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Anti-violence youth gunned down, but not silenced

Friday - 7/25/2014, 4:22pm  ET

In this July 8, 2014 photo, Felicia Jordan looks on in Fayetteville, N.C. Her son Ravon Jordan spoke out against gun violence but died after being shot in a gang crossfire. "Ravon wasn't a street kid, a hoodlum, anything like that," said Shauna Hopkins, who mentored Ravon through a program for at-risk teens. "Some kids, you kind of see things coming. But this one? This blind-sided me." (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) -- Dressed in jeans, a low-neck T-shirt and white sneakers, 19-year-old Ravon Jordan strode confidently to the podium to address the city council.

He had just three minutes, so he got right to the point: Eleven days earlier, on May 1, Jordan's best friend, Shaniqua Simmons, and her boyfriend were gunned down in an apartment at the complex formally known as the Cambridge Arms. It was the second double homicide at the 694-unit complex since January, and Jordan said it was time for the city to close it down.

"I don't feel like, as a resident in an apartment complex, you should be paying basically for your grave site," he said. "You shouldn't be paying to be killed or murdered in your own house."

City officials had worked with the owners to increase security, to install more cameras, even to change the name to Barrington Place. But to Jordan, that wasn't enough.

"Changing the name is not going to change the violence at all," he said politely, but firmly. "You could still put lipstick on a pig, and it's going to be a pig at the end of the day."

Having said what he was there to say, he stepped away from the microphone. A council member thanked him for his remarks.

Barely a month later, the aspiring fashion designer was dead.

Cut down in the crossfire between two rival gangs during an early morning house party, he was the victim of the city's ninth homicide of 2014.

As home to one of the Army's largest installations, Fayetteville is no stranger to death. But the loss of this promising, outspoken young man has shaken this tough military town to its core -- and caused it to look deep within itself.

"Ravon wasn't a street kid, a hoodlum, anything like that," said Shauna Hopkins, who mentored Ravon through a program for at-risk teens. "Some kids, you kind of see things coming. But this one? This blind-sided me."

___

"Fayettenam," as this city of 205,000 along the Cape Fear River is sometimes called, has something of a split personality.

Anchored by the old market, beneath whose Moorish arches slaves were once traded, the downtown boasts some well-preserved 18th and 19th architecture. Beyond the city center, cul-de-sac subdivisions and manicured golf courses stretch out into surrounding Cumberland County.

But along Bragg Boulevard and other major thoroughfares, pawn shops, strip clubs and tattoo parlors service the transient population at the sprawling Fort Bragg Army installation.

To be sure, Fayetteville is no Detroit, New Orleans or Chicago. But it has more than its fair share of violent crime.

In 2012, the city's homicide rate was nearly 11 per 100,000 residents -- more than twice the national rate and considerably above that of similarly sized cities, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting program. In reporting its ongoing series, "Seeking Safety," The Fayetteville Observer discovered an unnerving statistic: Between 2010 and 2013, police records show that 2,603 guns were reported stolen in the city -- an average of about two a day.

By all accounts, that was not Ravon Jordan's world.

The youngest of three boys, Ravon -- he pronounced it RAY-von -- was more interested in his stepdad's airbrush gun than the kinds gang-bangers use. One day, his mother returned from some errands to find the walls around his bed festooned with planets and stars, his name painted in bold cursive above his headboard.

"I was very shocked when I came in, because it was without permission," she said with a sigh as she stood beside his empty bed on one recent afternoon. "But that's Ravon."

The closest Ravon came to trouble was when, at 15, he was accused of shoplifting a rubber bracelet. His mother says it was a misunderstanding, and no charges were filed.

By then, Ravon had already joined older brothers Rotreil and Rometreius at Find-A-Friend, run by the Fayetteville Urban Ministry. Hopkins, the program coordinator, said Ravon immediately emerged as a leader. She remembered one instance when the children were teasing a girl about her weight. Before she could step in, Ravon was on it.

"It's not funny," she recalled him saying. "We're all here for a reason and we're all here to support each other and we're supposed to be a family. So we're not going to do that."

His favorite movie growing up was "Bambi," and he was always quoting Thumper the rabbit: "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all."

At Westover High School, Ravon ran track and was in the band chorus. His junior year, he led the school's new percussive dance team, the Powerade Soul Steppers. But as much as he liked to dance, his passion was design. Felicia Jordan says Ravon was always asking to go shopping, but not at the mall.

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