The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Yummy Tells The Story of The Tragedy of Gang Life

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 23, 2010 8:40PM

Yummy tells the story of a young gang member who killed a 14-year-old girl.
16 years ago, a young Chicago gang member became an icon. Robert Sandifer, nicknamed “Yummy” for his love of sweets, was only 11 years old when he opened fire on rival gang members, killing innocent bystander and 14-year-old Shavon Dean. When Yummy quickly became a liability, his gang murdered him. At his death, Yummy had 23 felonies and 5 misdemeanors. For his funeral, the only photo available to display next to his casket was a mug shot.

When Yummy’s story was making headlines and the front cover of TIME Magazine, Greg Neri was a filmmaker teaching workshops to inner-city Los Angeles kids. Gangs were part of the students’ daily lives, and Yummy could have very well been one of their friends or siblings. So Neri decided to write a graphic novel based on Yummy’s story to use the tragedy to teach kids a lesson. “My telling some kids to stay out of gangs means nothing to them,” Neri said in a press release for Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty. “But Yummy’s story is such a compelling wakeup call that I don’t have to say anything, or moralize the issues.”

With help from illustrator Randy DuBurke, Neri tells the true story of Yummy through the eyes of a fictional classmate. Neri explores many of the same themes as the TIME Magazine piece did. He was a kid with a teddy bear who liked Snickers. And he stole cars and killed someone. Was this 11-year-old boy a coldblooded killer or a victim of his situation? These are heavy questions for middle schoolers to consider, but a graphic novel is the perfect medium. DuBurke’s illustrations, black-and-white and excellent at showing emotion and shadow, carry readers through the story about a kid who was essentially doomed to die on the streets since the day he was born.

Randy DuBurke illustrates the graphic novel about Yummy's life and death.
As events unfold, the main character, Roger, wonders what happened to make Yummy the way he was. His short life - born to a crack addicted mother and sent by his gang to do their dirty work because he was too young for the juvenile detention system - was miserably typical. "I see a lot of Roberts," said Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas Sumner in the TIME magazine article, who handled charges against Yummy for armed robbery and car theft. "We see this 100 times a week.” Neri and DuBurke explore the commonality in Yummy’s life. He was just another violent kid terrorizing the Roseland just like the all others. But, Neri tries to tell his young readers, Yummy did have a choice about his future. He chose gangs, and it was the choice that led to his death.

While Yummy is an excellent tool for classrooms and juvenile detention centers, it also makes us wonder how much has changed since 1994. Mayor Daley was already six years into his mayorship when he admitted that Yummy had slipped through the cracks. Now that Daley’s on his way out so many years later, have those cracks been sealed?