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Vigil pays tribute to ‘the mini-mayor of Oak Park’

As Lauren Johnson-Cheeks looked out July 27 at the crowd gathered at Scoville Park to pay tribute to her son, Andrew, she recalled the many times he would tell her he was the mini-mayor of Oak Park.

“I doubted him,” she said. “And now, I’m believing.”

Andrew, a 15-year-old Oak Park and River Forest High School student, died July 22 after a severe asthma attack. Lauren Johnson-Cheeks said he had been diagnosed with asthma when he was 18 months old.

A vigil, organized by the Suburban Unity Alliance, took place at the park near the Oak Park Public Library on Lake Street.

Oak Park resident Aisha Coleman, whose son Anthony was a close friend of Andrew’s, told the crowd she enjoyed having him as “a permanent fixture” in her house.

“Thank you for letting us have Andrew in our house,” she said. “Thank you for sharing him. He is never, ever going to leave our thoughts and prayers.”

During the vigil, the Johnson-Cheeks family was presented with Andrew’s basketball game jersey.

Andrew’s father, Jonathan Cheeks, said he was impressed by the effort made by friends and classmates to visit his son as he was in the hospital.

“They would come in mass loads,” he said.

After Andrew died, his family received many text messages, phone calls and Facebook messages, Cheeks said.

“It’s uplifting,” he said.

Lauren Johnson-Cheeks was proud of the young man Andrew had become.

“He was on the right track,” she said.

Those at the vigil listened to music spun by a live DJ. The event also included speeches, spoken-word poetry and fellowship.

OPRF basketball coach Matt Maloney said he had admired Andrew’s grandfather “for years, and I saw that same charismatic smile, just a tremendous personality.”

“This guy raised everybody’s spirit every time he was around,” Maloney said.

The coach said he has known Andrew since the teen was in junior high.

“My heart goes out to the family and his friends, but I hope they can always find that one moment that they can look back and smile the way he did, and just laugh because that’s the type of kid he was,” he said.

Lauren Johnson-Cheeks said she sees a lot of herself in her son and the life he led.

“I think he took all the good parts of me and made them better,” she said.

She said it was great seeing the way the community came together to celebrate her son’s life.

“One of the reasons why I raised him out here was because I grew up out here, and I wanted him to have a community, not to be afraid to walk to the store or go to the library with his friends,” she said. “It has made what is a really difficult time a little bit more bearable, just seeing what kind of impact he made on the community at such a short age.”

Andrew is survived by his parents, in addition to many family members and friends, many of whom were at the vigil to celebrate his life.

“It helps me make it day to day, hearing the words of other people how they felt about him,” Lauren Johnson-Cheeks said.