Seven months after a DePaul University student was randomly shot and killed outside a house party on the Northwest side, his mother has made his well-known passion and vision for a better Chicago her own.
"I still see a lot of violence going on in Chicago and I really don't see any unified efforts to do anything about it, and it's heartbreaking," said Joy McCormack in her first public comments since her son was killed.
DePaul University standout Frankie Valencia was at a Halloween Party in Humboldt Park when an uninvited guest who had previously been asked to leave returned with a TEC-9 semi-automatic gun and began shooting erratically. Valencia took one of the bullets and died. His girlfriend, 21-year-old Daisy Camacho, was injured when a bullet grazed her neck.
Valencia was days away from receiving a prestigious award from Gov. Pat Quinn and had told his friends he could be the first Latino President of the United States. He put that ambition to work during Barack Obama's campaign for the White House.
After the shooting, President Obama reached out McCormack and her family, offering condolences and letting them know that he appreciated the values that he and Valencia shared.
"It means a lot because President Obama was a mentor for Frankie. Frankie didn't see a public role model for a young man of color, and what he saw was this senator who he could relate to. And he focused on him and he started to learn about him," she said. "It meant a lot because it really meant a lot to Frankie."
To help her get through through the pain of her loss, McCormack has thrown herself into a mission against violence and says that not enough is being done to rescue youths from hopelessness.
"Frankie had a lot of passion about change in the city and I can't let his story be just another sad story that people just will look upon with sadness," she said. "I can't let his death be in vain. Change has to come out of this and that's what I want to see happen."
McCormack decries the amount of money being spent on national defense and the country's wars while legislators cut funding for schools and for "the very programs that give kids an outlet to deal with some of the things that are going on in their communities and their families."
"The messages [children are] getting are messages of hopelessness... of violence around them, and it's become so commonplace that's it not scary anymore," she says with sadness.
Two men, 19-year-old Narcisco Gatica and 21-year-old Berly Valladares, were charged with first-degree and attempted murder within days of Valencia's death. McCormack said that sitting in the courtroom in their upcoming trial will be one of her toughest challenges yet.
"I will go to every court date. And they will look at me. And they will look at our family," she said. "Because my son will not be forgotten. And if they didn't understand the value of life before, they're going to learn it now."
McCormack will be one of the main speakers at the 15th annual Walk for Peace and celebration, held this Saturday at Clemente High School.