BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Jordan Fayson says at times it’s hard to believe he’s still here, alive and able to tell the story. He knows how close he came to dying on that fateful night of Feb. 24, 2019.
Truth is, he never wanted to go the party that night. Fayson never smoked or drank alcohol. He was an athlete, a gifted receiver who had big plans despite tearing up his knee before his senior season the previous summer. In one more week, he would be cleared to resume football workouts.
But his sister, Jocelyn, was leaving for the Job Corps the next day. All his relatives would be on the party bus to see her off. Jordan resisted. He had grown up in Buffalo. He knew what could happen on the city streets late at night.
“It was a last-minute decision,” Fayson said in a recent interview at his home on Harriet Avenue on Buffalo’s East Side. “She wanted to see me before she left. I wouldn’t have felt right not going to the party, because she was leaving the next day and I wouldn’t be able to see her for some time.”
Jordan is big on family. So, despite his reservations, he hopped on the party bus, which took the revelers on a fun ride through the area, up to Niagara Falls and around the city. Fayson spent most of the night looking after a couple of his cousins. At some point, they fell asleep on the bus while most of the others were enjoying the party.
As he recalls, it was close to 3 a.m. when a couple of Jocelyn’s friends shook him awake. His sister was outside the bus, in an animated argument with a couple of men.
“I got off the bus to help her,” he said. ““I was trying to calm her down and de-escalate things. When I grabbed her to settle everything down, the guy punched me.”
There was a scuffle, and he got the best of the other guy. The rest is hazy, but he recalls being separated from the people outside the bus. He heard a popping noise, like a bottle breaking, then the sound of people screaming and running towards him near the corner of Genesee Street and Jefferson Avenue.
“Then I heard another one, like ‘Boom’,” he said. “And that one hit me. It felt like someone was pushing me. I didn’t suspect I was actually shot. Then I heard another one and thought, ‘OK, it’s time for me to get out of here.’”
Fayson tried to run, but he felt his left leg go numb and he fell to the ground. He had been shot in the stomach.
“I was lying on the ground,” he said, “looking at the sky and thinking, ‘I can’t die like this. My little brother will never remember who I am.’”
Melissa Fayson was lying asleep on the couch with her other son, 1-year-old Julian, on her chest when she got the phone call telling her Jordan was being rushed to ECMC. What? Not Jordan. He didn’t smoke or drink, or run with gangs. Sports had literally kept him off the streets. He was a role model. How could he get shot?
“I went in his bedroom and grabbed the last thing he was wearing,” Melissa Fayson said. “A hoodie. I started holding it and talking to him. I smelled it and said, ‘I need you to hold on.’ When I got there, the doctors couldn’t tell me if he was going to make it, because every time they pronounced him dead, his heart would start beating again.”
Strong-willed with a big, powerful heart and big dreams, that was Jordan. He once wrote a report for Melissa, listing a bunch of famous people who had come out of Buffalo — actors, athletes, musicians, men of industry. He took inspiration in knowing that others from his hometown had done big things in the world.
“When he was 10, he wrote out a plan of what he wanted to do with his life,” his mom said, “and where he wanted to go. He told me he would go to a private school and I wouldn’t have to worry about the tuition.”
When he was in the eighth grade, Fayson saw that Cardinal O’Hara was holding football tryouts. He called his grandmother, Janice, and asked for a ride to the school.
Melissa was unaware of the arrangement. One day, she got a call from her mother. Janice said she had been sitting in her car outside a school in Tonawanda for an hour and a half, waiting for her grandson. Melissa told her to go inside and see what Jordan was up to.
Janice went into the school and saw Jordan sitting at a table across from two older white men. “They seem captivated by what he’s saying,” she told Melissa over the phone. Oh, he had tried out for the football team and been offered a partial scholarship to the school.
Fayson attended O’Hara for two years and played football. But Melissa, who sells leather goods, said it was hard keeping up with her share of tuition. Jordan transferred to Middle Early College High, which is located inside Bennett High, and played football for Bennett as a junior.
He flourished at Bennett under Steve McDuffie, and after a breakout junior season, Fayson — who was 6-1, 175 pounds and ran a 4.5 40 — was being recruited by a number of Division I football school, including Boston College, Rutgers, Central Michigan, Albany and Buffalo.
But in the summer of 2018, during the final moments of a camp at Central Michigan University — which Jordan and McDuffie said was ready to offer a scholarship — Fayson suffered a torn ACL in his left knee on a late hit.
The college recruiters backed away. An ACL takes a year to recover, with no guarantees, and it’s not as if Fayson was a hot enough prospect for schools with other, healthier alternatives.
“It’s just a shame that he got injured and what he’s been through,” McDuffie said. “I think he was on his way to being the top receiver in New York State. He would have carried us to a state championship that year if we hadn’t lost him. His ability to track the football in the air was phenomenal. It’s a rare ability. The great ones have that.”
Undaunted, Fayson worked to recover from his knee injury and prepare himself to convince colleges he was a viable prospect. McDuffie worked with him regularly in his rehab.
“So I was on the right track as far as coming back in my recovery from my ACL injury,” he said.
Then, one winter night, he was visited by an unspeakably cruel twist of fate, but one that’s all too common in America’s cities nowadays. Random gun violence.
Melissa rushed to ECMC, where the doctors told her it was touch-and-go with Jordan. They told her to go home and rest, they’d know more in 24 to 48 hours. She later discovered that he had lost consciousness and been on the verge of being declared dead 14 different times.
“When I got home, the surgeon called me,” she said. “They’d found out why he kept bleeding out. The surgeons had discovered that the bullet had severed a vein and hit an artery. They gave him 52 blood transfusions and as they gave him the blood, it was flowing out of him.”
They tied off the vein and Jordan survived. He was in the hospital for a month, until March 26. Like the little boy who kept the list of all the famous Buffalo people, he’s a good one for details.
“I was 186 pounds when I got shot and dropped down to 122,” he said. “I was in the hospital system for three months. I couldn’t get up and go to the bathroom myself. I needed assistance to use the restroom. My mother had to help me clean myself up. I couldn’t clip my fingernails or toenails. My toenails would grow out of my socks.
The bullet damaged a vein in his left leg. Fragments went to his lung and nicked his spine. Melissa remembers seeing Jordan’s intestines spread outside his body while doctors washed them clean.
“It did a number on him,” she said.
Sure, it was a rough break, but Jordan’s life had always been about imagining life’s possibilities, of reaching high. He wouldn’t let this defeat him. There were too many people looking to him, starting with his baby brother, and so many loving adults who had helped him along the way.
He wanted to list them all. His friends’ moms, Lynn Grucza an, Lakisha Prim, who were like second mothers. James Young. Eugene Coleman, who takes photos of the city athletes and who sat by his bedside when his mom, who slept in the hospital almost every night, took rare breaks.
Then there’s Danielle Steele, a special education teacher at Middle Early College who was Fayson’s home instruction teacher during his recovery. She said Jordan, who was a strong student, was always kind to the developmentally disabled kids in school.
“He would always pair up with those students,” Steele said. “He would come after school and visit them. When Jordan was on the football team, the football boys would sit together at lunch. They would have these kids come over and sit with them and make them feel a part. During a pep rally, they would make sure the developmentally disabled classrooms were involved.”
Steele will never forget the first day she saw Fayson after the shooting. “It was awful,” she said. “I thought I was going to go in and he would be sitting up the bed, ready to learn. It wasn’t like that at all. He was in the fetal position. He had to keep the lights on at times because it hurt him to have the lights on.
“His mom never left his side. I cannot say enough. What a dedicated mother she is. I remember looking at her, like ‘How are you holding yourself together here?’ I left the room after dealing with her the first day and I just lost it. I cried and cried. I knew I had to be strong in front of him, but that was not the boy I was used to seeing.”
Fayson, who wants to study biochemistry and become a genetic engineer, wanted desperately to graduate with his class in the spring of 2019. Steele made sure he got the work done. Some days, she would come over and take his little brother to the park to give Melissa a break.
He got his high school diploma on time, too. He walked across the stage, proud as could be. Steele was there.
“Oh, I was,” she said. “Crying my eyes out! He’s such a great kid. To this day, he still sends me text messages to say thank you. Thank you for helping save my life.”
Not every child is so lucky. Gun violence is the leading cause of death among young African-American males, who are eight times more likely to die from firearm homicides than their white counterparts.
In March of 2019, while Fayson was recovering from his injuries in the hospital, his good friend Deron Allen was shot to death on St. Lawrence Avenue in North Buffalo.
Neal Dobbins knows the pain all too well. Dobbins lost a son, Neal Jr., to a stray bullet in 2003. Two years ago, after hearing about the shooting deaths of a Buffalo woman and her 17-month-old grandson, he founded MVP, a group dedicated to fighting gun violence in Buffalo — in his case, the interdiction of illegal guns flowing into the inner city.
There are more than 1,000 members of MVP, dozens of them women and men who lost sons to gun violence.
“This is closer to us than one can think,” Dobbins said.
“We’re living this every day with these young people. We’re living it.”
Dobbins re-lived it with Fayson, who lives nearby and was a classmate and friend of his son, Hakeem. Hakeem was a basketball star at Middle Early and is now starting point guard at Finger Lakes Community College.
“My little man Jordan,” Dobbins said. “I picked him up every day on Weber and Delevan and dropped him off at Middle Early College. How do you think I feel? This kid is like a son to me. Every single morning. Colleges were fighting for this kid to play wide receiver.”
Fayson says Dobbins was like a second father to him, the “coolest dad” a kid could have.
“I don’t hold anything against my dad (Clyde),” Fayson said. “He’s a wonderful dad. He has 12 children. So it’s hard for him to get around to every last one and show them the same attention. That’s why I have so many role models in my life.”
Dobbins spoke often about losing Neal Jr., and how he wished he could have him back again. That’s why Neal is so close with Hakeem, always worried about the next gunshot. You only get so many chances in life.
Jordan, 19, intends to make the most of his opportunities. At first, the doctors thought he might never walk again. But he’s getting stronger. He’s on schedule to graduate from ECC in January and plans to attends the University of Albany and walk on to the football team.
“After being shot, I thought everything was over with,” he said. “I had 90 percent nerve damage in my foot and my leg, which is starting to come back. Over time, I started to notice my body getting back to itself. It shows a lot of improvement over last year. I figured the more I trust my body the more chance of getting back on the field.
“I’’ve been working out four times a week since June.”
He finds inspiration in Alex Smith, the Washington quarterback who in 2018 suffered a gruesome compound fracture in his left leg and septic infection that had doctors fearing for his life. Smith recovered and is back in the NFL.
Fayson said he doesn’t know the identity of the man who shot him. There was no case, as far as he knows. He never spoke to the police and has no interest in getting involved. He has deep faith in God and will leave it to him. He said he feels sorry for the person who shot him.
The important thing for him is to rise above it, to show younger kids that you don’t have to give in to anger or bitterness, that you don’t have to become a victim of the streets. He wishes all kids had a support system like his.
“It’s about being there,” he said. Once they find out somebody actually cares about them, they’ll start to do the right things. I thank God I have people like Neal, my mother, Eugene, my father and aunts and grandmother.
“I never thought I was going to die, because I’m mentally strong. And the more I can get my story out to others, the more they can understand life and death and the process that comes with it.
“I was actually in a coma — about five days. Once you give up, your heart stops beating. Giving up was never an option. I kept telling myself, ‘I want to make it back home. I am not going to give up.’”