Dantrell Davis shouldn't be forgotten

Jenner today is not what it was when Dantrell died. The old school was torn down. The current building, with its wide, clean hallways and bright classrooms, replaced it a dozen years ago.

Most of the teachers who knew Dantrell are gone. So are all of Cabrini's high-rises, and with them, most of Cabrini's residents.

Nice new homes have sprung up in the neighborhood. New, prosperous people have moved in, and those with children are unlikely to send their children to Jenner.

Jenner students come, instead, from the few remaining Cabrini rowhouses, or from the new nearby subsidized housing, though there hasn't been nearly as much of that as promised. Other students, from displaced Cabrini families, are bused in from the West Side. Some ride long distances on the CTA.

Almost all are African-American and low-income, and the school's population dwindles.

Life is more peaceful for Jenner students now than it was in Dantrell's day.

"These grasslands are like meadows," Spider Schergen said, waving a hand toward the vacant lots that surround the school.

Schergen came to Jenner the year after Dantrell's death, when high-rises stood in land that's now empty. He remembers the trauma that permeated the place, how students and teachers would lie on the floor when the gunfire warnings came.

That terror is over, which doesn't mean that the school's struggle is.

Test scores are low. The closing of the nearby Schiller School, which also served Cabrini residents, didn't help.

When Schiller students were channeled to Jenner, gang rivalries erupted — in the bathrooms, in the hallways — though this year, Schergen said, those tensions have eased significantly, and Jenner feels more like family.

All of the coming and going in the neighborhood of the old Cabrini is one reason Dantrell Davis isn't as known as he might be.

"The neighborhood can't contain its stories," Schergen said.

But Dantrell does live on the brown Honorary Dantrell Davis Way sign that marks the block where he was shot.

"Anybody ever notice the street sign?" Schergen asked his students Thursday.

Only the student who had spoken earlier spoke up.

"Me!" he cried.

And when that boy says he heard the gunshot that killed Dantrell Davis, he's not entirely imagining it.

What happened to Dantrell 20 years ago still reverberates in Chicago, in all the neighborhoods where gangs still rule and poverty runs deep and it's still dangerous to be a child.

mschmich@tribune.com

CHICAGO

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