Saturday, November 11, 2017

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1587: How do we deal with the death of our young as a result of violence?

  Sometimes death comes creeping into our lives. Other times death comes storming into our lives, our homes, our families, and our communities. We are born to die, but some die all too soon. It’s hard when death comes no matter the circumstances. But it’s really hard when death comes all too soon. It’s really, really hard when death comes violently and too soon at the hands of other human beings. Last week, death came storming into our lives all too soon.

  It was 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. Ebenezer Baptist Church was packed, but this was not a church service or church program. The church has one of the larger seating capacities of Black churches in Selma. Still a lot of people could not find seats. An usher created a seat for me on the very back row. As I sat there, I was torn. I did not want to speak yet felt that I must speak. When the time came, I went to the front of the church and sat near the speaker’s podium. Speakers were limited to two minutes each. I struggled as others spoke powerfully. Death had stormed into our lives and snatched the life of someone who was too young to die.

  I thought about how I had received a call early on Sunday morning. It awakened me, but I did not answer. The caller kept calling and calling, but I still did not answer. Finally, I relented. I felt that it had to be something both important and urgent. However, I have had too many early morning calls that were important but not at all urgent. Every call is important to me, but not all are urgent. I was glad I answered, and I was also sorry I answered. Death came storming into our lives.

  When I started speaking, I said to the family and all present that God knows what God is doing. We may not understand this profound truth in the midst of great pain, great suffering, and great loss, But God knows what God is doing even when life is so violently and senselessly snatched from one so young as Shykereya Leggett.

  I said that funerals are for the living. Shykereya has transitioned. Now we must transition from a place of deep loss, great pain, and mighty suffering to a place of acceptance and eventually peace.

  I said that Shykereya had a purpose in life. Her purpose was being a good mother to her 10-month-old child. Her purpose was being a good student. Her purpose was fulfilling her athletic scholarship. Her purpose was becoming a nurse so she could help heal others. She gave plenty of positive purpose to her own life. We must give purpose to her death.

  Shykereya Leggett was only 20. I knew her because she was a classmate and friends with my granddaughter, Askhari. They were classmates in the third grade when they started the Designers Club to help others. She stayed at our home a few times. She and Askhari were classmates all the way through graduation.

  I remember that Shykereya was very smart. I don’t think the ACT and other such tests really measure our intelligence, but she achieved a 26 on the ACT when all those in her class had much lower test scores. I remember that she was awarded a full scholarship to Tuskegee University. However, she said that she was going to stay in Selma so she could take care of her grandmother. Faya Rose urged her to go on to Tuskegee University and promised that we would help. She, however, stayed in Selma. She was only 20 when death came storming into our lives and violently snatched her life.

  I heard others say that Shykereya graduated from Wallace Community College - Selma. Then she attended Concordia College - Selma in the nursing program. She was on the volleyball team. She loved to make others laugh. Her friends call her "Blu." She was that kind of person.

  I don’t know for a fact how death stormed in and violently snatched the life of 20-year-old Shykereya Leggett. But, I heard that some young men had a confrontation in a nightclub. Security put one or more of them out the club. When the club closed and people were leaving, the person(s) who had been put out of the club had gone home, secured an assault weapon that would shoot up to 100 times a minute, and returned to the club. As patrons were coming out, they started shooting with this assault weapon. Shykereya was not doing anything wrong, just in a place so many young and not so young go.

  Shykereya gave purpose to her life. How do we give purpose to her death? We give purpose by stopping the pervasive violence in our communities. We cannot wait for law enforcement to act. We cannot wait for our leaders to act. We cannot wait for anyone, not even ourselves. We are the ones that must give purpose to the tragic death of Shykereya Leggett who died all too soon.

Epilogue – How do we deal with the death of our young as a result of violence? Do we make it a burden that weighs us down? Do we forge it into fuel that drives us to make sure we have fewer deaths? How do we deal with the death of our young through violence?

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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