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Doretta's best friend was Juanita Smith. The two women lived next door to each other at Charlie Parker Square from the time the complex was built in the 1970s, and their grandchildren — including Shauntay and a boy named Josh Hudspeth — grew up as if they were all one family.
"It was close to where it was like, she could walk into my grandmother's house unannounced, and I could do the same with her grandma," Hudspeth tells The Pitch in a phone interview. "It was that kind of relationship."
Henderson hung out mostly with boys — her brothers, a cousin and Hudspeth. (One brother, Rodney, did not return calls for this story.) Henderson remembers visiting elderly neighbors in the projects who would sell kids little candy bars, Laffy Taffys, soda pop. Hudspeth remembers sharing a mattress with Henderson for naps, playing in the streets in the summer, aiming fireworks at each other in July, having water fights and walking to the nearby Gregg/Klice Community Center to shoot hoops.
Henderson remembers that all the kids in the projects had to go to church. "We had to go to bed early on Saturday nights, and in the morning everyone would put on their suits and dresses. I never liked wearing dresses, not to this day."
As hard as Doretta and her neighbors might have tried to make Charlie Parker Square a safe place for her grandchildren, they couldn't prevent the street elements from finding them. The neighborhood has been immortalized on YouTube, where a filmmaker named Aquis Bryant has posted his 2005 series, Hood 2 Hood: the Blockumentary, a five-hour road trip through the worst ghettos in America. Bryant visited crime-ridden blocks and housing projects in 27 cities, encouraging his subjects to brandish arsenals of automatic weapons, bricks of drugs and thousands of dollars in cash for the camera while talking up their neighborhoods. The Kansas City segment was clearly filmed in Charlie Parker Square.
In it, a tall kid wearing a white T-shirt, a black hoodie and a tan hat introduces himself to Bryant's camera as "Tay Diggs." He says, "Missouri. Twelfth Street. Twelve hundred. The real mob right here, me and my goon squad."
Hudspeth is visible behind him, wearing a puffy black jacket with "Chicago" written across the front, a striped shirt and a blue-brimmed cap labeled "12." Hudspeth takes the hat off, points to the number and says, "Twelve hundred, all day."
Diggs pulls a plastic bag of white powder from one hoodie pocket and a black Glock 9 pistol from the other and spreads his arms wide like he's embracing all of 12th Street. In a later shot, he emerges out of a doorway wearing a vest strapped to his chest with Velcro. "Man, you know, that protection," he says.
Henderson says she knows Diggs, that they grew up together. "He was cool to me growing up. He played basketball."
Hudspeth says Henderson was a good kid, but she had a "turning point" if someone threatened her or her family.
"I'm not going to sit here and sugarcoat a lot," Hudspeth says. If someone confronted her, he says, Henderson wasn't afraid to stand up for herself or her family and neighbors. "Some people would let it go. She wasn't the type of person to let anything go.... She'll fight a boy or a girl, no matter how big you are."