Khalil Denny, 19, was watching a softball match with his friends in Washington Park when he was fatally shot.

It’s something he did several times last summer, enjoying a game in the park near his house, said Lanette Denny, his mother. But Tuesday’s game ended in a tragedy.

“I don’t think our teens are safe in Chicago anymore,” said 49-year-old Denny on Wednesday evening, standing near where her son died.

Just after 5pm in Washington Park, a group of about 50 people, most of them Acclivus, launched purple, white and black balloons in memory of those killed and injured last week. The event was organized by Acclivus, a community organization working to reduce violence in Chicago’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.

Earlier, back at home, Lanette Denny had doubts and had no plans to attend the balloon release in honor of her son and 43-year-old Lionel Coward, who also died in the shootout. Eight others were injured.

But with the support of Octavia Mitchell, founder of Heal Your Heart, an organization she created to support bereaved mothers, Denny found the strength to go to the park.

Khalil Denny would be 20 this Friday, and instead of celebrating his birthday, his family will be hosting his funeral.

Acclivus has also organized softball games in Washington Park and other parks to promote peace in neighborhoods where residents experience high crime rates.

Last Tuesday, the brawl that started in the parking lot moved to where community members like Denny were watching the game, said Gwen Baxter, patient surveillance coordinator and injury response specialist at Acclivus.

Shoe seller Khalil Denny was a “fun and loving person” who loved shoes and shopping, his mother said. He was getting ready for his upcoming birthday and got a new bottle of cologne on Tuesday night, his mother said.

“He sprinkled it all over himself,” she said. “Everyone who was here … said,” He just hugged me. He told me he loves me. I said, “because he just put on that Dior cologne he just got.”

Khalil was her youngest of seven children and the second son she lost.

Exactly eight years ago, on September 21, 2014, she lost her second youngest son, 16-year-old Vincent Denny. He would be 24 now.

Denny was part of Mitchell’s group and helped organize parties for other bereaved mothers.

The bereaved two sons Denny would like to move into a new home with fewer neighbors and a little privacy, she said. She said she has been on the waiting list for Section 8 as of 2008. He has been living in the same apartment since 1998.

“I definitely can’t sit on the porch or go to the park or anything,” Denny said. “I definitely can’t come to the park.”

Mitchell said she was tired of attending the wake and releasing balloons.

“What are we doing? How does it end? When will it end?” Mitchell said, “Who’s going to help us? Who’s trying to help us? I’m always asking for help.”

She said she would like government leaders to help provide funds for women to seek advice, cover healthcare costs, provide benefits for bereaved mothers, and help with relocation costs, especially for low-income women like Denny.

“You want them to lose the baby, bury it, and go back to work two weeks later,” Mitchell said. “How? How?”

She said she would like a law in Springfield to pass that would provide these benefits to mothers who have lost their children.

Baxter said the Chicago Park District has since revoked the group’s approval, even though the shootout was not related to a softball game.

Acclivus is contacting the police and the relevant councilor when they plan to hold a match, Baxter said. She appealed to the park district to restore the organization’s permits to organize the games.

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“To remove it, it’s like you want to continue the violence,” Baxter said. “People got together.”

Games help the community and get to know each other, and also make the police see community members in a positive space, said Barron Neal, Washington Heights manager at Acclivus.

“The goal of the game is simply to keep the peace,” he said. “It’s just about community involvement.”

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Illinois state official Kam Buckner said government leaders need to invest in communities to provide a safer space.

“Everyone in this city deserves a safe space to get together, get together and have fun,” Buckner said. “Unfortunately, more and more often we saw that the powers that were taking away our spaces.”

He called on elected officials to invest funds to combat gun violence in the same way the government has invested in tackling COVID-19.

“If we don’t release the funds,” Buckner said. “We will continue to launch balloons.”

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