LeDuff: A Detroit teen struggling to stay afloat takes a hit at the holidays

December 18, 2019, 10:12 PM by  Charlie LeDuff

I met the kid a year ago at one of those support groups in a church basement on the east side of Detroit.

The group was designed to help young black men cope with coming of age in the roughest big city in America. Jordan Ruffin-El, 16, was the most impressive of the lot. He looked you in the eye when he spoke. He moved out of his mother's house because there are too many mouths to feed. He was living with another teen on the far east side, trying to finish high school. Trying to get out of a life's story that has already seemed to be written for him. A story with an unhappy ending, naturally.

Over the course of the year, I watched Jordan manage. We'd take the long bus ride to school together in the dead of winter, or to the church, where he mowed neighborhood lawns in the sweltering summer.

I'd watched as a middle-aged man -- a total stranger -- reeking of alcohol pinned him in the corner of the bus, apologizing to Jordan for leaving him with a world of nihilism and violence. And to prove the point, the man showed his gang tattoos and scars from bullets and knives on his body.

I watched as Jordan's mother almost lost her home to the bank and Jordan helped her save it. I watched as he missed the deadline for the SAT exam. I was there when his friend Meech took his own life, unable to cope with the mania of being a 16-year-old in the concrete city.

Through it all, Jordan kept striving and surviving. He will graduate from Martin Luther King Jr. High school this summer. He is enrolled in a plumbers apprenticeship program. He'll be OK ... if …

Tymarian Tiller (Photo: Courtesy)

But the madness has finally pierced his inner circle. Jordan called the other day. His best friend is dead, having taken “multiple” bullets in the chest from an alleged dope dealer. Apparently, the dealer did not like the way he was spoken to. He, apparently, followed Jordan's friend out of a liquor store at Chene and Lafayette and dropped him dead, there on the cold dark pavement, next to his bag of potato chips and soda pop. Naturally, no arrests have been made.

In happier times. Jordan Ruffin-El (right) and his best friend Tymarian Tiller (center) who was gunned down Dec. 13. 

Now that friend, Tymarian Tiller, 19, resides on a slab at the Wayne County Morgue, his mother too poor to bury him in time for Christmas.

The young men were like brothers, having met in elementary school. Tymarian was a decent guy who had no real beefs in life until last Friday evening at the liquor store. Jordan had even convinced Tymarian to return to school to get his diploma. Now that will not happen.

“For real, Charlie,” Jordan said to me. “I feel like I'm surrounded. We're like mice in a box in this city I live in. It was so weird. Like a month ago he told me he had a nightmare. It was pitch black and he's screaming but nobody answered. And then everything went silent. Now he really is gone, and we can't bury him.”

And this is where you come in, dear reader.

Remember what they say this holiday season is about. Do unto others. Love thy neighbor. If you feel the Christmas season has degraded into a bacchanalia of consumerism, if you feel like a mall-bought box carries little more than emptiness, there is something decent and anonymous you can do for a stranger: a mother in need.

That parent, Markeila Parker, set up a GoFundMe page to help bury Tymarian. The goal is $5,000, which includes the casket and $1,600 for the cemetery plot. "Anything can help, anything at all," she posts. "Any small donation is appreciated. Thank you from our family to yours."

“I wish I had the resources to help my brother when he was alive,” Jordan said. “Now in death he's in need of some dignity. Can you help? Anything would be appreciated.”

► Update: Detroit Mom Can Bury Shooting Victim, 19, Thanks to the Kindness of Donors

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