(Facebook//Kenneka Jenkins)

I can’t stop thinking about what possibly could’ve happened to Kenneka Jenkins.

I’m not alone in this. Since the story first hit my Facebook timeline Sunday evening, I’ve watched dozens of conversations between my peers and other Black millennials on social media about how unfathomable it is for a young woman who’s out partying with her friends to end up dead in an industrial-size hotel freezer. I’ve read every article from Chicago journalists working to piece together what happened based on police reports and interviews with Kenneka’s family. I’ve also sat on the phone for hours with my friends, scrolling through Facebook pages and watching the Facebook Live video from the hotel party Kenneka attended, in hopes of finding an answer.

Kenneka’s death hit home for Black millennial women in Chicago because we see ourselves in her.

Between 16 and 20 years old, I felt invincible. My friends and I rarely turned down an opportunity to party on the weekend. Because we weren’t old enough to buy liquor, one of our guy friends would find a hype coming out of one of the liquor stores off Chicago Avenue or Cicero Avenue and give him a few bucks to buy us a bottle of blue label vodka – we didn’t know any better. Because we weren’t old enough to get into the club, we’d go to whatever house party was popping in L-Town or, sometimes, in Maywood or Broadview. Gun shots broke out at one of those parties, but we grabbed our friends and ran to whoever’s house was closest. On summer nights, we’d hang out at LaFollette Park with 10 of us passing around one blunt. On birthdays and New Years Eve, friends would get hotel rooms in suburbs like Rosemont and Villa Park, where the rates are cheaper, and invite 15 or 20 people out to drink, smoke and celebrate.

Our parents only knew that we were hanging out with the crew – the close circle of friends we’ve been riding with for years. I would never tell my granny exactly what I was doing out of fear of disappointing her, or my mom out of fear of her beating the hell out of me. Every time I left the house, though, my granny and mom reminded us to stick together at all times.

As Black women, we are born into this world with this heightened sense of caution. My granny grew up in the Jim Crow south, where Black women inherited the constant fear of sexual and physical attack from their mothers and grandmothers. In grammar school, it was my granny and mom’s rule that I couldn’t spend the night at any girlfriend’s house whose parents my mom didn’t know. I also couldn’t spend the night at any girlfriend’s house who had an older brother. And if one of my friend’s parents was picking us up from school, basketball practice or the movies, my mom or granny had to call and speak to the parent to make sure. This was the protocol for my circle of friends, too.

When we were old enough to hang out without our parents, we followed our unspoken Black Girl Code of sticking together. On weekends at North Riverside Mall, if a boy wanted to talk to me, he had to approach and walk with my whole crew. If I wanted to hang out with the boy I’m digging after school, you better believe the whole crew received mandatory text updates on my whereabouts. It still stands today that none of us go to the bathroom alone at a party or the club, and I’m 28 years old. On my 21st birthday, one of my best friends from college wouldn’t let me leave with an ex-boyfriend from high school after a night of bowling because she personally didn’t know him and I had been drinking. We came to the function together. We left together.

That’s why it’s hard to read that Kenneka’s friends left the hotel – with her cellphone and in her mother’s car – without her.

That’s the detail that many of us can’t shake.  

Right now, there are too few details to fully understand what happened to Kenneka. And there are far too many theories and rumors spreading across social media to believe anything you read outside of verified media reports.

But as I reflect on all the reckless parties and situations we put ourselves in for the sake of having a good time, I couldn’t imagine losing one of my friends in the midst of it. I would be inconsolable. My heart goes out to Kenneka’s family and friends as you continue to fight for justice and truth. Meanwhile, my Black millennials, instead of playing the blame game on social media, it’s imperative that we sit down with our friends, family and youth and have honest conversations about how to protect our girls.

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