In Harm's Way: Remembering the Life of Kamau Chandler

Friday, August 02, 2013


Seventeen-year-old Kamau Chandler was known for his grace with physical pursuits like rowing, skiing and martial arts. His family credits him with popularizing skateboarding in the section of Coney Island where he lived. The soon- to-be high school senior was shot early on July 27 on Fulton Street after leaving a party with friends.

His father, 40-year-old Cheo Chandler, slouched on his couch in their apartment thinking back to when Kamau was born.

"The first time I saw him he just looked at me and cried,” recalled the grieving dad. “He looked almost sad for me because he knew my heart was feeling so strong about him…the look on his face was almost like he was giving me comfort.”

The name Kamau in Swahili means quiet warrior. Although most of the time the teen was called by his nickname, Mau Mau. Kamau lived with Chandler for most of his life, since he was a toddler. The two looked alike - the same warm brown skin and long limbs. They also had a similar look in their eyes: kind and curious.

Kamau grew up mostly a daddy's boy, and as he got older, Chandler said his son became paternal towards his younger siblings, especially his three younger half sisters who live across town in Bedford Stuyvesant with his mom. He said the last time Kamau asked for money, it was to buy shoes for them.

Chandler teared up remembering his son’s generosity. “He said pop…I was able to get the oldest two [girls] sneakers….but I’m short.” So he asked his dad to help him cover the cost of the last pair.

Kamau’s great aunt, Jewel Chandler, said she was also overwhelmed by Kamau’s generosity when he escorted her to a street festival in Fort Greene.

"He said very shyly, in sort of a meek way…if I buy you a piece of artwork, would you like it, would you keep it?” said Chandler, fondly recalling the print of African dancers that hangs on her wall.

"I always told him his heart was too big for his body,” said his father, thinking about his son’s last night. He said apart from a few skirmishes, Kamau was a good kid who did his best to stay out of trouble. He believes his protective nature may have contributed to his death.

“He'd always be willing to go out and take care of people, even when they weren't willing to take care of themselves, which of course could put him in harms way."

Chandler said detectives told him that when Kamau was shot, he was defending his friends.

His funeral service will be held on Saturday afternoon, August 3, at the Frank R.  Bell Funeral home in Brooklyn.

WNYC is profiling the life of every child in the city killed by gunfire in our series In Harm’s Way.


Since Kamau was killed, my family has not been and will never be the same. Although I live in another state and don't have daily contact with Kamau's father and other family members, I can still hear and feel the sense of devastation when I call or when I visit.

Their pain and grief is palpable. There will always be a big void that his absence will create.

What I think people will remember most about Kamau is his honesty, generosity of spirit and loyalty. He was an amazing person who, although he didn't get a chance to realize his full potential, did in fact touch many lives in a very positive way. Over 300 people attended his funeral. Many took the podium to say how much they loved him and will miss him. This outpouring from the community spoke volumes about how Kamau spent the short amount of time he had among us. He had a very successful life that was cut short way too soon.     

The thought that always comes back to me was how dear he was when his grandfather charged him with being my escort around the 2012 African Art Festival in Brooklyn.  Most teenagers would want to be with their friends, they wouldn't take the time to enjoy walking around a festival with an older relative. Kamau truly embraced the opportunity to spend some quality time with me.  He sheepishly asked me if I would like a present he had in mind to give me. It was a piece of artwork that I cherished from the moment he gave it to me and even more now. I'm so grateful we had that time together.

In the year ahead, my family and I are working on a tribute to Kamau. We are finding some sense of peace in the idea of creating an initiative to help someone else make a better choice than the choice that was made to shoot Kamau.  If it changes one mind, we will be grateful. There's nothing we can do to ever bring Kamau back. He will always be missed.  

-Jewel Chandler


Courtesy of the Chandler family.
A photo from when Kamau was in elementary school.
Courtesy of the Chandler family.
Pre-teen Kamau making a face with his grandmother Saadeka Chandler.
Courtesy of the Chandler family.
Making friends with a parrot.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Kamau's father Cheo Chandler.
Courtesy of Osei Chandler
Kamau with dad Cheo and grandfather Osei Chandler.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Cheo teaching Kamau's younger brother Jujitsu .
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
The stretch of Fulton street in Brooklyn where Kamau was killed on July 27th.


Julianne Welby


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Comments [17]

Gina Greenidge from Miami, FL

I still mourn the lost of Kamau, the son and grandson of close family friends. While I didn't know Kamau personally, from the words that have been shared about his character and life, he definitely was a jewel. I pray for mental peace for your family in his absence. Love you Chandler Family!

Oct. 08 2013 11:55 AM
arlenekweli from New York

Kamau was like a grandson to me and I've known him since infancy. I know the family well. I'm still reeling from this horror. My memories of Kamau are of how respectful, loving and playful he was. As a 5 year old he made fast friends with my rotti, and he and that dog were inseparable. Last year I barely recognized him, he had grown so tall and handsome. I marveled at this and found myself in the middle of a basketball court just staring in awe. Kamau felt my presence and stopped his game, still holding the ball, came over and said, "Hi Mama Arlene". We hugged, he said with a smile and a wink, "I love you, but you need to get off the court so you won't get hurt". July 4th weekend in the same park, he asked me to dance with him to make his girlfriend jealous. We did a few steps, he winked at his girlfriend and we all laughed. That was the last time I saw my "baby" alive. I have a picture of that day with his family and will cherish it dearly.

Aug. 16 2013 11:17 AM
Ifetayo Harvey from Charleston, South Carolina

We knew each other as children. I recently remembered some wise advice you offered my mother back then when you would come and play at my house. You said if I don't start to speak my mind, someday I am going to explode. I overheard you say that to my mom and stubbornly dismissed your comments, but your advice is still relevant to me as I still struggle with opening up to others about my feelings. I am so sad that I am leaving New York without saying goodbye to you, but I want you to know that I'm always thinking about you. You're always in my heart and I love you.

Aug. 10 2013 04:04 PM
Abiola Valentine from Maryland

I feel very sad for Kamau Chandler's family, friends and community. My heart is broken over this senseless death. As a mother, grandmother and activist, I am deeply saddened. We can do much better than we're doing. If we don't love and respect ourselves, how can we expect others to respect us??? How can we have a voice, if we continue to kill our own??? As Drs. Bill Cosby and Alvin F. Poussaint said, “COME ON PEOPLE!” I say, WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS PEOPLE!!! OUR ANCESTORS DID NOT GET LYNCHED, MARCH, GO TO JAIL, GET BEATEN BY POLICE, SPRAYED WITH WATER HOSES, AND MURDERED FOR US TO KILL EACH OTHER!!! May this family find peace and comfort from the joy Kamau brought you in such a short time. May his death not be in vain. My prayers are for your strength and the healing of our community.

Aug. 10 2013 02:53 AM
Thelma Williams from Walterboro,SC

Often Kamau would come to Charleston to visit his grandparents. I remember he looked so like his father Cheo.His personality was like his father's also.I am so sorry for the Chandler family and their loss as it is the Charleston community's loss also.The Chandlers are family to everyone that I know that knows them.R.I.P Kamau your good deeds will long live as a testimony of your short life.

Aug. 06 2013 11:44 PM
Rhonda Ryan from Pennsylvania

Kamau was a very sweet, caring young man. I am glad that I had the opportunity to know him and several of his family members. I believe this article probably does accurately describe him.
I sure hope those that shot him have been or will be caught.
Love to the grieving family.

Aug. 05 2013 09:33 PM
rd from Inwood

So sad! Such a loss. I hope they catch and convict whoever murdered him.

Aug. 03 2013 01:59 PM
Stella from downtown

Grieving for Kamau Chandler and his family. Another precious child is gone, another family is devastated. Thank you, Kathleen Horan, for having the courage to pay tribute to these children. Their loss diminishes us all.

Aug. 03 2013 01:26 PM
Damon L. Fordham from Charleston, SC

I had the honor of knowing Kamau and his family very well also. His grandfather was/is one of my mentors and heroes and I also knew his father and uncle. The last tie I saw Kamau was relatively recent. I would see him occasionally as a child, when he impressed me with his vocabulary (no surprise, considering his family) and recently, he walked up to me knowing that I did not recognize him since he grew so much as a teenager, and opened his arms to give me a big embrace. I thought I'd share that to show the kind of young man he was and was becoming.

Aug. 03 2013 09:15 AM
Jae Gregory from Charleston,S.C

I remember meeting Kamau Chandler through his Grandparents at the young age of 9 years old even at that age he had a beautiful spirit and a great sense of humor I watched him one afternoon for his Grandmother while she went horesback riding at a farm with every animal imaginable he loved the hores I took a bunch of photo's of him with the hores,the last time I saw him I couldn't believe how much he had grown and matured,I'm so sadden by this.

Aug. 03 2013 01:20 AM
Shikara from FarRockaway

Kathleen thanks for another beautiful piece How I knw,wat tis family is going threw mt son was the same age same story coming home fro a party an was killed also am so sorry for they lost all have to say is the pain they r enduring is unbearable for I still go threw has been 7months for me and am still grieving too much killing an not enough graduation is truly sad I have heard abt more children getting killed more each day my heart goes out to the family so many names and not enough faces.....S.I.P young man cuz u r,@ eternal peace....tears....

Aug. 03 2013 12:07 AM
Roy Battiste from Bronx, NY

Yet another sad story of a promising young man's life taken. Life is the most precious gift given and no one has the right to summarily take it. I celebrate this life and its brief brilliance here on Earth. It should never be forgotten. In my mind this young man's existance enriched us all.

Aug. 02 2013 06:07 PM
Maquita from Still at work

Once again, parents lose a beloved child to gun violence. When does this end? My heart is broken for the family and friends of this young man. My prayers and condolences go out to them.

Aug. 02 2013 05:50 PM
Julia from Gowanus

Sending prayers and love to the Chandler family. They should be proud of the son they raised. It is devastating and outrageous that this kind of useless violence against a kind seventeen year old boy continues on and on in arguably the greatest city in the world. Such a waste and so, so sad. I was very touched by the piece and the stories of Kamau, and I'll take this image of a quiet warrior with a heart too big for his body with me.

Aug. 02 2013 04:56 PM

Devastating. So sad

Aug. 02 2013 12:17 PM
Portia Cobb from Milwaukee, WI

Beautiful memorial segment for Kamau Chandler. I am a close family friend and met Kamau when he was a 15 year old visiting his grandfather Osei Chandler in Charleston that summer. He assisted me with a video shoot I was doing. I asked hime to take digital photographs of the women artists I was documenting. He loved the challenge. He brought out the best in others. I also encouraged him to do a story-corps interview with his grand-dad and the life long friend of his grandfather. He went on line to see examples of questions and formed his own. The discussion between the men who were 65 at that time, shared stories of being his age when they met and of growing up in and of an achievement club they formed to avoid the perils surrounding them as young boys in Brooklyn. In interview they share their wisdom with him about survival. The interview never made it to story-corps, but exists as an edited .wav file.

Aug. 02 2013 10:45 AM
john from office

Where are the protests, where is the outrage?? Only silence

Aug. 02 2013 07:50 AM

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