The Hero of Harper High School: A Ballad for Jordan Ford

It has been ten years since I graduated from Harper High School in Chicago. It’s a miracle I was never arrested for the things I did when I was younger, and it’s even more of a miracle I didn’t cross that line ten years ago. As I sit here recalling the events that took place when I was seventeen, I’m still left in wonder and awe over the case of Jordan Ford.

Ten years ago was the fall of 2015, and I was a senior in high school. I was a decent student, making above average grades. My teachers thought of me as smarter than I believed myself to be, but I never saw it at the time. I played varsity football as a running back and was close to setting records for the district. This would seem like a normal childhood until you realized where I lived in Chicago. I lived in what we called, and slowly the world would know as, “Chi-raq,” one of the most violent places to live in America.

The media liked to focus on the War on Terrorism, the Kardasians, or cop-killing blacks; but you never heard about the black-on-black killings taking place in my old neighborhood. The constant shootings on the corners made it seem normal, as if you lived in the suburbs and the ice cream man had come by. In defense of the police, they did try to solve the murders, but nobody would snitch, out of some false sense of mistrust or the real fear of gang retaliation.

The gangs in our neighborhood were numerous, starting from the Bloods and the Cripps to the many other gangs that broke off from these two factions. It’s sad to think back on this, but back then, we were forced to pick a gang for protection due to the intense rivalry between all the gangs, and if you were “solo” then you were likely to be a victim to a brutal beating or things worse that only a deprived adolescent could conjure up.

I joined the Chi-raiders, a wannabe gang that only peddled dope for some low level drug dealers. I chose them because they rarely got involved in anything violent, and they let me be for most of the time. Once and a while I had to be their muscle in some deals, had to bruise a couple of other gangbanger’s ribs, but I didn’t do anything that bad. It was like something out of the Middle East’s tribal wars and honor killings in Harper High. We had guys on the football team who were great friends suddenly beating each other to a bloody pulp because their respective gangs went to battle.

Then there were the stabbings in school and the shootings outside of it, all meant to send a message to the other gang in charge. I stopped making friends after my sophomore year because two of them ended up dead and the third tried stabbing me with a pencil because his gang had demanded it for his initiation. How could there be places like this in America? It was even worse for the solos, who were often the target of initiation beatings or used for target practice. Toward the end of my senior year, most students were in a gang, but Jordan Ford changed everything.

He was an odd guy. First, he was blacker than me, which is hard because my complexion is similar to coal. Extremely thin almost to the point of malnourishment, his hair was nappy and unkempt, lint always sticking out of it. He wore the same three set of clothes every week and kept to himself. He had no friends and rarely spoke to anyone, but he was smart, extremely smart. He was on track to becoming valedictorian. The oddest thing about Jordan was that he never looked people in the eye. He mostly looked down when talking to someone or stared past a person, but he never looked anyone in the eye.

Jordan was a solo, but for the longest time nobody had picked on him. He walked home alone every day, but the gangs never bothered him because they didn’t think much of him and considered him some mental defect. All this changed my senior year.

At the time, Harper Hill teachers and coaches were doing the best they could to get graduating students out of the “war zone” by setting them up with college and military recruiters, helping them with college applications, and applying for scholarships. My coach was trying to get me into college on a football scholarship, but I didn’t think I was good enough for college. I felt like I was going to be judged as some nigger or a thug and my 'hood was the place I belonged.

 Around this time violence increased in the school. Too many gangs were vying for power and flexing their muscles by the battles in and out of school. That year Harper High earned the record for most students shot in US history. Every day for two months at least one, if not two, students went to the hospital for gang-related reasons. Some of those victims were set on fire because the gangs wanted to remind us that hell was on earth.

Everyone had at that point joined a gang for protection expect for one: Jordan Ford. He was the only solo left, and the rumors were going around about making him into an example for his defiance. The teachers got hold of it and offered him a ride home or a police escort, but he outright refused and still walked alone, despite the danger to his life. Then one day we saw him walk into class with a busted lip and a swollen eye. He didn’t say anything, but we all heard that one gang took him into the alley and gave him a beating so they could claim credit for breaking the defiant Jordan Ford.

I didn’t put much thought into it until the end of the school day, when I met up with the Chi-raiders and watched Jordan Ford walk home. We watched as he walked alone, not looking worried nor terrified but indifferent. We watched him make it to the next block, where he was corned by the Bloods, who without notice pummeled him right there on the sidewalk, where the neighborhood and students could witness. They kicked and punched him severely, to the point that I had to walk away because I couldn’t look anymore. The last image I remember was a mist of blood coming from his mouth when one of the Bloods kicked him in the stomach.

I prayed he would not come to school the next day. I prayed he would learn a lesson and stop defying the warped culture set in place . . . but he didn’t. The next day he came to class limping, barely able to move his left arm, but he sat in his desk and kept to himself. The teachers brought him to the principal office and begged him not to walk alone anymore. He answered them by walking out the office.

At the end of the day, a large group of students watched from across the street as Jordan Ford walked out of the school doors and down the street by himself. I couldn’t help but think how much of an idiot this guy was at the time, but now that I am older, I understand why. He again walked alone and was this time met by the Cripps, who wasted no time in savagely beating him. We all watched Jordan be pummeled again, a small pool of blood growing on the cement. He laid lifeless on the corner as they jumped in their Crown Vic and peeled down the street. We all stood there, disillusioned at witnessing another murder, until we saw him move. He slowly and painfully picked himself up and began limping home.

He kept doing this for two weeks, a different gang gave him a beating every day. I cringed in pity every time I saw him in the morning with his fresh injuries, but miraculously he was still walking. It was almost mystical how he took those beatings and kept coming the next day. There was no way a normal person could survive that type of bodily punishment, and the truly admirable thing was that he never begged or cried; he endured. He unknowingly made a legend of himself as “the nigger who defied the gangs.” Students were slowly starting to rebel and started to disavow their affiliation and walk home by themselves. The gang leaders saw Jordan Ford no longer as some “retarded nigger” but as a threat to their power. “How dare this punk ass nigger defy the order of things,” they would say.

Then, fate stepped in on a beautiful spring afternoon. I was about to head home until my gang grabbed me and brought me into a dark alley near the school. T-Mob, our leader, took out a nickel-platted Colt and placed it in my hand. I was confused because I’d never had to use a gun on any of my deals, but then he gave me his order: kill Jordan Ford.

Jordan Ford had became a threat to the gangs. Students were quitting and no longer paying their dues, and then the rumors were spreading that the other gangs were planning to gun him down to send a message. T-Mob wanted it to be the Chi-raiders to kill Jordan Ford so they could have the bragging rights and move up in power. T-Mob wanted me to pull the trigger. I went to hand the gun back, but he took out his black Glock from his waistband and aimed it at me.

“If you don’t shoot that nigger, then I’m gonna cap your ass with this,” T-Mob threatened.

I nervously tucked the Colt into my waistband and walked in front of T-Mob and the other members as we moved to hide in the alley on Jordan Ford’s route.

I prayed to God that Jordan Ford decided to take the police on their offer for a ride or that he’d walked a different route, but whoever was listening had different plans as T-Mob walked out of the alley and disappeared out of sight. A few moments later, I saw a pitiful body fall to the ground before me. Jordan Ford slowly picked himself up and tried to walk out, but T-Mob kicked him in the knees and Jordan collapsed on the ground. I stood there mortified, hoping this would be some scare tactic, but all I heard was T-Mob screaming at me to shoot.

I looked down at Jordan, his head down, struggling to stand back up. I kept shaking my head as T-Mob circled behind me. Next thing I felt was the barrel of his Glock on the back of my skull as he screamed at me to shoot Jordan Ford. To this day, I cannot recall taking out the Colt. I just remember it already being in my hands, aimed at Jordan’s head. I pressed the barrel into his forehead so I could steady my violently shaking hands. I heaved as my stomach painfully cramped, wanting to vomit out my lunch. Tears ran down my eyes as I begged T-Mob to let Jordan be, to not make me kill him. The other Chi-raiders looked nervously at each other like they disagreed with T-Mob, but they were too cowardly to say something.

“Bitch, yo' ass better cap this cunt in the next ten seconds,” T-Mob screamed. “Ten . . . nine . . .” he counted as he pressed the Glock harder against my head.

I started to squeeze the trigger, but then Jordan lifted his gaze and looked straight into me. There was no fear. There were no tears. Only his eyes locked onto my eyes and all I saw was courage and pity. He was brave and defiant, even in the face of death.

“Five . . .four . . .” T-Mob kept counting down to remind me of my pending death. I kept staring in awe into Jordan’s gaze, wondering how he could be so brave.

“Three . . . two . . .” I heard T-Mob’s finger pull back the trigger.

“One . . .” I suddenly pulled my head to the right and spun my right elbow across my back and hit the Glock out of T-Mob’s hands.

The Glock flew into the corner of the alley and T-Mob lost his balance. Then I slammed the handle of the Colt furiously into T-Mob’s face as he fell to the ground. Blood gushed out his mouth and nose as I busted open his face.

He sucker punched me and I lost my footing over him. T-Mob started to crawl to the Glock and was about to pick it up until I stomped my foot on his hand and heard the soft snaps of bone break in his fingers and wrist. He screamed in agony as I snatched up the Glock and aimed both guns at his forehead. I was about to pull the triggers until I saw Jordan struggle to stand. Despite the violence done to him, he never gave in. He became the best of us, not the monster like the man I was about to shoot or the man I was about to become.

I kicked T-Mob in the face and knocked him out cold. I looked around to the other members and told them I was done; I was no longer part of their gang. They looked at each other and slowly walked out the alley, leaving the gang as well. I started to strip the guns apart, something I’d learned off the movies and YouTube, and dumped them into the sewer grates. But, when I got to T-Mob’s Glock, I found that the coward hadn’t even loaded it with bullets.

Jordan Ford stood, straightened himself out, and picked up his backpack. He took out the bloodstained towel from his backpack and wiped his mouth, then quietly walked out of the alley. I went to follow him but he stopped.

Without looking my way, he said, “I walk alone.” He limped back into the daylight and headed homeward.

I left T-Mob in the alley and walked back to school to ask my coach if he could help with my college applications.

A week later the school was turning a new leaf. Shootings dropped, students were slowly getting out of the gangs, and I was applying for college. Jordan Ford still walked home alone but with no one beating him anymore. Things were looking optimistic, until Friday. It was the start of spring break and a large group of the students walked together to the block party a few blocks away from the school. I saw Jordan walk alone to his house, and I jogged over to him to invite him to come with us, then I saw T-Mob dash around the corner and aim his gun into Jordan’s head. Time froze as I watched in horror and witnessed the look of hate on T-Mob’s disfigured face and the look of courage on Jordan’s.

“Beg for your life, nigga! Come on, beg!” T-Mob screamed.

Jordan looked unflinchingly into T-Mob’s eyes and answered with unwavering courage, “No.”

I don’t remember hearing or seeing the gun fire; I just saw Jordan’s bloodied body lying on the ground, T-Mob yelling over him, “Don’t fuck with T-Mob.” Then he ran off. I stood in shock in the middle of the street, paralyzed until the police came and pulled me off the road. A large group of people circled around the cops as they began stringing up the yellow tape and draping the white cloth over Jordan’s body.

I never saw the neighborhood cry in unison over one dead kid before. Detectives came and were reluctant to ask for witnesses since history told them that nobody rats. They were surprised, though, as multiple witnesses stepped forward and testified to the murder, even giving the name and address of T-Mob.

A few hours later, police raiding his house, T-Mob tried to blow his brains out. Too bad for him that he didn’t aim the gun high enough and blew part of his jaw off instead. He was sentenced to death a year later. I testified against him at trial.

It’s been ten years since the death of Jordan Ford, but he did something that the police, politicians, and the NAACP couldn’t do. He brought change to my neighborhood. Gang violence plummeted, shootings dropped to a record low, and Harper High became one of the best schools for inner-city kids. I’m not sure if Jordan Ford planned to take a stand, or if he did what he did because he didn’t know better, but he made a miracle happen. He became known as the Hero of Harper High and a saint to the neighborhood. As for me, ten years later, I no longer think people see me as a nigger or a thug; they just see me as a doctor of oncology at the Mayo Clinic.

Andrew Franks