'I almost feel like I sacrificed my son to save more lives'

TACOMA, Wash. -- Where some see blight, Shalisa Hayes sees a blank canvas.

Standing at the corner of E. 56th Street and Portland Avenue, the crosswalk signal offers a rhythmic beat. "Bum-bum-bum," it sounds, repeated again and again. "Bum-bum-bum, bum-bum-bum" -- as if her son's heartbeat pulses through the neighborhood.

It is here, Hayes says, that the land has been earmarked for her son's memory.

"I almost feel like I sacrificed my son to hopefully save more lives," Hayes says. "He's gone, but now in his memory somebody else will be able to have somewhere to go, so they're not in places like where he was."

Billy Ray Shirley III, 17, was gunned down after a fight broke out at a party on Tacoma's Center Street in August 2011. Almost two years later, his murder remains unsolved.

"We have no one being held responsible yet," Hayes says, standing on the wetland-filled field about a mile from her home, "but as I've said from day one, the day will come. So I try not to focus on it too much."

Instead, Hayes, along with her son's friends and complete strangers, have focused their efforts on a foundation started in Billy Ray's memory. As someone who volunteered with local community groups, it was Billy Ray's dream to put a community center where there isn't one: in his neighborhood on Tacoma's east side.

Since his murder, hundreds of teens have raised money, volunteered in the community, and lobbied lawmakers for funding for their mission. This week, they got a giant boost when Gov. Jay Inslee signed the new state budget, which included $400,000 for the community center.

"Mouth on the floor, can't pick it up," Hayes said, describing the moment she found out about the funds. "I mean, really, did this really just happen?"

"I think the main goal is to make a better life for the next generation, make a better life for our little sisters and little cousins," said Briana Williams, 18, a classmate of Billy Ray's, who helped in the fundraising, "so they don't have to do what we did."

"It was really sad that someone so close to me could be gone," added 15-year-old classmate Taylor Sellers. "It seemed like (Billy Ray) would be the type of person to want to help out others, help out with kids."

The group hopes to have a feasibility study done by October and then put the community center on the fast track to break ground. Hayes knows the state money won't cover the entire cost of the building, but hopes it convinces donors to join in the cause.

"There's always space and a place for opportunity," Hayes said. "It's just that somebody has to get up and do something to make it happen."