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Passing of Giants of the Human Spirit: Ten Days When Death Came Calling, Part One

May 6, 2016 by Herbert Daughtry

Often, we are asked, “Where were you when some momentous event occurred?” For example, “Where were you when Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, or President John F. Kennedy was assassinated?”; or, “Where were you when someone special person in your life was killed or died?”

I have been in the ministry for over 60 years, and I have never experienced the transitions of loved ones in such a short period of time: ten days – Saturday, April 23, 2016 through Tuesday, May 3, 2016. It seemed that news reached me every day of the transition of a person who was in some way close to me.

It started with a telephone call on Saturday, April 23, 2016 at 9:44 p.m. – it always seems to start with a telephone call. It was Tylibah Washington, a third-generation member of our church, The House of the Lord Church. She had bad news. Her aunt, Truly Washington, the sister of Yusef and Weusi, had been killed in a vehicle accident. Her body was mangled. She was in a coma and not expected to live. “Would you pray for her and the family?” she asked, “Would you also call my father, who is at her bedside in the hospital?” I called and spoke to Weusi, offering words of comfort, and prayed with him.

On Wednesday, April 27, 2016 at 9:05 am, when I was sitting in my office at the church, preparing the finishing touches for my weekly articles, my wife, Dr. Karen S. Daughtry called. Among other conversational matters, she said, nonchalantly, as if she was telling me something that I already knew, “Have you heard about Winston Hill?”

“No,” I replied, bracing myself for the worst.
She said, “Winston Hill is dead.”
“Tuesday night.”

After that, I heard and saw nothing as my mind took me on a ride down the corridors of history. Winston was a great friend. We shared many memorable times together. (I shall devote a full article to him in a later edition.)

On Wednesday, April 27th at 6:30 p.m., this time it wasn’t a call. It was word of mouth. Nick, the owner of Amarone Restaurant (one of our favorite eating places), met me at the door. His face was contorted with grief. Sadly shaking his head, as though it weighed a ton. The first words out of his mouth were: “Mayor Parker has died.”

He then proceeded to extol her many admirable qualities. His voice grew weaker until it became inaudible. He was saved from incoherency when the door swung ajar, and other customers entered the restaurant.

On Friday, April 29, 2016, I tried to make an effort to attend the funeral of Ms. Pearl Washington, the great point guard of Syracuse University. Because of traffic, I knew I would be late. I decided to return to my office.

At 12:05 p.m., I returned the telephone call of Ms. Natasha Panell. She wanted to invite me to be the Keynote Speaker at her brother’s Phillip Panell Program of Remembrance. There will also be a panel discussion. Eagerly, I said, “Yes.” Then, my wife reminded me that we had a commitment on that day. Regrettably, I had to call back and convey the sad news of the change.

Phillip was a fifteen-year-old lad who was shot in the back in Englewood, NJ by Officer Gary Spath on April 10, 1990. There were many marches, rallies, demonstrations in the towns of Teaneck and Englewood, NJ, even a march to Trenton – the capital of New Jersey (70 miles away). The jury found Officer Spath not guilty.

A little more than an hour later at 1:20 p.m., I received a call from Mr. Alexander Bethea. In a voice that trembled with sorrow, he said, “Would you say a prayer for my son?”

“What?” I asked. “Have they found your son?”

“Yes,” he replied. “They found him in the river.” His body was so decomposed we decided to cremate him. His son, Alex, aged 21, had emotional/physical challenges. He had been missing for two weeks. We had prayed that he would be found alive and unharmed. It was not to be.

It was 1978 when Mr. Bethea was a teenager, and I led a march through downtown Brooklyn, NY to secure jobs for the youth. His daughter, Breanna, and son, Alex, III, had joined our church in Jersey City, NJ three years ago.

On Tuesday, May 3, at 12 noon, I was in Augusta, GA conducting church business when I received a call from my administrative assistant, informing me that she had just learned that Afeni Shakur, the mother of Tupac, had died the night before from cardiac arrest. Afeni had joined our church around 1982, along with her sister, Gloria, and her two children, Tupac and Sekyiwa. Tupac was 11 years old at the time.

On Wednesday, May 4th at 10:00 a.m, I spoke to Sekyiwa. I expressed my deep, deep sorrow and prayed for the family. She gave me the information regarding the funeral arrangements. (I will return with a full article on Afeni Shakur and her family.)

… to be continued.