Reshaun Cates took one life, but he saved so many more.

Cates, in 2009, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for a home invasion robbery two years before that left Eva Jacobs, a Cedar Grove woman, mortally injured with multiple gunshot wounds.

Cates, after serving nearly 16 years in prison, was released in 2020 according to state corrections records. He wanted to make amends and started work last year as a “violence interrupter” in several of the city’s toughest communities, including the one where he grew up.

Cates, and nearly two dozen young men and women like him, want to heal their communities by doing outreach work with Bull City United (BCU), a joint county and city initiative that relies on reformed gang members to stop gunfire in violence-prone neighborhoods before it happens.

Cates’s journey to redemption was interrupted by the type of gun violence he wanted to stop. On October 2, police reported that someone had shot Cates dead. Officers found him in a blue Honda that had stopped on the off-ramp of I-85 North on Hillandale Road.

Police have not disclosed a motive for the shooting, but investigators think he was targeted.

Cates was the father of a one-year-old son. He was 34, and 11 days from celebrating his next birthday.

On another warm, sunny Sunday afternoon, exactly one week after Cates died, his family, friends, and coworkers paid their respects during a viewing at Hanes Funeral Service in East Durham. Cates’s body was at rest in a red metallic casket adorned with a spray of red and white blooms and baby’s breath. He was outfitted in a Chicago Bulls basketball jersey. A Chicago Bulls cap lay atop his chest. A fresh haircut and long, tapered sideburns framed his youthful coconut-brown face.

“He was a good-looking boy,” Franklin O. Hanes, the funeral services director, said while looking at the red coffin.

“He looks like he’s asleep,” said his mother, Doris Cates, who was at the viewing with several other family members.

Doris told the INDY that Reshaun was the oldest of her six sons, who was “fun-loving and loved to make you laugh” while he was growing up in the Cornwallis apartment complex where they lived. His nickname was Marbles.

He also loved fishing, playing cards, and playing basketball.

Doris says her son coached a city league youth basketball team that played its games at the Hope Valley Baptist Church gym, won the league championship this year, and recently had a banquet to honor his young charges.

She says her son loved his little boy, Malakai, most of all.

“Malakai was his world,” she says. “He put everything on hold when he was with his son. You couldn’t get him to do nothing when it was time for ‘daddy duties.’ He would put you on hold for Malakai. He would put me on hold for Malakai.”

Reshaun Cates was 22 in 2009 when an Orange County superior court judge sentenced him to a maximum of 16 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the 2007 home invasion robbery and shooting death of Jacobs in Orange County. The News of Orange County at the time reported that the robbery netted a stolen shotgun and about $300 worth of marijuana.

Cates served 15 years and 11 months behind bars before he was released on June 23, 2020.

Doris Cates, while speaking late last week with the INDY, acknowledges her son’s troubled past but says he had become very family oriented since his release from prison.

“He got out and went straight to work,” she says. “That was his mentality, and to enjoy his family. His girlfriend got pregnant, and he enjoyed his son. He wasn’t thinking about any trouble. He went to prison, but he turned his life around. He was working with Bull City United. He wanted to see everyone happy.”

Two young men, one wearing a lime-green BCU shirt, walked into the funeral parlor for the viewing. They were accompanied by a young woman carrying a baby on her hip.

“There go Bull City United right there,” Doris Cates said by way of welcoming the trio who had arrived to pay their respects.

After exchanging greetings, they quietly walked over to the coffin, signed the visitor’s book, and left.

“Probably hundreds,” one of the young men, Zaquan Gentry, replied later when asked how many people he thought Reshaun Cates had helped avoid gun violence.

Gentry told the INDY he was one of those people Cates had helped. He last spoke with him the week before he died.

“He told me, ‘I’m helping you protect your son,’” Gentry said.

The other young man was wearing the BCU shirt. He declined to give his name but said he knew Cates “before and after.”

“I saw the transformation,” he said. “He saved fathers, daddies, brothers, cousins, kids, grandkids, and great-great-grandkids.”

Doris Cates says her son had been working during a probationary period for a little over a year with BCU. He worked in several communities, including the Cornwallis apartment complex where he grew up.

“He had just got hired full-time, [permanently], back here about a month ago,” Doris says.

The slain man’s mother says he loved BCU and getting out into the community to help mediate disputes that threatened to spill over into gun violence.

“He was mostly in Cornwallis, and McDougald Terrace, and Southside,” she says. “He loved those kids. He would do everything he could to keep those kids on the right track.”

Doris says her son often talked about his work. It was purposeful and felt like he was making a difference.

“He loved working there, and he loved the people he worked with,” she adds.

Within the BCU ranks, Cates was among a cadre of trained county-funded teams of “violence interrupters’’ and outreach workers who started in the gun- and gang-plagued Southside neighborhoods on South and Fargo Streets and the McDougald Terrace public housing complex in 2016. The aim of the initiative is to address and treat violence as a public health issue not unlike cholera or influenza outbreaks. The local initiative is modeled after CeaseFire, an antiviolence program developed in 2000 and implemented in Chicago neighborhoods where there are high rates of shootings and gun murders.

There have been marked results.

Two years ago, BCU reported that between March 1 and September 12, 2020, there were 556 shootings throughout the city. But only 63 happened in BCU’s target areas: McDougald Terrace, which in 2015 was deemed the most violent neighborhood in the city, and Southside, the city’s second-most-violent neighborhood.

In response, city and county elected leaders last year reached an interlocal agreement that expanded BCU to four more gunfire-prone neighborhoods.

BCU’s work has also been noteworthy in recent months. According to data made public by the initiative—between July of last year and June of this year—BCU workers who were formerly part of the city’s gun violence dilemma had participated in nearly 900 mediations to resolve conflicts in their communities before they could escalate to deadly gunplay.

The end result: only eight of the city’s 24 homicides during that period were reported in areas where BCU violence interrupters are working.

In early August, the county’s board of commissioners unanimously approved the more than $6 million purchase of the old John Avery Boys and Girls Club, which will house the newly developed Neighborhood Intervention Services department that will house BCU, and two other initiatives to address gun violence while providing wraparound services and educational opportunities.

Sadly, Reshaun Cates’s death is the latest—and certainly most tragic—misfire involving BCU workers in recent months.

On September 14, police arrested Rodriguez Smith, 41, for a misdemeanor weapons violation.

One day later, police charged Nicole Taybron, 40, a BCU outreach worker, with possession with intent to sell and deliver crack cocaine.

There have been calls for greater scrutiny and also calls for continued support.

City council member Mark-Anthony Middleton told a local news outlet after Tayborn’s arrest that the charge should not tarnish the entire program.

“While I am saddened to learn of this arrest, without knowing anything about the person’s guilt or innocence, I remain convinced of the value of the dangerous and critical work of Bull City United,” Middleton told CBS 17. “The arrest of one person is no more an indictment on the work of an entire organization than the conviction of a corrupt legislator is a repudiation of our whole democracy.”

Doris Cates spoke to Reshaun every Sunday morning. Three hours before the police found his body, they had talked on the phone. She had no idea it would be the last time she ever heard him alive.

“We talked about normal stuff,” she says. “‘What are you doing today? Are you cooking? Are you going to pick up your son?’ That was our normal conversation. ‘Did you win a scratch-off? What’s the winning number today?’”

Doris says her son was driving to pick up Malakai when she hung up the phone. Shortly afterward, she received a text message that someone had been killed on Hillandale Road in North Durham.

“[Reshaun’s] son lives on Hillandale Road,” Doris remembers thinking, before calling her oldest child.

He didn’t answer when she called his phone, and another one of her sons, Tyree, called, saying “someone had just got shot on Hillandale Road.”

But her younger son was hopeful. Doris says he told her, “Maybe [Reshaun] got stuck in traffic.”

Things, the distraught mother says, “were going back and forth,” as she was calling Reshaun’s phone and Tyree was using his phone to track his brother’s location.

“He told me, ‘Marbles’s car [has] been in the same place for 20 minutes,’” Doris says.

Tyree soon received an instant message.

“It said, ‘Marbles been shot. Marbles been shot,’” Doris says. “That’s how we found out it was him.”

Late last week, Doris Cates organized a balloon release on the grounds of the Grace Baptist Church on Cole Mill Road to honor her son.

“It was a big turnout,” she says. “We had over 500 balloons, all red, white, gold, and black. Some of them spelled out his name.”

She wonders if her son wasn’t the victim of someone jealous of his transformation.

“Sometimes when people see you trying to do good, you got enemies that just don’t like what you’re doing,” she says.

There was standing room only early Monday afternoon for Cates’s funeral service at Bell Yeager Freewill Baptist Church, just across the street from the apartment complex where he grew up.

The overflow crowd of mourners, many dressed in red and black, filled the pews of the handsome church with its redbrick interior and tall, rectangle-shaped stained-glass windows. Among the attendees were Brenda Howerton, cochair of the county’s board of commissioners, and three city council members: Javiera Caballero, Leonardo Williams, and Middleton, the city’s mayor pro tem.

Many of the mourners were in their 30s or younger. Distraught mothers, some who had also lost children to gang-fueled gun violence, stood and pleaded with young people in the pews to stop hating and killing one another.

As a convicted murderer, Reshaun Cates was fighting to stop that hate, against all odds.

“Every one of us has a chapter in our lives that we don’t want to end there,” council member Middleton told the mourners about Cates’s journey to redemption. “Reshaun kept writing his story. He didn’t want it to end with gangs. He wanted to be there for his son. He worked for us because he would not let the story end with a chapter he was not proud of. Reshaun kept writing his story and it ended on a good chapter.”

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