween costume was a “cute guy.” It was funny.
One of Manny’s sons had a hole in his bag and candy would go right down to the sidewalk. Well, some of it stayed in the bag, but not all of it. It was our trail. We ate dinner. I don’t remember where, but I remember it was Puerto Rican food. I had pork chops and stuff like that. We had extra time because the adults were eating slow, so we started eating some candy. Then we decided to go home.
My mom said, “Hey, Manny, would you like to hang out with your friends tonight?”
And Manny was like, “Yeah, sure.”
Then he jerked back. Like, you know the dance “the jerk”? He went like that, and then he walked away, wearing blue stripes, black hoodie and a white T-shirt. We were just on the side of the houses. That was the last time I ever saw him normal.
We all went home, and we all went to bed: me, my mom and my dad. Manny went out, and they drove to the gas station, then boom, boom. I heard, roo-daa-loo; that was our old phone call. It just kept calling, calling, calling, calling, calling, calling.
Dad was like, “What the—” And then he went to pick it up, and he was like, “Hello?” It was my older brother on the phone. He was like, “Damian just got shot! Manny, too! Manny, too!”
Then my dad started yelling, “Tell me what happened.” Sort of talking deep. I wasn’t sleeping. I was in my room, lying down, and I heard a bunch of yelling. I started listening. They went to the hospital, and my uncle came over before they left. I just saw him looking at the TV. It was scary. And the next morning, I heard about it. I don’t remember how…I don’t remember when they told me. All I remember is thinking, “Manny got shot. … Manny got shot. … Manny got shot.”
I was there the last day he was alive. Or the day he was going to die. I was there the day that they said they were going to unplug it. To let him go. It’s sad, man. Just sad.
I heard my mom talking about Manny’s shooter. The night he shot Manny, he had an argument with somebody; I think it was his girlfriend. And he said, “Someone is going to die tonight.” He went in a car, and went around looking in windows of other cars that people were driving. He pulled out a gun at some people and they said, “No, no, no, it’s me!” Because it was someone he knew, someone from the ’hood. He kept going. Then he saw Manny. Somebody was like, “Look, look, look!”—trying to point to the shooter. Manny was good-looking, so he thought it was a girl trying to say hi and stuff like that. He smiled at her. He got shot right there, in the back of the neck. Pow. Simple as that. Makes no sense. Anger, jealousy, greed and bullies. Doesn’t make any sense. I mean, I don’t understand why. You kill them, for what? You see them? They dress nice? You shoot them? Really? It is greed and jealously. A lot of people get greedy. You can’t just shoot him because you think he’s in a gang.
I really didn’t know how bad it was until afterward. Before Manny got shot, I didn’t really notice there was violence. I knew there was violence, but not bad like that. Then I started paying attention and I was like, “What?” I started reading articles because of my homework: Forty-nine people got shot this weekend.1 I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” It gets me so pissed off. Violence is never the answer. If you want someone’s territory, buy it. But, either way, you don’t need anyone’s territory. You don’t need money to go into a neighborhood. Like, I could just drive into Indiana. Do we have to fight over the whole Indiana or can we just drive right into it? It’s stupid stuff.
Everywhere I go, I always am a little bit of scared. I’m scared right now. Even when I’m in my own house. When I go to sleep, I’m scared. Whenever there is a moment of silence, I am scared. That reminds me. Like, a couple of times at my grandma’s house, I heard vroom-vroom, and I heard yelling and people arguing. When there is people yelling at each other, that is when I’m most scared. And I always hear, like, an ambulance and cops going by non-stop. Like, really? Can there be a day when there is no violence? Why are you guys killing each other? It doesn’t make sense. I mean are they just killing each other for fun? Go out and play video games about that stuff.
I’m not scared of ever joining a gang. I know I am smarter than others. I get straight A’s all the time. Why would I join a gang if my brother died by a gang? I am smarter than that. I was never a bad person and I don’t want to be a bad person. I don’t ever want to become bad in any way. Why would you be bad just to become better than everyone? Kind of like a popularity contest type thing. I would rather be the most hated kid in America to stop violence.
I like to sing and dance. I got that from Manny. I think I’m better at dancing than singing. I’m like James Brown. I am not one of those people who just sings. I’m one of those people who dances.
I’d say I am creative, an epic, epic gamer and a big dreamer. I’m a big dreamer because every day I come up with something different. Like, if I’m thinking about Manny, which I do just about every day, I’m thinking… thinking…thinking…then boom, I think about becoming a doctor, because a doctor can always make a difference. I want to do whatever I can to make the world better. You know what? I think they should stop making guns in the first place. I mean, because without a gun, the guy can’t shoot nobody. I mean there are people legally selling guns on the street, right?2 If that is true, I’m not sure if it is, but if it’s true, why would you give them a permit for it? Even if only one bad guy got the guns himself, and said, “I’ll sell these guns…Here.” Pow, pow, pow, pow. Like, really? I mean, I have to blame the bad guys, but I sometimes don’t blame the bad guys. I mean, I don’t 100 percent blame the bad kids. I blame them for shooting them in the first place, but I also blame a couple of other people for, like, giving them the guns and making the guns.
If I could make a law, it would be that everybody can go into anybody’s neighborhood if they wanted to. They will have rights. Like, you can’t just say you can’t go in here because you don’t live here. That’s stupid, that’s why. I mean, it just doesn’t make sense. Why don’t you stop the whining and just walk into the neighborhood and don’t be all gangster? Just walk.
Do you see that picture right there wearing the Gap sweatshirt? That was me when I was a baby. Me on top of my brother Manny. You know how brothers are sometimes just brothers? We had a dream of becoming best friends, too. We were already friends, but we wanted to become best friends as brothers. One day, he was downstairs mixing music and I ran down there to tell him to lower it, because my dad told me to. I went downstairs, and he said, “We could mix some music, and we should play some Xbox, and just do it all day.” And I said, “Cool.” That dream never got to happen. I was crushed. That’s why I say, “Killing kills dreams.”
1 On the weekend of March 16-18, 2012, a total of 49 people were shot citywide, 10 fatally. See Ashley Rueff, Jeremy Gorner and Jason Meisner, “Shooting Death of Girl, 6, Marks Lethal Weekend,” Chicago Tribune, March 20, 2012.
2 The city outlawed the sale and possession of handguns in 1982. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the handgun ban, saying it was in violation of the Second Amendment. In 2012, the city rewrote its firearms ordinance, but gun stores within city limits remain outlawed. This has not, of course, kept guns out of the city. Police confiscate an average of about 10,000 firearms each year. See Geoffrey Johnson, “Bullet Proof,” Chicago Magazine, September 2012, 30.