'I'm all they've got'
A lot has been said about Juquina Harris since the 27-year-old, unmarried mother of six was shot and killed last month outside a Charlotte strip club.
On Wednesday, I met with Harris’ mother, Jannie Harris, to talk about the daughter she affectionately calls “Quina.”
We met at Juquina Harris’ former home – a small, low-rent apartment just off N. Tryon Street, not far from the Amtrak station. Jannie Harris has lived there since her daughter was killed. At age 47, she is now primary caregiver for Juquina’s children – five girls and a boy, ages 13, 8, 6, 5, 3 and 2.
A small den just off the kitchen is adorned with sad reminders of Juquina – flowers and photo tributes erected since her death. Her three youngest children scamper and play with equally young and equally active cousins. The older children are in school.
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Jannie Harris, 47, mother of Juquina Harris, who was killed in last month's strip club shooting, plays with some of her grandchildren in the small apartment where Juquina once lived. Not all of the children pictured are Juquina's. (Photo: Qcitymetro.com)
First and foremost, Jannie Harris said, she wants the public to know that Juquina loved her children.
Second, she was eager to set the record straight concerning initial reports that her daughter worked as a stripper at the club where she died.
“I think she wanted to be, but she didn’t,” Jannie Harris said. “She was just out having fun. She went out with a bunch of girls. They were just going clubbing. She was not no dancer.”
As for the children, Harris said they have good days and bad. The older ones, she said, are dealing with “anger issues.” All are scheduled to begin counseling next week.
“They’re going through something,” she said. “They have their bad days. It’s a different child every day. I’ve just been loving them up, you know.”
Some of the younger children, she said, cannot fully grasp the concept of death. They sometimes ask when their mother will wake up.
Earlier that day, in fact, one of the younger girls had asked why her mother “had to lay in that little bed.”
Considering all she has been through, Jannie Harris appeared surprisingly resilient. She was quick to smile and laugh.
She talked about the last time she saw her daughter alive – Wednesday, November 17, just hours before Juquina and friends went clubbing.
Harris said she had not spoken with her daughter in about two days. That was unusual, she said, because they normally talked every day.
When Harris dropped by her daughter’s apartment, Juquina was fixing her hair, preparing to go out.
“Quina was sweet,” her mother said, “but she did like to go.”
Jannie Harris said she kissed her grandchildren goodbye and told Juquina she would talk to her later. She never did.
Sometime around 2 a.m., shots were fired outside the Silver Fox Club on Statesville Avenue. Witnesses later told police that an argument had broken out near the club entrance, and that someone pulled a gun and began firing. Juquina, apparently, was not the intended target.
Confusion on the phone
Sometime in the night, Jannie Harris said, her telephone range. It was her youngest daughter, 21-year-old Lakisha Harris.
“Your baby is gone,” the younger woman screamed.
At first, Harris said, she couldn’t grasp what Lakisha was trying to tell her. Nothing made sense. She demanded clarification.
Then the phone rang again. It was her son. He, too, was hysterical.
At the crime scene, a large crowd had gathered. Police kept asking Harris questions about Juquina but wouldn’t confirm any information or let her go near the body, which had not been removed.
“I was like, this can’t be happening,” Harris recalled.
Why wouldn’t police let her go near? She could clear the whole thing up, she said, with one simple look.
She couldn’t recall what Juquina was wearing, but she told the officers what she could remember – blond hair and a tattoo. (Juquina had had her oldest daughter’s name tattooed on one arm.)
“They finally came and said, ‘Yes, Ms. Harris, this is your daughter.’”
At the funeral home, the children were hysterical. Some denied that the person who lay before them was their mother. Too dark. Too cold.
A life in transition
Like many young people, Juquina did not immediately find her calling in life. About seven years ago she enrolled in Job Corps and trained in customer service.
But then she discovered a love for hair styling. So she and younger sister, Lakisha, enrolled in hair school. They dreamed of one day owning their own salon.
Jannie Harris said her daughter never intended to have six children. The first child, she said, was by a man who has been in prison for at least 13 years, about the same time his daughter was born.
The later five were fathered by a man who met and married a women next door.
“She loved that boy,” Jannie said. “They planned on getting married, but then he started dating this older woman...and that was that.”
'I'm going to do my best'
Jannie Harris has not worked in two years. Her last employment was for a temp agency, which sent her to work in a warehouse. Until her daughter died, she lived with her fiancé, a good man who works steadily, she said.
As for the children...
“I’m going to do my best,” she said. “I can’t see myself letting them go.”
Harris said she is grateful for the financial help she has received. Counselors at her grandchildren’s school collected money to help cover funeral costs. So did the staff at radio station WGIV. But more money is owed.
The biggest relief effort is being organized by the Rev. John Hicks, a assistant pastor at First Fellowship Ministries and president of Synergy Farms International, which does work in developing countries. Working with local churches and willing individuals, Hicks is collecting Christmas toys for the children and financial assistance to help secure longer-term family needs. He has set up a bank account to benefit the family.
“I’m kinda numb, really, just trying to get through day by day, making sure the kids are alright,” Harris said.
The grandmother said she doesn’t like for the children to see her cry. It upsets them too much.
She said friends and family have relayed some of the negative comments written online about Juquina. She has not read the comments herself, she said, because she is not proficient with computers, and right now, she added, she would just as soon avoid the negative.
On Tuesday, Harris went back to her own apartment for the first time since Juquina was killed. She said she needed time to grieve, and be alone.
“I had a breakdown,” she recalled. “I cried. Oh, I cried. It was raining, and I’m thinking about her. She’s gone... in the ground.”
And with that, for the first time during our interview, Jannie Harris wept bitterly.
“I’m all they’ve got,” she sobbed, referring again to the children. “I’m going to do the best I can with what I’ve got. But she did love her kids. She did.”
Coming Friday: Concerned residents pull together to help the Harris family. How you can contribute.
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