DES MOINES, Iowa -- As the homicide count approaches record highs in Des Moines, Des Moines North graduate Russhaun Johnson has lived through it. "Violence and heartbreak and death just floods the city."
Tuesday night he and fellow North grad Deontae Holt learned their friend nineteen year old Noah Campbell was shot to death. "It was really hard for me because he was literally the first friend I had in my life," said Johnson. Deontae added, "I was shocked. I couldn't believe it."
Unfortunately that reaction has become routine. "You start to become numb to everything. I can't share the same pain I use to for death," said Johnson. That's because the list of friends and family the two have lost to gun violence in their lives is astonishing. Johnson said, "It is well over 20 now and it's just a cycle."
They've found a way to channel their pain into a purpose for their community. "The work that I can do with that academic background can take me so much farther than me taking matters into my own hands," said Johnson. Russhaun is entering his sophomore year at Drake University. "Just me motivating myself knowing I wanted better for myself and to escape that reality."
Deontae is enrolled this fall at DMACC, both to prove perceptions wrong. "They're probably not gonna make it because they are from the hood but I wanna show them that you can make it from the hood," said Deontae.
Losing around ten friends in last few years, their progress has been tested. "I've been to more court dates, funerals and candlelights than I do trips," said Deontae. They've seen the violence and want to show others from the same area there's another choice. Deontae said, "We've got to grind for it. Talking about it isn't going to get us anywhere. We have to get out and make things happen."
For Russhaun and Deontae, when they think about the homicide death of Noah Campbell and other friends, their retaliation is college graduation. "A black man with a degree is stronger than a black man with a gun," said Deontae. He added, "I will tell them that every time."