By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
"I don't know if this is going to happen," Helena told Klouda.
The rumors became too much for Helena. When she heard of one girl spreading lies about her sister's murder, she decided to go fight her. But when she got into her car, it wouldn't start.
"LeLe is telling me not to do it," she told herself.
Klouda suggested a banquet where all of the girls could come together to show their support for the truce. Then they would know who was serious about stopping the beef.
"This is a really big deal for them to call a truce on their own terms," Klouda says. "That never happens. I wanted to make sure Alisha's death wasn't in vain."
In April, members of the Ladiis and the Baddest, along with some of their best friends, met at Oak Park to talk about the banquet. The two groups had to create a list of invited members who they believed were taking the truce seriously. They were envisioning a semi-formal night with soul food and a couple of prominent members of the community. The girls would have an open-mic segment where they could speak about the truce. The event would be in memory of LeLe.
"We're still iffy about the truce, so everyone needs this banquet for proof," Veronica said. "LeLe died over something really pointless and I don't want that to happen to anyone else."
But for all the positive talk, Cha worried the peace agreement wouldn't make any real difference in the community.
"The Ladiis and the Baddest, we can squash our beef, but nothing else has changed," she said. "I feel like I'm gonna die young; I always say that. I graduate in June and I don't know if I'm gonna make it. Nothing's changed.
CHA STOOD IN THE CORNER OF THE BANQUET space at the PEACE Foundation on April 30. She was quiet and wore a nervous look on her face. The banquet to celebrate the truce was scheduled to start any minute, and she was the only member of the Baddest in attendance.
Over and over again, Cha had made her plea: "If ya'll don't come tonight, that's bogus. I'm not gonna talk to ya'll. Could ya'll please come?"
Klouda paced the room. "I just really want this to work," she said as she watched the door. "What if no one shows up?"
By 6:40 p.m., girls filled most of the seats at the two rows of tables. Each girl had an assigned seat to ensure the Ladiis and the Baddest mingled.
Thandisizwe Jackson-Nisan, a close friend of the Neeley sisters, stood up before the meal to address the crowd. Veronica had written up a couple of thoughts and asked her to read them. She had been thinking back to the time LeLe asked for the beef to stop.
"I couldn't put pride aside and let go. Because she loved me, she continued to feed into the drama. Now not a day goes by that I don't think about how I should've just listened. It's sad because it took for her to die to put this behind us."
After dinner, the girls each had a chance to speak. Meka stood up with her hands clasped, tapping one foot as she unburdened her heart.
"I'm looking at every last one of you and all ya'll pretty," she told the room. "Every time we seen each other we was messin' up one another's face for no reason. A lot of people get bruises for life, a lot of people be hurt for life, a lot of people get rushed to the hospital. It's scary and I just can't see another one of you guys lying on someone else's ground or at the hospital."
It was unplanned, but Helena suggested the two groups line up and shake hands like sports teams do at the end of games. As all of the girls stood up, Bri sat at the far table, rolling her eyes, her arms crossed.
Helena snapped. "If you can't do it, you shouldn't have come here. Are you ready to stand up and shake hands? Get up. Get up."
After some pouting, Bri stood to join the Ladiis line. One by one, the girls looked each other in the eyes and shook hands. A sense or relief washed over the room.
Each girl grabbed one of the pink or gold balloons from the tables and headed outside. Standing as a united group, they released the balloons into the blue sky.
"We love you, LeLe!" they all screamed.
Cha skipped out of the group laughing. "Can you believe this? We're together and everyone looks so happy. I have prom tomorrow and this is so much more important."