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Teenager’s murder became foundation for his father’s 15-year anti-violence effort in Bakersfield | News

Wendale Davis would be 31 today.

He might have had a wife and kids. He might have had a job or a career, a passion or a vocation.

He might have had a life.

Wendale was only 16 when he was shot to death by an unknown assailant in southeast Bakersfield on April 23, 2006.

“Today marks the 15th year since my son was murdered,” said Wesley Davis, as he stood near Wendale’s grave at Union Cemetery on Friday afternoon.

“This is therapy for me,” he said. “It’s kind of what I have to do to maintain sanity.”

Once a year for the past decade and half, family, friends and supporters have gathered beneath the shade of an old oak tree to form a semicircle around Wendale’s grave.

On this warm, dappled April afternoon, prayers were recited, stories were told and parables were shared.

Wesley Davis III, the elder Davis’ son, asked God to bring healing to the group of 24, and to the community that has suffered more than its share of violence for more years than humans should have to endure.

“We pray also that law enforcement can get a break in this case,” he said, referring to the murder investigation that long ago had grown cold.

Despite the sadness that hangs over the annual memorial, there is also a thread of hope — and a realization that out of a father’s worst nightmare came a grass roots effort to make some kind of a difference.

For 15 years, the boy whose life ended before it could really begin has been the namesake of the Wendale Davis Foundation, a nonprofit founded by his father that focuses on ending the sort of violence that resulted in Wendale’s death.

The foundation provides mentoring services to young people and adults. And it works to change the pattern of gang violence that has wounded and destroyed families and whole neighborhoods.

It’s been an uphill battle, and lately, things feel like they have gotten worse.

“We continue to hit an all-time low,” Wesley Davis said of the gun violence.

“People shooting into crowds.”

The gang members have gotten worse in their recklessness and callousness, Davis said. Women, children, no one seems to be off-limits.

But Davis said it’s hard to measure the shootings that didn’t happen because of positive outreach and intervention. He knows of many who were targets of intervention, who avoided going in the direction they were once headed.

“We’ve seen many young guys change,” he said.

The belief that maybe, just maybe, something good has come out of something so terrible is part of what keeps him going, Davis said.

“I don’t have the words to say what that actually means to me,” he said.

As the memorial ended, attendees stood together and talked.

Alan Woods, Wendale’s uncle, remembered his nephew as a kind young man on the cusp of adulthood.

“He was an amiable gentleman,” Woods remembered. “He was very well-spoken.

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

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