This past Sunday, I attended prayer services at the Antioch Baptist Church and the Union Baptist Church, both in Hempstead Village. The services were two of the saddest I have ever attended.
They were held to memorialize a 12-year-old girl, Dejah Joyner, who was shot Friday in the head while in the living room of her own home in Hempstead. She died of her injuries over the weekend.
This is not a time for blame or a time to talk about new legislation or whether new laws would work. Instead, this is a time for prayer for Dejah's family, reflection on who we are as a people, and yes, hope for the future.
You may ask, how can we be hopeful after a tragedy such as this? The answer is rather simple: Without hope, we cannot go on. We cannot fulfill our dreams, the dreams of our children, or even think about what young Dejah's dreams might have been.
This horrible event must serve as a wake-up call to a community that unfortunately has already suffered similar tragedies. Dejah's death must serve as a call to unity. It must be a call to service. And by that I mean service to one another.
We could talk endlessly about laws and regulations. But without helping one another, all the laws in the world would do us little good. To wipe out the scourge of gun violence in our communities, what this community really needs are jobs, quality education for our children and opportunities for all of us. We have not done enough to secure these things. We need to start now. It is one way we can keep the memory of Dejah alive, and keep her with us always.
Hundreds of people attended services at the Antioch and Union Baptist churches. They came together, families, children, young and old, as a community. They stood together and prayed together, and they held hands and sang. There was a spirit of hope in those two churches the likes of which I have rarely seen before in our community. And I have seen much in this community, where I was raised and have lived all of my life.
But as I stood at the two services, I asked myself why it took such a horrible crime as this to bring people together. It's true that people gather to help one another after all sorts of disasters. But why do people wait until tragedy strikes? If we were all together before the shooting of Dejah, if our children were with us, if we held hands, sang and prayed as we did on Sunday morning, if we did that all of the time, maybe Dejah would still be with us today.
Dejah might have grown up to become a senator, a chief executive, even president of the United States. Who knows? But now she will never get the chance. Forever in our minds, she will be an innocent 12-year-old in her living room, on her way, as I understand, to deliver a plate of food to her brother.
Do we want the lives of others to be cut short? Of course not. The question is, what are we willing to do to prevent this kind of senseless violence from infecting our community again? How much are we willing to lend a hand to young people, to community projects, to our schools, to those who have lost their way in the world? What are we willing to do to build up our community, to build jobs, good schools, parks, playgrounds and community centers?
There will be plenty of time to talk about laws and legislation. God knows we have talked plenty about those things. But now is the time to talk about us, who we are, and where we want and need to go.
The discussion is long overdue.
Lamont Johnson is president of the Hempstead school board.