Makayla Myers to Jayden Lucas

Makayla Myers to Jayden Lucas

Jayden, nothing in this world can separate us. Not even if we’re in two different- technically- dimensions; there is nothing that is going to stop me from loving you. And even after you’re gone our relationship is still evolving, and my love for you is still growing. I cherish you forever and I thank you for all the times you motivated me. You pushed me when I felt like I couldn’t push myself.

I’ve had rough days (I’m very busy) and whenever I would see you, you would make the whole week good- you would light up my day. And we could be together and just be in each other’s presence, and that was enough for me, all the time. It was enough for me. We didn’t have to say a word. It was just us being in that moment; it felt like, kind of, the world stopped. Time didn’t mean anything and whatever was stressing me out the day of, the day before, any upcoming engagements, it was like it wasn’t there. When I was with you, there was nothing on my mind but just enjoying the moment. I’m glad I got to share that with you and I feel like a relationship like that is very rare and it’s not easy to come across, so I just appreciate everything…everything.

When I think of you, I think of you as my light in the tunnel, or my glistening moon in the dark night; it sounds corny to say, but you light up my world. Losing you physically… I lost one of my best friends first. My partner. My confidant. My teacher, and the many other roles you played- And you can believe I grieved individually for all that you were. That’s what’s interesting about it: I’m grieving you and I feel as though the measure of my grief measures the love I have for you. At this point, it’s been a year but it still seems like yesterday… and then it feels like forever, also, because I’ve never been apart from you for this long. I cherish all the memories, so even now, after you passed, I radiate with love. I have so much love to give and I can’t share it with you anymore so I just find other ways to translate that. You were very loving- not just me, with everyone. Your family- you adored your mom. And so I try to live how you would want me to live… With intention, with purpose for the both of us.

I give this a lot of thought: I always use the word “rare” when I’m talking about you, but you are a very rare soul. You treated me like fine china, you were very gentle with me. And sometimes, especially teenage girls, we’re not always gentle with ourselves. Being a Black woman is not easy and of course, I’m not perfect- but you always treated me like I was. You were always delicate with me even if we were arguing- as couples do. You were very gentle and soft-spoken with me. Even in my own family, I’ve never experienced a connection with someone like that, where even though you’re mad you could still hug me and tell me that you love me. You could still treat me with the utmost respect. It was amazing. So I’m deeply indebted to you because I feel like I would not be in the place I am if it wasn’t for you, Jayden Lucas.

I love your family. I’ve gotten closer to them after your passing. I’ve noticed that your wonderful personality is a reflection of both your parents. So basically everything I loved in you, I see it in your family and know where it comes from. I love you- you’re my heart- and I love your parents for giving me you. I felt like at first I was alone without you, but then I realized that I will never be alone because they carry you like I carry you. You’re always going to be with us and we have more in common than we know. It’s like that example of collective healing, you know? You were like my backbone…but now I have your parents to help pick me up. I was ready to do that for them, but it’s been an exchange really.

You know how they say you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone: it’s not that I ever didn’t appreciate you- I always appreciated you and I always made sure you knew that- but after your passing, it’s like, WOW. I didn’t really understand the magnitude of our connection until it wasn’t there anymore. You actively pursued me, so I didn’t have a chance to forget how well you treated me. You never failed to tell me how beautiful I was or how much I meant to you. It meant a lot. That’s one of the things I really miss- I could always talk to you whenever. Anytime I needed you, you were always there, or you were offering your listening ear. 

Middle school. We met when we were about 10 or 11. We were friends. You knew you liked me ever since the first moment you saw me. And I, being a young girl, was like, “what are you talking about?” I didn’t understand it until years later when you were still saying the same thing, so you were my childhood sweetheart, and then my high school sweetheart, and then coming into adulthood. I remember you telling me when we were kids (back when I thought you were insane for wanting to be girlfriend/boyfriend) that one day you’d get me, and you told me to watch and remember you said that. I laughed it off and now I realize you were right. You used to meet me at my train stop. You would get on the sub at Girard, and then go all the way to City Hall and wait for me to get there. After that, we would go on the train from City Hall to Frankford Transportation Center, and then we would get on the bus- the 67- together. And my stop was actually after your stop but you would ride past your stop, so I could get to my destination, and then get back on the bus and go home. And this is an 11, 12-year-old boy doing this. Eventually, when we got to high school, you stayed in the same area and I went to Girls’ High so I ended up in Olney. You got out of school some days before me and then some days after me, but you would come and pick me up from school when it was raining, or when you didn’t have practice and I didn’t have practice. You would pick me up from school and take me home, or I’d meet you at your school and then we’d go home together. That was kind of the dynamic of our relationship.

You definitely taught me how to love. I feel like it’s crazy to say because I’m very young, but I feel like you taught me to love and to be a better woman, and I’m just coming into my womanhood.

A lot of the time I cry happy tears because of the love we shared. It was so strong and powerful. And it conquers all; it’s stronger than hate and stronger than grief! You made me believe in love and that’s all I can kind of say. Now, I tell people “Jayden’s my muse”. I never really used to draw as much but now I draw…I sing love songs, and I paint pictures of you. I even have started to dress like you; your colors, certain brands you would wear. You’re my muse. I’ve even started writing poetry about you, that’s how powerful you were:

I wish it was that simple to name the things I love about him. It would probably be easier counting each grain of sand at the beach tbh. I could go on and on. From his pearly white smile to the way his eyes shine amber in the sun to the way he walks, talks and dresses. Even the most imperfect parts of him were beautiful to me.

What makes me love Jayden is the way he makes me feel. He makes me feel like gold. Precious and Irreplaceable. Valued and Worthy. He lifted me up when I was down. Like Whitney Houston would say he makes me feel like a Million Dollar Bill. He always treats me with care, even the way he speaks to me is gentle but not too delicate. He helped reveal scars I never knew I had and helped me nurse them. I love him because around him I was always myself. My best self, at that. I was never afraid to show him the ugliest parts of me and be judged. He accepted them too.

Your death was my first death experience and the fact that it was someone so close to me was heartbreaking. It was devastating to me, and I didn’t know how to even start to process any of it, so it took a while. I felt like I was going crazy because I didn’t know what to do. I DID know that you made me happy, and still make me happy. So I would look at your pictures- I just love looking at your pictures- and I’d be crying and it would turn to smiles. It would turn to joy! It was like a revelation. I surrendered to love.

Jayden, smiling
J&M heart in the sand
Jayden art by Makayla
Nakisha Billa to Domonic Billa

Nakisha Billa to Domonic Billa

My beloved Domonic, 

I have been writing this letter to you for some time now; nothing seems quite good enough. I want everything to be perfect for you, my dear son. It is my hope that with each written word, it expresses just how I truly feel, how much I love you, how much I miss you, how much you mean to me, now and forever more.  I hope you’re watching over us— can you see how lost we are without you? I hope you’re OK with me telling and showing  the world just how special you really are. I can hear you saying, “my mom, still my biggest fan” (smiles). I’ll always be.

The world will know who Domonic Billa is.  

You gave my life so much more meaning the day you were born. Watching you grow from infancy through your young adult years has been both very fulfilling and rewarding. So proud to be your mom. “Dom’s Mom”.

Ironically, I gave birth to you, but you gave me life. Every moment with you always brought me nothing but pure joy. My beautiful brown baby boy with deep rich curls as your crown, so perfectly fitting for the young king you are. I vowed to give you my best, and my best I gave, so protective of you. Do you remember the school bus, Dom? I purposely took that job just so I could keep a close eye on you— who better to keep watch of you than your mom? I had the best job in the world. Each day to go to work with you by my side, it gave me great peace to know you were safe right by my side. I wish I could go back in time…to relive those days. 

It was such a pleasure to watch you grow and be the all-star kid that everyone loved to watch. It didn’t matter if it was basketball, football, swim meets, or track and field, all that natural talent just shining through. Dom’s mom, the biggest fan with the loudest cheers, LET’S go Dom! Way to go Dom! That’s my son, Dom! 

I watched you go from all-star kid to this smooth, chill yet infectiously funny young man that o-so-many loved and adored, especially the girls. Everyone wanted to be in your presence, with your beautiful smile and that signature laugh. Dom, we sorely miss you!

If I had one wish it would be to have you here…

Thank you for honoring all my requests of you, from getting your driver’s license to graduating from high school. Even in the face of adversities you never gave up, you just fought harder to see things through. I always loved your dedication and tenacity. Carpentry certified and handy around the house, from hanging light fixtures to making minor car repairs. A working man at age 14 throughout your young adult years, I was proud when you started your career at Jefferson health care, to hear you talk about all your future plans and endeavors, so proud to see you gracefully making your mark in this world. Always willing to give a helping hand.  

If I had one wish, it would be to have you here…

I hope you knew even on my worst days, your presence alone made everything better. A sense of peace and serenity would come over me, just on the sight of you. The bond we share tells me you’re my soulmate. Some people think a soulmate is their significant other, but Dom— my son— you’re mine. Our connection is tied throughout all eternity. So remarkable and unique, my first-born, my friend, my Ace. 

I never knew you were leaving, never got a chance to kiss and hug you good-bye. When you left, a part of me went with you. So now I wait until we meet again.

If only I could have you here…

 

If I was granted one wish, I’d wish you were still here.  I love you forevermore, 

Mom

Domonic and mom Nakisha posing in red on graduation day
Kiz’mek Allison to Darnell Tyreek Wheeler

Kiz’mek Allison to Darnell Tyreek Wheeler

Dear Darnell,

When you left, you took a part of me with you. My mind and soul will never be the same…

You were so outgoing and funny. I miss hearing your voice and seeing your face, but that’s why I promise to keep your name alive until we meet again.

Long

          Live

                    Darnell

                              aka Croc 18st!

 

Love,

 

Kizzy

Dorothy Johnson-Speight to Khaaliq Jabbar Johnson

Dorothy Johnson-Speight to Khaaliq Jabbar Johnson

I want to talk about a mother’s love. A mother’s love is so different than any love that you will ever know. The love of a mother for her child, this other human being that she carried for nine months in her body and brought into this world, is a love with no comparison. You bond with your child each day as your pregnancy proceeds and it carries on throughout their life and even their death. That’s a mother’s love.

My firstborn, my only son, Khaaliq Jabbar Johnson, 24 years old, was murdered. He was shot seven times at 2 o’clock in the morning. When I got that call and realized what had happened, there was a pain in me and a voice that came out of me at Einstein Hospital that I didn’t recognize- that I couldn’t identify. There’s no pain I know- and I’ve lost mother, father, brother, siblings, lots of family- there’s no pain in the world like the pain of losing a son or daughter, especially when it’s violence. 

I remember early on wanting to talk about Khaaliq because it helped me to heal. I never wanted to forget him, never wanted anyone else to forget him. So I would talk about my son, in several different kinds of forums, with different audiences; but what I felt each time I talked about Khaaliq was that I had to defend him and advocate for him. I had to say that he was 24 years old, a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, doing all the right things with his life, going back soon to get a Master’s degree (I was going to get my doctoral degree) and we were going to work with children because that’s what he did- in a middle school in Germantown. He worked with children with special needs. I always felt that I had to identify who he was and what he was doing. Why? Because he was shot seven times at 2 o’clock in the morning. And I knew what someone would think about my son who was shot seven times at 2 AM. I didn’t want anyone to think that about him because that’s not who he was. So I felt the need to be defensive about who he was. 

And that’s because society in general has painted a picture of African American males between the ages of about 13 and 24, of who they are when they’re murdered. Now that is not always the true story- we know that- of who they were. But whatever the story, there’s a mother’s love for that son or daughter whose life has been taken. It’s undying love regardless of circumstances. So let’s say that a young person makes a bad choice and it ends up in their demise. No one should judge them or their mother. We want to know who this young person really was; we want to know about that mother’s love, because it exists no matter the circumstances. And no one has the right to take another person’s life, so I don’t care whether it’s a graduate of a university or a young man in the ‘hood, who maybe has experienced some trauma of his own. Instead of asking what’s wrong with a young person involved in violence; what happened to them, maybe? What led them to make the bad decision? We don’t know. 

There’s a belief system out there that is so damaging to us as a people, especially to our young children growing up that says if you live by the sword, then it’s OK for you to die by the sword. What kind of message is that? What kind of message are we sending? No one should die as a result of violence. That’s what our organization, Mothers In Charge, is doing every single day, trying to stop the violence but also stopping the mentality that drives it and that reports it. 

But- a mother’s love is a mother’s love. And she should not feel any kind of way because society wants to say who her child was. No one has the right to do that, just like no one has the right to take someone’s life. So anyone who loses their child to violence should be shown empathy and compassion, because there’s no pain in the world like having to bury a son or daughter because someone made a conscious decision to take their life. That mother’s love is real, no matter the circumstances, and what she needs more than anything after having to bury her child because of violence, is compassion. Empathy. Understanding. Love. The mother needs love, because she was a mother in love with her child whose life was snuffed out, and no one should judge that, regardless of the circumstances. We’ve got to learn to be understanding of our sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers. This gun violence crisis- this epidemic in our community- the damage it’s doing is unbelievable. Mothers, don’t let anyone complicate it more than it needs to be for you. Don’t let any story or any report undercut your mother’s love no matter what.

A portrait of Khaaliq in paint