By Mariah Stewart
Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American
ST. LOUIS — Walking into the church sanctuary, Natasha Kelly grabbed her eight-year-old’s hand.
“You okay?” Kelly asked. Her daughter hesitantly nodded yes. “You Sure?” Kelly persisted. “If you need to leave at any time, let me know.”
Her daughter, Akeelah Kelly, leaned her head onto her mother’s arm, embracing a comforting side hug.
Akeelah, dressed in pink, squeezed her mother’s hand tighter as she walked into the sanctuary and saw the small, white coffin sitting in front of the pulpit, surrounded by pink floral arrangements.
Akeelah was attending her neighbor, Jamyla Bolden’s, funeral.
“They were friends,” Kelly told The American.
Bolden, 9, was fatally shot on August 18 while doing her homework on her mother’s bed at home in Ferguson. Several shots were fired. Bolden’s mother, Kendric Henderson, 34, was stuck in the leg. A single bullet was the cause of Bolden’s death.
Bolden’s homegoing celebration was attended by a few hundred mourners at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in North St. Louis on Saturday, August 27.
It is the second August in a row that the church has held a high-profile funeral. Last August 25, the church hosted the service for Michael Brown Jr., the unarmed black teenager who was fatally shot by a white Ferguson police officer.
Brown and Bolden died just meters away from one another in Ferguson.
Since Brown’s death, tensions between police and community members have been high.
However, protesters, police and public officials gathered together under Friendly Temple’s roof to remember Bolden’s life.
The only black female on the Ferguson police force, Sgt. Dominica Fuller, spoke during the funeral procession.
Fuller said she had her own nine-year old daughter help her think of what to say.
“Your daughter loved you.” Fuller said to Jamyla’s mother. “When you’re alone by yourself and smell or feel something and you don’t know where it came from, that’s your angel.”
Ferguson police officer Gregory Casem shared his condolences with the family before the church as well. Casem was the officer who responded to the emergency call for Bolden.
“I picked Jamyla up, held her to my chest and told her to hold on,” Casem said.
“I don’t know whether I said that aloud or to God.”
During the procession St. Louis Alderman Jeffrey Boyd – who lost a nephew to gunfire in July – presented Bolden’s parents with an alderman resolution.
Tears flooded the sanctuary as Bolden’s fourth grade class from Koch Elementary sang the Dionne Warwick classic “That’s What Friends Are For.”
“Keep smiling. Keep shining,” the fourth-graders sang.
“Knowing you can always count on me, for sure.
That’s what friends are for. In good times and bad times, I’ll be by your side forever more…that’s what friends are for.”
Many of the children wiped tears from their eyes as they sang.
During their performance, an audible cry was unleashed from Bolden’s mother, releasing a butterfly effect of weeping throughout the sanctuary.
Two young ladies presented a praise dance, which brought an uplifting of praise throughout the sanctuary.
Bolden was a child praise dancer at St. John Christ of God in Christ Church #2. Her dance instructor said it was an honor to have Bolden on the dance team.
“She had the heart and drive,” said the praise dance minister, Mila Hogan.
According to the reflections on her brief life, Bolden was very caring and joyous. She loved singing and cooking and was always willing to lend a hand.
Ira DeWitt, wife of the St. Louis Cardinal’s president, agreed to pay for the Bolden family’s funeral expenses.
DeWitt also reached out to celebrities to share their condolences and help begin a new anti-violence campaign for St. Louis in a video shared doing the funeral.
Hashtag #savestl was remarked by familiar faces, like singer Monica, rapper Nelly, comedian Guy Torry, Mayor Francis Slay, PJ Morgan from Maroon 5 and Cardinal baseball player Jason Henry.
“It’s time to let everyone know that black lives matter. We will stand together even when you think we can’t, we can,” said Monica.
“Let’s please stop the violence in our city.
I know people are not happy with things going on, but this kind of violence can not be tolerated,” said Nelly.
On Wednesday, August 26, De’Eris Brown, 21, was arrested in connection with Jamyla’s death and charged with one count of second-degree murder, two counts of unlawful use of a weapon and three counts of armed criminal action. He is currently being held on a $750,000 cash-only bond.
Police said a witness helped to identify Brown.
“Jamyla may not be here right now, but she still speaks.” said Pastor Gregory Bowers of St. John Christ of God in Christ Church #2, Bolden’s father’s pastor.
“We are all a different person because of her death. We have all come together as a result.”