I Forgave My Brother’s Killers. Poet Kweisi Gharreau Shares His Personal Journey of Pain and Forgiveness

Anti-gun violence advocate Kweisi Gharreau can still vividly recall the day he learned that his brother, Lemont, had been gunned down in cold blood. Here, for the end of Gun Violence Awareness Month, Gharreau shares his harrowing story and poetry about that fateful day and how he chose to confront his killers in prison to find inner peace.

As I have walked into another June, which is National Gun-Violence Awareness Prevention month, every day I am reminded of the call I received on Sunday, January 12, 1992. I was a senior at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, staying at the Delta Zeta chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity house on Taylor Street when my frat brother, Lee, knocked on my door. He said, “Yo, Base, you have a phone call.”

The call was from my sister, Tanya. “You need to come home; somebody kidnapped Lemont.” Though my sister knew that my brother had already been killed, my family did not want me to be in a state of hysteria knowing that I would be driving to Chicago by myself. After the call, I kind of chuckled to myself; if somebody kidnapped Lemont and if they want money, they are going to be keepin’ you because we do not have any ransom money.

The drive from Central State University to Chicago is about a five-hour drive. I packed a light bag, told my frat brothers the situation, and got into my blue Honda Civic 5-speed hatchback two-seater with 140mph on the dash. I went to the gas station, filled the car up with gas, and I was en route to Chicago. I turned on the radio; “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” by Boyz II Men was playing. I turned off the radio and turned it on again near Indianapolis, only to catch the beginning of that very same song. I immediately started crying as I knew then in my spirit that they had killed my brother. I was driving 100 miles an hour and arrived in Chicago in three hours.

Kweisi Gharreau
Image: courtesy Kweisi Gharreau.

The moment I walked into the row apartment on 136th and Lowe Street in Riverdale, my horrible truth was realized. My mother, Diane, and my sister hugged me and confirmed that they, indeed, had killed my brother, James Lemar Ford aka Lemont, age 17. Lemont was a senior preparing to graduate from Thorton Township High School in Harvey that month. Lemont graduated posthumously as my mother received his diploma. 

Lemont’s intrepid act protected his friend, Kim, 14, from Eric Taylor and Jonathan Judkins, then 26 and 24, from perhaps kidnapping and killing her. Jonathan was the driver; Eric was the one who approached Kim with the saw-off 12-gauge shotgun when Lemont stepped in, telling Kim to step back. Eric turned his attention from Kim to Lemont forcing him in the car with the gun to his back. Kim ran to our apartment as they were only several doors down from our home. Kim started banging on the door yelling for my mom. “Diane, somebody kidnapped Lemont!”

Jonathan and Eric took Lemont three miles from our home to a vacant lot on 142nd and Lincoln Street in Dixmor. During the three-mile ride, they made Lemont strip off all of his clothing, even his underwear. Eric took Lemont to the brush field and placed him on his knees.

hisphace by Kweisi Gharreau

hisphace, the right side of his head had a hole in it the size of a grapefruit

hisphace, the ear on the right side of his head was barely attached

hisphace, his eyes were still open, they had bulged out of his head, and his head had become disfigured from the gun-shot blast 

hisphace, blood had ran from his nose to his mouth, while blood had set in puddles from the head wound

hisphace, Lemont didn’t even look like him

hisphace, only if you could see 


The men were caught two weeks after they killed Lemont about one mile from our then-home in Riverdale and a few blocks from where Lemont is buried in Calumet Park. When they were arrested, Jonathan had on my brother’s Raiders starter jacket, black stone-washed jeans and his black high top and white bottoms Fila FX 100s. My family was in and out of court for three and a half years. The men were convicted on all three charges: life in prison for first-degree murder, 30 years for kidnapping and 15 years for armed robbery.

Though my family received court justice, I was still in emotional turmoil. I was seeking a greater justice—inner peace. After court, I went to Lemont’s grave site, one of the very few times, as I wanted and needed to be physically with him, to share my tumultuous pain and ask him in my spirit what am I supposed to do with this hurt, hate, anger, bitterness and trauma. A voice in my head said, forgive Eric and Jonathan. So, I said a prayer asking God to give me the strength to forgive them, on my knees at my brother Lemont’s grave, I said a prayer sharing with Lemont that I forgive Eric and Jonathan for killing you.

I was emotional, but I felt good. I felt the world of the tempestuous emotions I had been carrying being lifted. I asked what else I was supposed to do; my spirit said to write them. So, after about two weeks of pondering and building up the mental and spiritual courage to write, I wrote Eric and Jonathan letters with my mother’s number, asking them to call me so that I may ask their permission to meet them and forgive them in person. 

Jonathan called first with his mother on the line. He did not give me permission to meet, but I forgave him during the call. Eric called collect, and my mother answered the call. It was not a mild moment between my mother and myself. After the look of death upon me and a few choice words, my mother handed me the phone. Eric gave me permission to meet.

My childhood friend, Angel, took me to the Cook County Jail for our first meeting. I invited Angel to go with me for moral support, but he shared that his support would be from the car. Angel was still beyond angry and more furious than I was; I was seeking inner peace. Though nervous and somewhat afraid, I was determined to face this fear and give myself this mental freedom.

Eric walked out with his hands shackled to his waist and feet shackled to his ankles. We conversed. The visiting time was up. While I don’t share what we discussed, I forgave Eric. I put my fist to the glass, Eric put his fist to the glass; we were cool. We had made peace.

Despite this tumultuous pain and trauma, through writing poetry, I found myself and poetry found me. I self-published my debut book, an anthology of poetry entitled, n’nocent RAGE;  studied abroad in a Master’s of Literature Program in Oxford, England, and became a 2023 Nominee for Chicago’s Inaugural Poet Laureate and my spoken word album the truth. the way. the life. 

More importantly, after 17 years of living in Hollywood and moving back to Chicago last year. Through the grace and mercy of God, I have been reconnecting with my inner self. I am back on my proper path through my passion for my purpose through poetry as I serve God by serving the people. 

Follow Gharreau’s literary journey on @kweisithebrand.

Updated: June 28, 2024 — 3:02 pm