if the pain of losing one of our ancestral project students wasn’t already enough, it got even worse when we discovered tonight that yet another was senselessly killed…in front of her son. (photo source: facebook.com)
can a person change your perspective about your life, or perhaps confirm your purpose, merely with a smile, or a willingness to learn?
tonight, as i sit here asking those questions, i also add “how” and “why” to the list. but all i can do is cry. donitra henderson was murder victim number 32 in oakland this year. that statement alone makes me want to scream. the person who committed the crime did so in front of her four year old son. now, i’m angry. why is this happening?!?
i met her last fall when working on the ancestral project which included a group of students at laney college in the beyond emancipation program. she was happy to be doing the work of tracing her ancestry and our team was equally excited to do what we could to support that. and now, not even six months later, she’s gone. gone for no reason.
when tyler was killed, i sat for weeks and asked myself if there was something more i could have done. sometimes, i think about the fact that his family has to live with the fact that he’s no longer here to experience life with them. this time, with donitra, the pain is just as raw and hurtful. but i have to see God in this because He’s there.
people i know have called me crazy for being so willing to work with youth and teach them about their ancestry. some of have doubted the value of it and think that only those who are seasoned appreciate it. they assume that youth aren’t interested and question why am i spending hours and hours of my time teaching them about history and how it relates to their lives and their family trees. they say the youth are a lost cause, especially being in the inner city, and they don’t think past themselves long enough to want to consider a pedigree chart. they’d rather have an iPhone or an iPad.
tyler is why i do it. donitra is why i do it. donitra’s son is why i do it.
someone reading this may do genealogy as a hobby or may consider it a passion. for me, it’s much bigger than that. it’s a purpose. there are days that life and systemic challenges that face the youth we work with are too much deal with – searching a census let alone filling out a family tree chart is out of the question. on those days, we don’t say “see you later, we can’t help you.” we dig deep. we share our story. we connect and give them hope. i can’t walk into a session and start talking about sourcing when one or more of their own has been killed the day or weekend before. THAT is what we experience along with the highs of finally finding your grandmother on a census or what her maiden name is. really, we are living life right along with them.
when i look at these faces…gone ENTIRELY too soon, my prayer is that something i said, taught, laughed at, or that we experienced made a difference for them and their families. that the family tree that they worked on and the documents they found are part of their legacy, as they would be for someone who is much older. that’s the reason why the work is needed for all ages.
“ghetto” kids or not. they’re entitled to a legacy…period.
to contribute to donitra’s services, please visit the site set up in her memory.