LeChein Taylor took out a cell phone and called his brother Bo.
Bo Taylor, founder of the gang-prevention, intervention and life-skills program Unity One, didn’t pick up. His machine came on: “This is Bo, text me or leave a message.”
Bo wasn’t far away — his body lay in a casket 3 feet from where LeChein sat holding his cell and a microphone. The 1,000 people gathered last Friday in Gardena for the funeral of a man praised as “a warrior for peace” and “the sentinel of the streets” could hear Bo Taylor’s voice loud and clear.
LeChein left a long, loving message.
Darren “Bo” Taylor passed away from a form of mouth cancer August 11 on his way to Mexico, where he had been seeking nontraditional treatment for his disease. Near San Diego, Taylor passed out. Paramedics arrived quickly, but it was too late. He is survived by his wife, four children and many family members.
That day, 100 miles from where her son died, no one had to call Charlene Taylor with the news — she could feel the loss. “I felt him leave me. I just got sick. A mother knows.”
Celebrities, politicians, former members of some of L.A.’s toughest gangs, high-ranking members of the LAPD, a football coach, a mayor, a sheriff, family and friends gathered to bid adieu and to celebrate the life and work of Bo Taylor.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa likened Taylor’s passing to “when a soldier falls in the line of duty. Today, no one is playing Taps. But, today there are guardians of peace from Venice to Baldwin Hills to Pacoima, standing at attention for Bo Taylor.”
The mayor praised Taylor for trying to keep kids out of gangs and for encouraging the incarcerated to change their ways. “Bo was like a battery charger. When he left you, you felt you had been given a jump. You felt all charged up.”
Taylor grew up in Mid-City, on Lomita Street. “Even as a young boy, Bo believed in helping people,” his mother said. “He’d take out the trash for neighbors. There was a blind man down the block, and Bo would read the newspaper to him.”
He attended Los Angeles High School, where he played football. “He was the coolest guy I ever met,” said his friend Kim Johnson. “Bo could go anywhere, and no matter where he went, he was loved.”
Taylor wasn’t always so well loved. He was a member of the School Yard Crips and was shot at several times. In 1984, he joined the Navy and sailed around the world. But after an honorable discharge, disenchanted with available jobs, he stepped back to the streets.
Seeing the city on fire after the Rodney King verdict in 1992, Taylor changed. He realized his calling was to bring peace. He negotiated a cease-fire between various gangs on the Westside. He founded Unity One.
In an interview I did with Taylor 10 years ago, he said, “We’ve lost a lot of lives, lost a lot of battles, but ultimately, we will win the war. There are too many people stepping up with a voice in the neighborhood.”
Taylor became devoted to stopping the violence and helping people to find a better life. After years, recognition came, as did awards. In 2003, he was one of three winners of the California Wellness Foundation’s California Peace Prize.
One of his biggest supporters and admirers was USC head football coach Pete Carroll, who spoke passionately at the funeral. “I loved Bo Taylor,” Carroll said. “Bo was my hero. I love that he was so committed, so tough, so crazy. He would change attitudes one person at a time. Bo was a miracle, the very transformation we can strive for in this city.”
Comptson Wilson, 39, a.k.a. Capone, was one of those people Taylor changed. “I would be in prison right now if it wasn’t for Bo,” said Capone, a former Playboy Gangster Crip, who has been shot eight times and served 11 years in state prisons. “Bo gave me a job and helped set me straight. I used to be the main dude in the neighborhood for terrorizing, but now, thanks to Bo, I’m the main dude for helping kids in our hood. The kids see me and think, ‘If Bo could change a guy like that, then just about anybody can change.’”
On August 2, Coach Carroll and Taylor led a “March for Kids” peace rally at the Coliseum. Taylor, in obvious pain, looked at the throngs marching for peace along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and said, “Now, I can die a happy man.”
Carroll ended his tribute with a promise: “We are not backing down. The movement is on.”