At a time when bemoaning division and hatred has become almost as common as inspiring it, we must be deeply grateful for the the life and hope that have arisen from Antonio Franklin Jr.’s death.
A track star in high school, Franklin was totally in the wrong place at the wrong time a little over two years ago when he was killed by stray gunfire as he stood near the swings in Duncan Park.
Earlier in the day some teenage boys had gotten into a fight, possibly about a girl, that led to an exchange of gunfire that evening. One of the bullets hit Franklin, who wasn’t involved in the fray, in the head. He died the next day at the age of 21.
The facts of his death have a dreary, sad familiarity that’s an invitation to despair. “Guns do not belong in the hands of 16-year-olds,” Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine said when one of the boys, now serving time for his role in Franklin’s death, stood before her in court. “There is far too much of this going on.”
That’s what Anita Franklin, Antonio’s mother, thought too. She’d walked in the park with her son many times. She thought it was a place where children like him and their parents should feel safe.
And so, while she mourned her son, she also began to organize Peace Walks to make the park and surrounding neighborhoods safer. There have been several peace walks, drawing as many as 200 participants, and she held a pageant to boost the self-confidence of inner city kids who play in the park.
Saturday when the city dedicated a newly repainted basketball court as Tony’s Court in honor of Antonio Franklin, First District Councilman James Brown said the recognition also belonged to his mother. “The flame of his candle was extinguished early but that only ignited a flame and a spark in his mother, Anita.”
Two people attending Saturday are alive because they received Antonio’s heart and lungs. James Roop, 48, of Pikeville, had been waiting in the University of Kentucky hospital for three weeks for a lung transplant when Antonio died. “I wouldn’t have made it to the end of the week,” he has said.
Alejandro Arreola, 31, came from Huntington, W. Va., to show his thanks for the heart that saved his life. He can swim with his three daughters now but his wife, Sarah, said he almost died during the year-plus he was on the waiting list.
Anita Franklin’s commitment to honor her son’s life includes encouraging organ donation. A Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates representative said minorities are often reluctant to donate organs because of lack of trust in the medical community. But last month when she met Roop and Arreola for the first time KODA representatives were invited to urge people to join the Kentucky Organ Donor Registry in memory of Antonio Franklin.
But because Antonio’s heart still beats in Arreola’s chest, with the aid of a microphone, his mother, and those who joined her in Duncan Park in the name of peace, could hear its steady beating two years after his senseless, random death.