Hundreds flock to Watts to mourn another murdered teenager
The sun was peeking through the clouds on Thursday June 19 as hundreds of teenage students from Washington Prep High School and family members crammed into Union Missionary Baptist Church on 110th St. in Watts.
Two weeks before, Clayton Mikel Shuford aka “Speedy” was living a life full of promise.
A former football player for Washington Prep in Los Angeles, the 18-year old was gunned down in the early morning hours of June 5.
The doors to the church were swung open and teen girls and boys made their way inside and sat motionless in the pews staring at the centered grey-coated casket.
Relatives and close friends positioned outside wearing white suits and blue shirts walked in unison slowly and quietly to fill the section of the church reserved for them.
Slow organ music began playing and the Rev. Jonny Brown began speaking.
“We will bless the Lord at all times. In heaven, there are no more tears, no more crying, no more dying. Oh magnify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together. Throughout this whole service I want to ask that you pray and whatever you do keep on giving God the Glory, because right now we need his power, we need his strength and we need his might.”
His message of inspiration, was interrupted with crying voices, sniffling and gasping for comfort.
The service was scheduled to start at eleven, but did not begin until twenty past, the choir section occupied by those wanting to pay their final respects to Speedy. All pew rows filled beyond their capacity. Some stood alongside the walls and others jammed the galley. Still others stood outside.
Teen boys’ haircuts scripted with $peedy, football teammates clasping his full color obituary.
His torn mother Nina Roberts, handicapped from a brain tumor, and who also lost a daughter in 2005 to a senseless murder, was accompanied by Speedy’s estranged father Clay Sr.
Sisters Norese, Charlese, Sherrel, Che’kera, Cladra and brothers Clay and Cahlil all nearby the woman they called their queen to comfort her as best they can.
Bobbi Green, Speedy’s former teacher was among those sitting in the choir section. Her face soaked with tears, the tissue in her hands drenched from wiping them away came back to say goodbye.
She had last seen him a few years ago when she taught him in her classroom, but stayed in touch through text messages. She left work to be at the funeral to process her pain.
His mother urged many of the teens to join church. She recalled the last time she saw him alive in the wee hours of that fateful morning when he said that he was going to hang out with a female friend.
Another close pal, spoke of how he and Speedy would always be together and remembered speaking to him that evening and asking where he was and whom he was with. He would never see or speak to his friend again.
By all accounts, Speedy liked joking, hanging out and enjoyed smoking pot, but he was a good dude. Just a year before, he graduated from Washington Prep in 2013 with honors in the Magnet Program. He was finishing his first semester at Southwest College.
Speedy was doing everything he could to give himself a chance in life, an opportunity to make it.
Clay Sr., looked Clay Jr. in the eye from the pulpit while speaking of his slain son, and encouraged, “We are going to get through this.”
Junior, perhaps reflecting the most pain, crumpled down to his knees, uncontrollable with his pain and consoled by friends of his youngest brother.
A cousin reflected on the times when they were playing in the backyard together as innocent children often do, but now struggled with how she can move forward.
Speedy’s football coach represented the strength of the occasion.
“There have been 25 murders,” he exclaimed.
“This is too much, you young people need to get God into your lives before it’s too late.”
Others, who knew Speedy, said that he was a good person, certainly one who did not deserve to be gunned down in his automobile as he tried to make his way home.
The circumstances of his death are suspicious by relatives and close friends’ accounts, and no one has been arrested for the crime.
The family relied on the Victims of Violent Crime program to pay for the services. A teacher purchased flowers just hours before the service to complete the arrangements.
It is a surreal experience that is all too common in the African American community.
A community that is suffering at the peril of its own.
A community where a teen is murdered and a community is speechless.
A community where the code of silence is don’t look and don’t tell.
It is becoming a warzone within itself. Speedy is the latest to be struck down way too soon, but sadly he won’t be the last until we desperately stop ourselves.