Today we held the funeral for Dillard freshman Marquerite Washington. She is another tragic victim of gun violence in thi city. The following are my remarks from the funeral today.
Part of my duties is to speak on behalf of the university in all types of situation. That includes celebrations of life. Most of the time, I have spoken in this capacity at the service of a well lived alumnus. But what happens when you come to celebrate the life of an 18 year old in college for just over one month? I struggled on Tuesday when I thought about what I would say today. My wife tried to encourage me, reminding me that it will come to me by Saturday; it always does.
She had shared the news with our pastor’s wife in Little Rock, who was intrigued and began to try to learn more about Marguerite, and sent an e-mail Tuesday night with a link to a news story that aired this past July 4th. The title of the story was “She’s still alive in me.”
There, on the screen, sitting in this sanctuary, I watched Marguerite Washington and Cheryl Guillery, a mother of 3 who needed lung transplants. Marguerite’s birth mom, Umeka Smith, an organ donor, died at 36 due to a stroke. Cheryl received her lungs, and concluded that Umeka would be alive in her.
That made me think. It is all of our responsibility to make sure we keep Marguerite alive in us. Tuesday I attend the launch of the flip the script campaign with the Mayor and Spike Lee to address black on black crime. The one minute video shared a series of headlines: Black males earn respect by killing each other, and black male returns with gun and takes victims life. It was a powerful message.
We all need to be committed to flipping the script. We must find out what we can do to stop this violence. We have to stop accepting this as normal. In fact, we need to have the same kind of concern and outrage with Marguerite’s murder as we did with Trayvon’s. If we only get mad when George Zimmerman kills, we’re not serious about making our community better.
But in the midst of this painful event, I found profound stories of love. I learned about a 36 year old organ donor who saved two people’s lives with her lungs and liver. A woman who, out of love, gave her daughter for adoption but maintained a relationship with her.
I also learned more about a daughter of Dillard, who adopted a child and raised her as her own, providing grounding, as well as exposure through church and activities. Margaret, your act of unconditional love moved me this week. When I learned this back story, I thought here is a woman who doesn’t just participate in church regularly by singing in the choir or reading a scripture; she is the church. If we all would exhibit your example of love, taking responsibility for children that our not our own in one way or another, we could flip the script.
I better understand you now. Your e-mail to me after I was on the radio trying to field tough questions about an issue I just learned about, or the note just thanking us for coming here to worship; It now all makes sense. And while you grieve, please know that Marguerite will be alive in all of us. No, I don’t have one of her organs, but I have this story to share as a reminder of my responsibility, our responsibility to children that are not ours.
Finally, take comfort. Your story is a familiar one. I know of a woman who also raised a child that was not hers. She loved and nurtured him, and he grew up to be a man who worked to help people. He traveled around doing these good deeds, and even found others who followed him because of his wondrous works. But one day her son died violently on a hill I believe they called Calvary, and he was buried, only to rise on the third day. It’s because of that woman’s son that I know Marguerite lives with her heavenly father.
And yes, Marguerite is still alive, in me.