Since the shooting that left him paralyzed from the waist down, Shawn has become one of Chicago’s leading voices in the anti-gun and nonviolence movements in the city.
Frinda Harrington was everything to her son, Shawn. He remembers her as a loving, generous woman who, as a single parent of an only child, instilled strong values and respect in him. “She had a great smile,” said Shawn.
“People said she could light up a room. And she was always giving to others, giving in any way she could. That’s the one thing that she always taught me: to always give and appreciate.”
In early 2003, Frinda, 43 at the time, gave in the ultimate way when she fell victim to a home invasion and died from her injuries. Shawn and his mother had never discussed organ and tissue donation, but when a representative of Gift of Hope asked Shawn, just 27 at the time, how he felt about authorizing donation for his mother, he decided it was the right thing to do.
“It was a difficult decision to make because, at that time, donating my mom’s organs was the furthest thing on my mind being an only child,” Shawn said. “But, if she was there and she was asked to donate, I know she would have.”
Frinda saved the lives of three people as an organ donor. A 53-year-old man received her liver, a 56-year-old woman received her left lung and a 61-year-old woman received her right lung. “My mother helped three people,”Shawn said. “Her gift of giving still lives on.”
That experience moved Shawn, now 42, to embrace the donation cause, and he committed himself to spreading the donation message, particularly in Chicago’s African- American community where he and his mother had lived all of their lives.
EMBRACING THE DONATION CAUSE
Shawn took his first step into the donation arena shortly after his mother’s death. In April 2003 during National Donate Life Month, Shawn shared Frinda’s story as the centerpiece of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s annual month-long television and radio campaign conducted to raise awareness of organ and tissue donation and the need for registered donors.
And witnessing the good things that Gift of Hope does to honor the legacy of donors and help others through its lifesaving work, Shawn joined Gift of Hope’s Ambassadors for Hope volunteer corps in 2003 to help educate the public about organ and tissue donation and encourage others to do as he did and choose donation on their loved one’s behalf.
“I joined the group to help show support for donor families during some of their most difficult times, just like someone did for me,” Shawn said.
In the 15 years since then, Shawn has helped spread the donation message at events like Gift of Hope donor family tributes, Gift of Hope Day at a Chicago White Sox game and Hoops for Peace Chicago, an annual basketball tournament that Shawn co-directs with friend and former basketball teammate Jimmy Sanders. The event promotes non violence, voter registration and organ and tissue donation to athletes and community residents on Chicago’s West Side.
TENACITY IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY
Shawn’s contributions to the donation cause have been especially remarkable considering the adversity he has faced much of his life and, particularly, because of what happened to him in 2014. Shawn was driving a rental car on Chicago’s West Side because his had been stolen. His 12-year-old daughter, Naja, was in the passenger seat.
They were stopped at a red light when two young men approached the car with guns drawn. In a case of mistaken identity, the men opened fire on the vehicle. Instinctively, Shawn covered his daughter’s body. Naja emerged uninjured, but Shawn was shot twice in the back. One bullet severed his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
Just as Shawn faced his mother’s donation decision head on, he did the same with this life changing event. Since the shooting, he has become one of Chicago’s leading voices in the anti-gun and nonviolence movements in the city. He is now a Restorative Justice Counselor at Chicago’s Marshall High School — where he excelled as a basketball star and was serving as an assistant coach for the Commandos basketball team when he was shot — working with at-risk kids. He is also the subject of a newly published book, “All the Dreams We’ve Dreamed: A Story of Hoops and Handguns on Chicago’s West Side.”
The book shines a deserving spotlight on the inspirational figure that Shawn has become while facing and overcoming some of life’s most difficult obstacles. “Shawn can’t walk anymore, but
he can still inspire,” said Susan Cochran, a Gift of Hope Aftercare Specialist who has developed a strong professional relationship with Shawn since his mother’s death. “Each year he helps co-direct Hoops for Peace Chicago on the West Side and speaks to the players, coaches and fans about non violence, voter registration — and organ and tissue donation. He has also continued his work with the Illinois Secretary of State. Shawn is a humble person with a powerful message. He inspires us to think of others, to promote kindness and compassion amid tragedy.”
His experience with donation has helped him become who he is today, according to Shawn.
“I’m part of a blessed and unique donor and recipient family,” he explained. “My mother’s organs helped better the quality of life for three people, and my aunt, Lisa Givens, received a kidney transplant and is a transplant Olympian. Donation has truly shaped me as an individual.”
Others can have a similar experience by choosing donation, he added. “I know it’s a tough and gut wrenching decision at that moment because you’ve just lost a loved one. But your loved ones can help save or improve the quality of life for more than 25 people as organ and tissue donors, so their gifts of life will continue to live on.”