James Nelson / The DePaulia
On a quiet street on Chicago’s South Side, Freddrica Nicholas sits at the kitchen table of her home that also functions as a daycare. Kids of all ages can be heard playing in another room, a mix of her own foster children and neighborhood kids she looks after during the day.
Family photos cover every available inch of the walls — smiling children as they grew through the years. Mementos from preschool picture day hang next to high school graduation photos, documenting the many lives that were forged and fostered in this home.
Nicholas is beautiful, with her every feature meticulously accounted for. Her eyelashes are full and long, and her nails are bright and eye catching. She gives off the aura of a natural caretaker, offering food and drinks to anyone who walks through her door with a smile on her face and her arms open for a hug. A mother in her element.
Nicholas always knew she wanted a life surrounded by kids, but foster care was never her plan. Until Destiny entered her world. When a woman she knew who was suffering from a drug addiction and who already had several kids in the foster system told her she was pregnant and planned to abort the fetus, Nicholas volunteered to take the baby, a baby she eventually named Destiny.
This one decision launched a lifelong journey of childcare that Nicholas attributes directly to her daughter, Destiny. Nicholas now has six foster children who are only the newest to call her house their home, all made possible due to the process of fostering Destiny over two decades ago.
Described as her perfect child with a singing voice like no other, Destiny grew up to be smart, kind and compassionate. She worked hard, eventually crossing paths with DePaul as an employee at Brownstones Café. Following in the footsteps of her own mother, she became a doting mother to her own daughter, Emari, a spitting image of Destiny as a child.
Yet, Destiny isn’t in the house with her mom today. Nor is she just down the street at the home she and Emari shared.
Instead, the Nicholas family remains in limbo as their Destiny joined the long list of young people who have fallen victim to Chicago’s gun violence this past spring. Her photos line the walls of Nicholas’ home including a large framed montage of recent photos pulled from her phone and social media after her death. A large banner of Destiny with angel wings hangs on the fence in front of the empty lot next door. She’s named it “Garden of Destiny” and she’s committed to making it as beautiful and enchanting as her daughter was.
In the middle of the afternoon on Saturday April 13, as Destiny and a friend were vacuuming out her car at a gas station, shots rang out and she was fatally wounded. She had just gotten off work at Midway Airport and was simply running errands on her way home. Just like that, at 23 her life was bookended. On that day, Destiny joined the 2,141 other people who were shot in Chicago so far this year, according to data collected by the Chicago Tribune.
“I love God, really so much. But it is still so hard to associate her death with gunshots,” Nicholas said. “It’s just so hard to believe she was involved in gunshots.”
The university never released an official statement regarding her death and her coworkers within Chartwells remember her fondly.
“She was a great mom,” said Jennie Tiberio, assistant director of dining services, Destiny’s boss. “It was clear she was devoted to her daughter, always showing off photos at work and talking about all the things they did together.”
At the time of her death, a few people at Brownstones also said they were not given the day off of work to attend her funeral. Mark Little, resident district manager of dining services, could not speak to the announcement policies at DePaul, but said that he’s “not aware of any requests that were submitted and then denied to attend Ms. Nicholas’ funeral services” but that “current bereavement policy includes leave for family members.
Nicholas tries to look on the bright side for Emari’s sake. She never lets her children see her cry and refuses to let Destiny’s brightness fade from memory. She makes a point to bring her up often, as she remains an integral member in the lives of the Nicholas family. She is the reason they’re all together and she’ll be the reason they make it through their grief.
Just last week, Nicholas’ foster license was up for renewal. For the first time in nearly 20 years, she will not be renewing.
“I started with Destiny and I’m ending with Destiny,” she said.
Unbeknownst to Destiny, her friend had gang affiliations and her mother believes her death was likely a byproduct of retaliation. Today, like so many other gun violence victims in the city, her killer remains free. Even worse, Nicholas said she knows exactly who did it. But as the families sharing their pain have come to know too well, there’s a difference between knowing guilt and proving guilt.
Now, she waits. Waits for news, waits for justice, waits for some semblance of peace — should any ever come.