A six-year performer at Chicago’s Bud Billiken Parade, Deshawnay Yoakum danced everywhere she went, blazing a path and spreading joy. Recently, she landed her first job at a Culver’s restaurant and was preparing for her upcoming prom.
But instead of continuing to work toward her future, Yoakum spent her 18th birthday fighting for her life this month at UChicago Medicine attempting to recover from a gunshot wound to the head.
Family marked her birthday on March 9 gathered around her hospital bed, hoping for a full recovery, but four days later Yoakum was pronounced dead, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
The details aren’t clear, but on March 1 Yoakum was visiting a cousin at her Bronzeville apartment. The cousin found her shot in the head. She was taken in critical condition to UChicago Medicine.
Chicago police said no one is in custody and detectives are investigating the circumstances leading up to the shooting.
Yoakum’s family said Tuesday the cousin that the teen was visiting could be afraid to disclose what happened and didn’t blame her. The cousin is a mother of four. But the family hopes members of the Bronzeville community will come forward with details about who shot the teen.
Yoakum’s mother, Artamese Prewitt, sobbed during a Tribune interview this week, ”My baby, God, my baby.”
Prewitt said her daughter recently took senior pictures and was preparing for her upcoming prom. A lively and talented teenager, Yoakum danced everywhere she went, her mother said.
“She just got her first job at Culver’s and had plans on becoming a CNA,” her mother said. “I never thought this would happen to you,” talking to herself aloud, speaking of her child.
Her daughter developed a love of dancing and never let it go, joining the Next Level dance team performing in front of crowds at the Bud Billiken Parade, a summer celebration of youth before school begins in the fall.
The Bud Billiken Parade is hosted every year on Chicago’s South Side along King Drive beginning at 26th Street and ending at 51st Street at Washington Park in the Bronzeville neighborhood, the same community where Yoakum suffered her fatal wounds.
So far in 2023, as of March 12, there have been 59 juveniles shot in Chicago, according to Chicago police. Yoakum was technically an adult when she died but is one of the juvenile gunshot victims.
Yoakum’s death isn’t the first slaying to rob Chicago of a young talent.
Verndell “Vee” Smith II ― a partially deaf but gifted dancer who mentored generations of kids as an anti-gun violence activist — started the Ultimate Threat dance team, in part to help keep kids out of trouble. But in May 2021, the 32-year-old father and beloved dance coach was fatally shot outside a Dunkin’ Donuts in the Park Manor neighborhood, leaving his family in mourning and the dance community shaken, the Tribune reported in 2022.
Now another Chicago family is dealing with the city’s senseless gun violence. Yoakum had a big family who adored her, including 10 siblings.
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“My baby had three parents. Two mothers including a stepmom and her father,” Prewitt said.
Yoakum’s 5-year-old sister, Chloe, is having a hard time understanding where her sister has gone.
“I explained to her she went where her grandfather went, but she asked, ‘Why?” Prewitt said. One of Yoakum’s younger brothers is grief-stricken and has yet to return to school since her fatal shooting.
Yoakum’s father, Fred Yoakum, was still in shock Tuesday.
“I don’t understand why we haven’t gotten any information whatsoever. No phone call from detectives, even on the day our daughter died,” he said. “This is my worst nightmare. It’s been extremely difficult.”
Her mother said that everywhere her daughter went she put on a show. Now she must put on a show of strength until her daughter’s killer is caught.
“I’m scared to death, but I have to do what I have to do and bring whoever is responsible to justice,” she said, asking if anyone has information about the gunman to call police.
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