The picture shows the burned-out interior of family's house (COURTESY PHOTO).

CANCER, FIRE, RACISM

Local family says it’s been pushed to the brink.

Editor’s note: The following story appeared in the Jan. 4 print edition of the Lake City Reporter.

Joanne Perkins was sitting with her 6-year-old stepson, Ivory Norris Jr., at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville when her house burned down.

Perkins’ 18-year-old son, John Craig, had been cooking at the family’s home Saturday afternoon, getting ready to go to work. As he put some grease on the stove, Craig heard what sounded like rocks being thrown at the front of the house.

He looked out to see two teenagers knocking the taillights out of his Ford Expedition and took off running after them. Their blended family, Perkins said, was the only one of color on the block, and years of racism had finally pushed him over the edge.

A confrontation ensued, and deputies arrived on the scene. Due to the unwatched stove, the house wound up catching on fire.

“It was maybe 300 yards down the road where the commotion was,” Perkins said. “I have no idea how long it was burning, but it’s a total loss.”

Columbia County Fire Rescue said there was $20,000 worth of damage to the $40,000 home. Perkins said the kitchen, dining room and living room were all burnt out.

“We won’t go back to the house,” she said. “It’s pretty much gone.”

For 6-year-old Ivory, in his second battle with leukemia, there was no home for him to return to.

AN UNFRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD

Perkins moved to Lake City with her blended family in 2014. Her spouse, Ivory Norris Sr., and his son, Ivory Norris Jr., came along with Perkins’ daughters, Jayla and Angela Harrison, and her first son, John Craig.

They left New Jersey after visiting a military friend of Perkins’ in August of 2014. Perkins, an Army and National Guard veteran, loved Lake City so much they moved in September.

She never expected that she would be Googling “how to deal with racism” just months later.

“I absolutely fell in love with Lake City, I felt such peace,” Perkins said. “I felt like everyone was family, like everyone knew each other. I didn’t see it coming at all.”

Perkins said countless racially charged incidents have littered the two years the family has lived in Lake City. There was the mother who drove past her kids at the bus stop, giving them the middle finger and yelling that she’d “whoop their a--.” There was the neighbor who came to the door with a metal pipe after the family’s dog got loose, threatening to kill the dog if he found him running around again. There was the random vandalism of property and racial slurs yelled from passing trucks.

“[My kids] came home crying and yelling,” she said. “I’d never experienced anything like this in my life. We always felt like we weren’t welcome.”

Perkins was stubborn, though. She loved the house and all the space the kids had outside to play. They tried to stay above everything.

“I taught them to turn the other cheek and be better than that,” she said. “I kept saying, ‘as long as no one puts their hands on you, they can say whatever it is they want to say.’”

Perkins refused to let people affect how much she loved Lake City. She never thought the family would wind up forced out anyway.

THE FIRE

The juveniles who had thrown rocks at the house and knocked the taillights out ran down Northwest Ash Drive as Craig chased after them. Eventually, there was an altercation and Craig pepper-sprayed one of the juveniles, according to a CCSO report.

By the time deputies arrived and calmed things down, the grease on the stove had caught fire, burning the family out of a home.

Around the same time, Ivory Norris Sr., arrived on the scene, furious. He became irate and began yelling at neighbors that he was going to “beat their a--,” according to the report.

Deputies had to restrain and taze Norris to calm the situation, CCSO said. He was arrested and faces a charge for resisting without violence. He was released on $1,000 bond shortly after the incident.

“It got pretty messy,” Perkins said. “They reached their boiling point. They weren’t listening at first and eventually they had no choice because the cops weren’t going to allow that to happen.”

Throughout the incident, CCSO said, the juveniles were “disrespectful and smiling at neighbors” about the incident. They even admitted to deputies that they had intentionally damaged Craig’s vehicle. They were both placed under arrest on criminal mischief charges. The juveniles’ names were not released.

Two days later, when the family came home to try to retrieve some important documents, there was graffiti on their burned-out home.

On the back of the house was a single racial slur. On the side it read, “Trump 17.”

LEUKEMIA

Ivory Norris Jr., has been in the hospital since Nov. 21. He’s battling leukemia for the second time. He’s 6 years old.

As Perkins sat by his side on Saturday, she had no idea what was happening back home. She heard soon after the fire and rushed back to Lake City. She hasn’t seen her stepson since Saturday.

“Ivory’s very scared because now he knows that we don’t have a home,” she said. “He’s a little stressed out about being [at the hospital], and he wants to go home. And now we don’t have a home.”

Norris was first diagnosed with leukemia in 2011 when he was 1, Perkins said. He spent three years in chemotherapy. In April of 2015, he finally got out of the hospital for good.

Last November, a bad case of strep throat landed him in the hospital again. The leukemia was back.

“My baby still finds a way to smile at me,” Perkins said. “He’s very smart and very aware of what’s going on with him and his body. And his spirit is still so pure.”

His first-grade teacher at Pinemount Elementary, Amanda Burgess, said Ivory was one of the sweetest, most caring students she has had.

“He gave me a hug as I opened the door every day,” she said.

Now Ivory needs a bone marrow transplant to fight off the disease again, Perkins said. She’s sure he’ll keep fighting and beat it. The family is using him as inspiration as the world seems to fall down around them, she said.

“If he can handle that, then we can handle anything,” she said. “We’re some survivors. We’ll figure it out.”

The Red Cross is currently putting the family up in a local hotel, but they are looking urgently for a 3-4 bedroom place to live. Norris and Craig both have full-time jobs, but the family also put up a crowdfunding page on YouCaring.com called “Blended Family” to try to help raise more money for the family to get through the difficult time and give Ivory Jr. a place to come home to.

“[He keeps calling and asking,] ‘Am I gonna have a home? Am I gonna have a house?’” Perkins said. “[I tell him,] ‘Of course you’re gonna have a house. I’m gonna find you something.’”

Editor’s note: The following story appeared in the Jan. 4 print edition of the Lake City Reporter.
 

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