Toronto

'Blessings from adversity': Remembering an 11-year-old victim of gang violence, 10 years later

One local community group paints the interior of Ephraim Brown's home as part of a community volunteer program established in his name.

A community centre established in Ephraim Brown's name marks the 10-year anniversary of his death

Ephraim Brown was killed in 2007 when rival gang members opened fire at a backyard birthday party. ((Toronto Police Service))

A two-storey townhouse near Jane and Sheppard now sports fresh new coats of bright cream paint on the inside.

It's the 1,000th house painted as part of a project called Refresh, organized by the Ephraim's Place Community Centre in North York.

But this house is special for more than that.

It's the home where 11-year-old Ephraim Brown grew up, a few steps away from where he was killed 10 years ago.

Brown was struck by a bullet fired during a gun battle between rival gangs at his cousin's backyard party in 2007.

A decade later, his sister Amiga Taylor tells CBC Toronto she is grateful that the community honours her brother's memory in "so many positive ways."

Amiga Taylor, sister of Ephraim Brown, is the executive director of Ephraim's Place Community Centre (John Lesavage/CBC)

"It's important for us to remember him in a way that has a positive impact on the lives of people, and in shaping the community at large."

Taylor is also the executive director of Ephraim's Place Community Centre, the local facility that was set up in her brother's name.

'It's not about the paint'

Refresh, one of the many programs run out of the centre, brings together volunteers from across Toronto and even the United States to paint the interior of homes in local neighbourhoods.

We want to get the youth into a space where they are active and healthy so that they can care about themselves enough to not want to join a gang.- Amanda Taylor, sister of Ephraim  Brown

"It not about the paint,", said Pastor Bill Sunberg, chairman of the board at the centre.

"Its really not a painting program. We do want to get the paint on the walls but it's about what it does in people's lives and in the community, how it brings people together. That's the important part of this program," he said.  

Pastor Bill Sunberg is the founding director of Ephraim's Place Community Centre. (John Lesavage/CBC)

Sunberg's church is located just opposite Brown's childhood home. He can easily recall how the community came together the night after the tragedy.

"That evening I was coming to my office. There were people sitting on the curb just having a spontaneous vigil. I went into my cupboards and grabbed all the candles I could find and we just sat there and sang for a couple of hours.." he said. "That's where it all started."

He met Brown's family at that vigil and ever since they have been planning community events to enrich their neighbourhood.

"Ephraim is an ancient Hebrew name that means blessings from adversity and this is a reminder that good things have come out of the tragedy of his death," he said.

Fighting gang violence

The men charged with opening fire at the backyard birthday party where Brown was killed were acquitted in December, 2010. Taylor says there is a lot of work that still needs to be done in fighting gangs and gun violence in Toronto but she hopes programs like Refresh can help push back. 

"We want to get the youth into a space where they are active and healthy so that they can care about themselves enough to not want to join a gang, enough to not ever want to pick up a gun," she said.

Community members gather to celebrate the Refresh project's 1,000th home; the house where Ephraim Brown lived. (John Lesavage/CBC)

She hopes that local youth will "one day want to give back when they're prime ministers and doctors and lawyers and entrepreneurs."

She never forgets, though, that her brother's chance to reach his potential was stolen from him.

"He was smart and funny and kind. He was compassionate and, like may children his age, truly innocent," she said.

"He could've been anything he wanted to be."