'My son, my son'
Friday was the funeral for Bryan J.D. Hollis, 23, at Bethel Baptist in Watts.
Hollis died Aug. 28 after he was shot in the Nickerson Gardens housing project.
Babies cried and squirmed as the burgandy-upholstered pews filled for his service. Some of the mourners wore T-shirts with Hollis' picture.
"My son, my son," she had written. "I don't know how to say what I'm feeling right now.... I will miss you so very much."
The tribute underneath was from his sister: "This is like unreal," her entry read. "Just him lying there, all the blood he lost and nobody to help him."
For most of the service, his mother sat silent, gripping a fan on stick, taking deep breaths, now and then lifting her dark sunglasses to dab her eyes. Two young women sang without accompaniment. A third walked up to microphone, tried to speak, then shook her head and sat down with a sob.
James Smith, a Watts youth worker, rose to describe how Hollis recently came to him "ready to change his life, to give up bad things and do the right thing for his family," Smith said. Another mourner remembered how he made people laugh. "He will be a comic in heaven," she said.
A family friend addressed the young men in the pews. A few cried discreetly. Others slumped, staring into space with clenched jaws. "You guys need to sit down and think about what you are doing to each other," she said.
"I'm out of the program," she admitted, leaning into the microphone. "But I want to say something."
She took a breath, then began to speak:
"If you can do anything in your power to prevent another black man from dying, you need to do it," she said, her voice rising. "I'm angry!"
As she spoke, a young man Hollis' age leaned forward, and buried his face in his arms.
The mourners filed up to view the open casket. A woman sobbed. A young man looked at Hollis' body, then threw his program down and crumpled to the floor, crouching with his head in his hands.
At last, a mortuary man prepared to close the casket. But Eunice Blackwell stepped in front of him.
First she pulled the thick cloth up to his chin.
Then, with small motions, she tucked the cloth around his head, straightened his pillow, and smoothed the folds of the cover.
When she was done, for a brief instant, she let her hands rest lightly atop the white cloth.
Then, with a slight nod, she stepped back and turned away.