Marcus Davis Jr. and his mother, Patricia Lyons

A drive-by birthday parade, replete with a firetruck and police cars – lights flashing – brought some unexpected excitement to the 1100 block of Fowler Avenue on Thursday. A hearty “Happy birthday, Marcus!” came over the loudspeaker, accompanied by shouts, cheers and sirens.

Marcus Davis turned 13 on Oct. 1. His birthday follows a sad anniversary. His father, Marcus Davis Sr., was killed on Sept. 30, 2010, and this birthday was going to be a particularly tough one.  

Patricia Lyons, Marcus’s mother, understood that. It would be a subdued birthday. His godfather would take him shopping; there would be tacos for dinner, she said. She did not tell him that when he woke up  he would see the “Happy Birthday, Marcus” sign that took up the width of the front yard, nor did she mention the evening surprise.

With help from Evanston Police Officers who volunteer in the Officer and Gentlemen Academy, a male-mentoring program for middle school youth, she organized the birthday drive-by. A seventh-grader and honor student at Chute Middle School, Marcus is one of the Gentlemen.

“He thought he was going to have an ordinary day,” she said. The drive-by was Officer [Adam] Howard’s idea. I just put the sign in the yard. He said, ‘Let’s try to do a parade for him He’s gotten really good grades this year,’ and I thought that it would be a nice surprise for him. … It was so hard to keep it a secret [from Marcus], because he is so tech savvy, so I had to tell people, ‘Don’t screen shot, don’t send it to him, don’t let anybody see it.’”

Marcus said he did not expect anything like this when he woke up that morning. “I was very surprised. There were a lot of police cars rolling down the street, fire trucks, a bunch of people I know…The day was amazing… “I just thought I would get a lot of money, go get some stuff from the store or something, just have a good day and eat some dinner. And then my mom brought all these people, and I was just like, ‘Wow!’”

Evanston resident Tawana Ross, a volunteer with the Officer and Gentlemen Academy, joined the celebration. “With the pandemic right now, we want our boys to know that we still care about them…So even though we’re social distancing, we want them to know we’re here regardless…We keep up with their birthdays,” she told the RoundTable.

Officer Howard said, “We’re just here to support her [Ms. Lyons] and him on his birthday…She organized everything. We just contacted some of our partners from the Evanston Police Department, and the Fire Department and the community to join us in the celebration. … In all this chaos, this is a feel-good story. Marcus has endured a lot. He is one of the young leaders in Officer and Gentlemen Academy. He inspires a lot of the young men in the program; he inspires me.”

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...