WOODLAWN — The sprawling sanctuary of New Beginnings Baptist Church was awash in pink Wednesday as hundreds of friends, extended family members and neighbors came to mourn 15-year-old DeKayla Dansberry, who was stabbed to death during a fight on May 14.
Students were bused in from Johnson College Prep High School in Englewood, where DeKayla studied and ran track, leaving the service overflowing with young people long after all the church's seats were filled.
The surge of support didn't surprise DeKayla's sister, Jayla Glanton.
"She just had so much positivity, and everyone saw it all the time," Glanton said after the service. "She loved everyone, and everyone loved her back."
Through a long string of eulogies, speaker after speaker described a girl who was confident, brilliant, ambitious and caring. Teachers said DeKayla was on track to finish the year on the honor roll, and friends recalled her dreams of leaving the city to make a career of helping others.
"She was devoted and loving, and she was a leader in our school...she was one of the best things this community had to offer," said Ameshia Cross, an administrator in the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which includes Johnson College Prep. "You don't ever want to bury a child, but you really don't want a bury a child who in the midst of everything happening around her, was able to fight back...and do everything right."
Cross, who said she knew DeKayla since she was 7, used the tragedy as a warning to the hundreds of young people sitting in the pews.
"We also must remember that we shape our own futures, so I ask every person in this room to honor DeKayla by remembering all the other kids whose lives are at stake," Cross said. "Because she should still be here, thinking about what kind of college she wants to attend."
Putting an end to the violence in Parkway Gardens, the housing development in the 6400 block of South King Drive where DeKayla was killed, would be a mighty task. The complex has seen six people shot since April 17 alone, including a 30-year-old woman who was left in critical condition hours before the funeral Wednesday morning.
Family members said DeKayla's own brother, Rashawn Johnson, was shot and killed by police years earlier. And one of her childhood neighbors, 14-year-old J-Quantae Riles, was gunned down last summer.
Speaking at the end of the service, New Beginnings Pastor Corey Brooks offered a grim challenge to his congregation.
"We've been having all these meetings with politicians and people coming in to try to save the community, but I've got news for you: no one's going to save this neighborhood but us," Brooks said, to nods and cheers. "The help ain't coming. You can't depend on institutions, you can't depend on systems. You've got to take responsibility for yourself."
Part of what makes that kind of change so hard, one relative said, is an entire generation of young people more willing to endure violence than challenge it.
"It's just normal for them, like it's a part of their lives," said McKisha Davis, a cousin of DeKayla's mother. "You see them all sad inside the church, then they come out and it's like they've forgotten all about it, and they're ready to fight again."
Glanton, too, said she felt like living around so much death had desensitized her and her friends to it.
"My mom would show me pictures of people who died, and I don't know, I guess I never really felt anything," she said. "But I never thought it would come for my sister like this. This is too close to home."
At a vigil held for her sister last week, Glanton said she was bothered by the thought of all the people who could have stopped the murder but didn't.
"I was looking around at all these people who were standing there," she said, "And I'm like, why couldn't they help her?"
A 13-year-old girl was charged last week with DeKayla's murder. The girl's 35-year-old mother, who allegedly gave her the knife she used, was also charged.
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