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Rodricks: Two women who lost loved ones to gun violence in Baltimore establish a scholarship fund

Jim Forrester's wife, Tina Forrester, gathers with other mourners during the candlelight vigil for Jim Forrester. Tina and Victory Christine Swift, the mother of another 2017 homicide victim, plan to start a scholarship fund this week.
Jim Forrester's wife, Tina Forrester, gathers with other mourners during the candlelight vigil for Jim Forrester. Tina and Victory Christine Swift, the mother of another 2017 homicide victim, plan to start a scholarship fund this week. (Brittany Britto / Baltimore Sun)

There was a detail in the police report of the death of Jim Forrester that stuck with me and made his senseless killing stand out from the 341 others in Baltimore last year.

He was on the phone with his wife when he was shot.

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It was the evening of Dec. 18, and Forrester had just stepped outside the Baltimore Tattoo Museum, where he worked as a body piercer, to call his wife, Tina, at home in West Virginia. They were making plans for a date night. Tina Forrester had just finished exams at Shepherd University, where she’s studying to become a nurse. It was time to catch up, maybe go to a movie.

Outside the tattoo shop in Fells Point, two young men confronted Jim Forrester as he spoke to his wife. Tina Forrester heard her husband say, “Get away from me.” According to the police report, in the next instant, one of the young men shot Jim Forrester, and the two ran off. (Police arrested one of the suspects a month later.)

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On Christmas Eve, community members gathered in front of Fells Point’s Baltimore Tattoo Museum, some carrying white candles labeled “REV,” as an homage to Jim Forrester, nicknamed Rev. Jim Forrester, a local bassist who was shot and killed last week.

The phone landed on the sidewalk. Through it, Tina Forrester heard people yelling. She heard sirens and emergency medical technicians arriving, and soon she heard them say things that told her the worst had happened.

“I heard them say, ‘We got nothing,’ and I know what that means,” Tina Forrester told me the other day.

Feeling suddenly guilty for having brought the phone call up, I quickly steered the conversation back to the reason for my call: The scholarship fund that Tina Forrester and Victory Christine Swift, the mother of another 2017 homicide victim, plan to start this week.

And while a scholarship fund might strike you as a conventional idea — a thing survivors do when they want to transform their anger and pain into something positive — Tina’s vision goes beyond the ordinary: She wants to use part of the money to help a kid on a bad path switch to a good one.

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More on that in a minute. First, about the new scholarship fund:

It will be formally announced with the creation of a GoFundMe page on Tuesday. It honors two victims of homicides, Jim Forrester and Victorious Swift.

Forrester was 43 years old, a native of Carroll County, a graduate of Liberty High School in Eldersburg. He was best known as Reverend Jim in the regional music scene; he played bass in two metal bands: Foghound and Serpents of Secrecy.

Swift was 19 years old, a city kid, a member of the founding class of the Baltimore Design School, a student of architecture, a math tutor, a sign language instructor, a boxer, mixed martial arts fighter, aspiring singer and rapper. "If he wasn't writing music, collecting beats and singing, he was rapping his heart out," his mother told The Sun.

Swift was near Mondawmin Mall in West Baltimore one Sunday morning last March when he was shot to death in what police described as a barrage of bullets. They said he was on his way home from a recording studio. Police had no motive in the killing. No arrest has been made.

According to those who knew him, Victorious Swift was living up to his colorful name — in the fast lane on a path to success — when it all got ripped away.

It was Zeke Cohen, the City Councilman whose district includes Fells Point, who brought the two women together to form the scholarship fund. The money is intended to be used in three ways: a general scholarship for victims of violence; in Victorious Swift’s memory, a scholarship for a graduating student from the Baltimore Design School; and, in Jim Forrester’s memory, a scholarship to a Baltimore public school student pursuing a degree in music.

But not just any public school student.

“I want it to be for music education for at-risk youth, kids who have not been on the right track, kids that have been in the juvenile justice system,” Tina Forrester said. “I want the kids who have been derailed, to use the scholarship to let them know there’s another path. ... This says to the kid who committed a violent act: ‘Here’s an opportunity, do you want to take it?’”

A candidate for a Forrester scholarship would have to have an interest or talent in music, as well as a record of trouble. The scholarship would be offered, with conditions, as an incentive to stay out of trouble and pursue music. Tina Forrester is still working out the details. But it’s how she wants to go, and she says she’s getting help from former gang members, people she has met since her husband’s death, who know kids on the fringes.

“Both my husband and I grew up hard,” she said. “Music was one of the things we could go to. It changed my husband’s life. He took it full tilt. He made connections that became no less than family. I want some young man to know you don’t have to go to gangs to have that family. You can do it with music.”

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