number 32 for 2013 – donitra henderson

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:

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.

5 thoughts on “number 32 for 2013 – donitra henderson”

  1. It’s interesting to hear something positive about Donitra first hand. It makes me view her in a different light, especially hearing about her son. I have reverence and respect for the dead, but with all due respect, she came across as an angry, ghetto, trashy person. Not at all saying she is or isn’t, but that’s the way she presented herself to me. About 2 months ago, Donitra threatened to kill me after an argument we had in our college class when she was cheating on an assignment and I spoke up in front of everyone and told her to stop cheating which the professor heard. He wasn’t angry, but told her to stop cheating. Since the assignment was graded in class, she quickly learned that despite her attempt to cheat, she still got the assignment horrifically incorrect. She yelled at the teacher for pointing out her mistakes and for letting me tell on her, and the professor in turn had to yell at her… and my professor never gets mad. He is the most mellow and kind teacher a student can have. She followed me after class and threatened to hit me, then threatened to shoot me. I’ll never forget her exact words: “I swear on my son, I’ll kill you if I see you again. I’d rather get kicked out of school than see you alive.” How can someone so easily throw her child’s name around when threatening others with murder? Why use an innocent child’s name to swear on in the name of such a hateful act? I reported her to the campus police and they talked to her and she apologized, saying she was just mad, had a “bad day”, and spoke out of anger. She told the cop to apologize to me since she wasn’t allowed to speak to me or else she would be expelled. She stopped coming to class a month ago since she was getting kicked out of her apartment and was trying to find housing. Then our professor announced today she died. It’s ironically tragic how she was threatening to murder me over such a small disagreement in class and it almost got her kicked out of our college. Now she gets murdered. I feel so sorry for her life and poor choices she made… she was clearly struggling with her own issues and demons and I was on the receiving end of one of her “bad days”, as she had told the cop. I hate to admit it, but I truly believe she had terrible karma and it got her back in the end. I could say she was a product of her environment and I’m sure she was a good person at heart, but her actions towards me were so insane, that it leads me to believe I was not the first person she threatened to shoot over nothing. It may very well have been this attitude and lack of respect towards others that sealed her terrible fate. Either way, her situation is tragic. May she rest in peace and I hope her soul finds peace wherever it is.

    1. While your opinions and experiences with her may different than mine, I value the fact that you can be objective about them, even if they are different than what others may be saying. You get that the bottom line is that a life was lost and a young boy has no mother. I’m glad there was some sort of reconciliation between you two (albeit through another person). At the end of the day, you all could have had the seeds for an incident to have taken place that we all would have regretted – perhaps with both of you suffering horrible circumstances. That’s how all of the violence starts…

  2. Pingback: who is nicka smith? » saying goodbye – {donitra henderson funeral} shine in peace

  3. Pingback: who is nicka smith? » 2013 year in review

  4. First of all I am going to say to THE ALMIGHTY, IM GRATEFUL, secondly I Don’t read this GARBAGE ABOUT WHO WHEN WHERE and WHY people say things about folks they DON’T EVEN KNOW. Whomever this anonymous person is that made that NASTY comment about my Daughter, you didn’t know her APPARENTLY ESPECIALLY if you spoke like that, and if this were true you WOULDN’T have done so in that manner. This is why I DON’T DO FACEBOOK or none of those other MESSY ASS WEBSITES people air ALL of their personal BUSINESS. SO YES DAMN NEAR THREE YEARS LATER I’m just reading this B.S., and HELL YES, it has me FIRED UP. All I can say is GOD BLESS you. I am older and I WILL BE THE BIGGER PERSON. Whatever happened at school why would you MAKE A FOUL ASS COMMENT like that after her tragedy. Do you NOT have ANY DIGNITY about YOURSELF, or were you REALLY JEALOUS., and even if she did make a statement like that to you, do you FEEL BETTER, because you DAMN SHO DIDN’T APPROACH HER WHEN SHE WAS HERE, HAVE A WODERFULLY MISERABLE AND SHITTY LIFE, YOU SCARY ASS CUM BUCKET.

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