A young girl from Hempstead who went to school one day and never returned there — felled by a bullet while eating dinner at home — inspired her school and classmates, who remembered her Saturday with dances and songs.
“It’s been a long journey, but today means a lot,” said Dameon Joyner, the father of 12-year-old Dejah, who was shot in the head last October by a bullet that smashed through her family’s living room window.
“It’s a beautiful day,” said Keisha Joyner, her mother.
The couple, granting one of their first interviews before the ceremony at the Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School, described their youngest as outgoing, playful, talkative and popular.
“She had a great heart,” Dameon Joyner said of his daughter, who especially loved the Hello Kitty cartoon character. “She was Daddy’s girl.”
She also was no stranger to occasional innocent mischief, according to her mother.
One day at school, Keisha Joyner said her daughter was doing something she wasn’t supposed to be doing out in the hall, and was approached by Cherie Dortch, the school social worker, psychotherapist and a family friend who also organized Saturday’s event.
By the time the encounter was over, Dejah had managed to shift the focus from herself to something she felt the school really needed.
“Dejah said, ‘Miss Dortch, we need to do something,’ and they started this girls’ empowerment group,” her mother recalled.
“She loved to dance, she loved to sing, she loved playing with dolls, and she had to have her nails done all the time,” Keisha Joyner said. “I miss her so much.”
Dortch, who plans to start a scholarship fund in honor of Dejah, said she hopes the girl’s death inspires a “Choose Love for Life” social movement that will help people embrace each other instead of violence.
“I don’t think people recognize that if it’s not love, it’s fear; and when there’s fear there’s anger, there’s pain, there’s aggression,” Dortch said. “When it’s love, everything flows easily.”
Student Hip Hop dancers performed for about 200 people seated at tables decorated with white tablecloths and pink sashes and pink flowers. The room’s pillars were draped in pink and white; Dortch wore a rose-pink dress and interim middle school Principal Hank Williams donned a bright pink “Choose Love for Life” T-shirt.
Williams called on adults and parents to “model” how they would like children to treat each other. “If we all learn to get along together, then hopefully they will too,” he said.
Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) sought to inspire, telling the students they are gifted and talented. “You are more than the media says you are,” she said.
After the performances, a chorus sang “See You Again,” a song by Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth on the “Furious 7” soundtrack that is a tribute to the late actor Paul Walker.
Dejah’s classmates then assembled outside, by the garden planted with flowers in the outline of her initials, hearts and the Hello Kitty character, to say a prayer and release pink and white balloons into the bright blue sky.