"Youll have to excuse me," said Elaine Simons of Peace
for the Streets by Kids from the Streets (PSKS) after the memorial service
for Nicholas "Rooster" Helhowski. "I need to go give
some kids some loving."
More than 300 people had gathered near sunset on Tuesday, April 16 to
remember and mourn "Rooster," a young man who "at age
20 made more of an impact than many do in a lifetime," according
to Pastor Shannon Anderson, who presided. The memorial was held at PSKS,
one of the few programs that love and work with street youth on an empowerment
Badly beaten April 11 after exiting a bus at 85th and Wallingford, "Rooster"
died four days later, after slipping into a coma. His friends were with
him until the end. His friends never left him, and he was never estranged
from his family. His family, like hundreds of street kids, gathered
to mourn this man cut down too young.
"He spoke a universal language look at all the different
kinds of people here!" exclaimed a Seattle Police Officer. Businesspeople,
politicians, bureaucrats, social service providers, and hundreds of
street youth, a mosaic of multicolored mohawks on kids otherwise all
dressed in black; so many people that the Police Department closed Olive
Way for the memorial service.
"The Perfect public servant"
"Rooster" had followed a different trajectory than many street
kids, and his transformation was an inspiration to many of his peers
gathered to mourn his passing.
He was born in Royal Oak, Michigan, and grew up in the small town of
Hebron, Indiana. He graduated from high school, and then came to Seattle
to "explore life," as it said in the memorial program. Nicknamed
Rooster because of his red mohawk, he lived on the streets for a while,
but at 18, he traded in the hawk for a short, slicked-back do
and pinstripe suit. He had a dream, and did everything in his power
to follow it.
Looking very grave, Mayor Greg Nickels said, "The City is very
sad," and explained hed met Rooster a few weeks earlier at
a meeting of the Music and Youth Commission on Broadway. "He made
a difference," Nickels said. "He was the perfect public servant:
He knew his constituents, he loved them, he stood up for them, and he
never forgot them."
He was the co-founder of the Donut Dialogue, an informal dialogue among
Broadway denizens business leaders, street kids, other neighborhood
folks designed to strengthen the sense of community and real
safety on Capitol Hill.
"He made friends with a cop," said Simons. "Figure that
He was an AmeriCorps volunteer placed at PSKS; he also read to the
elderly. Recently he had sought a mentor, and was trying to learn the
techniques of running a small business from Barry Rogel who owns The
Deluxe Bar and Grill on north Broadway. "Ill miss not having
a chance to influence a very important person," Rogel said.
Rooster lived at Harder House transitional program, and was an inspiration,
a human alarm clock to his friends who also lived there. He was "a
ringleader for change and upward advancement for street youth,"
said a representative from the Park Hill Rotary, who broke down after
she spoke of what a charismatic young man he was.
Cathy Helhowski, Roosters mom, started by saying to the kids,
"You are our family, and you always will be our family." His
sister Laura said, "Keep him alive in your hearts and never forget
him." His father, Jim, said, "Your life doesnt belong
just to you, it belongs to everyone who ever cared about you."
"I thought Id put on my game face," said Officer Kim
Bogucki of SPD as she started to cry. Having been befriended by Rooster
early in her assignment to the Broadway beat, she and Rooster had gotten
close, had celebrated Christmas together. Officer Bogucki explained
how one day she ended up taking him to get his drivers license
he in his huge red hawk, she in uniform. "Everyone looked
really nervous, since they figured he ought to be in cuffs and
he wasnt." One woman at the DMV asked, "Is he your son?"
"I am so glad I took my job personally with Nick," she said,
as she broke down in tears again. And with a dozen others: she stood
before us and went through a litany of names, pointing to other kids
gathered in the street. "Thank you so much for sharing your family
"Nick would call bullshit on me if I didnt say we have to
do something about this," said Jordan Royer, head of the citys
Neighborhood Action Team. He was referring to the brutal violence that
ended Roosters life so abruptly. Nearly everyone who spoke at
the memorial implored the crowd to allow the system to go through its
slow process for justice. (It is now two weeks after Nicks beating
death, and there are still no suspects in custody.)
Mayor Nickels asked the crowd to commit to stopping senseless acts of
violence, and to bringing the murderers of Nicholas Helhowski to justice.
As part of that vision, he declared April 16 Anti-Violence Awareness
But what does that mean over the long haul? What does it mean to the
kids mourning the loss of their friend?
Barry Rogel of the Deluxe said: "Stay involved, and work for meaningful
"We have to make this neighborhood a better place!" said
Nicholas and Marina
"Nick knew you could do everything with words and not fighting,"
said Marina, his fiancée, who implored her peers not to use violence
to respond to an act of violence.
Tony Do of PSKS seemed unable to commit to these peaceful paths. He
tried twice to get up to speak for his friend. Finally, he sat on the
steps and poured out his questions, his own sense of grief and anger
at his friends death. At the end of his heartbreakingly intense
soul-baring he shouted, "Oy!"
"Oy!" came the answering cry, from hundreds of youth in the
streets, whatever "Oy" means.
Seeds of hope
PSKS reached out to WHEEL and Church of Mary Magdalene to do a Women
in Black vigil simultaneous to this PSKS vigil. We could not find each
other in a crowd of hundreds dressed in black. "Its impossible
to do Women in Black on Broadway," said Reverand Pat Simpson of
Church of Mary Magdalene. "But Im glad I was there."
It was impossible because black is, obviously, the cool color to wear.
And its also impossible because there is so much grief, so much
loss, so many young people lost to us. This was the third PSKS memorial
in the last few months; previously PSKS kids gathered to mourn the loss
of their friends "Jello" and "Filthy." They have
begun a haphazard memorial garden in the small patch of earth adjacent
to their building.
In closing, Rachel, a young woman who was obviously strung out, said,
"Nickd ask me, Rachel, whatre you doing, the
drugs are ruining you! The streets, they suck you in until they
eat you alive!" Ann Donovan of the Capitol Hill Community Council
said, "Nick shone a light on PSKS," but spoke of her own perception
that these kids are a throwaway generation.
Even so, "These are the seeds of hope Rooster planted: If he could
succeed, we all can," said a woman called Mama Sarah. "If
an old hippie and a young punker can share dreams, we all can."
Its a start.
— memorial by Michele Marchand
WHEEL and the Church of Mary
Magadalene did a cleansing ritual and vigil at the 85th and Wallingford
#16 bus stop, the place Rooster was beaten, on the one-month anniversary
of his death, May 14.