Hundreds gathered at Compton City Hall on Thursday to celebrate the life of young basketball prospect, Semaj Miller. The 14-year-old was gunned down in South Los Angeles on July 29.
The vigil had numerous speakers and performances to pay tribute to a young man who was passionate about basketball. Speakers said prayers in English and Arabic, the All That Dance Crew and the L.A. Limited Addition Drumline also performed.
Rapper Percy “Master P” Miller spoke at the vigil and donated new shoes and masks to the youth who were in attendance.
“We got to stop killing our future; that’s what we’re doing,” Master P said. “What is sad about this … Semaj Miller, my last name is Miller, that could have been my kid. And it’s sad that we’re going through this.”
Miller’s mother, Taloma, and his godfather Ignatius Kabuye performed a song and rap in honor of the slain 14-year-old.
“I feel like basketball was a huge part of his life, but at the same time, only a small portion of who he actually was.” Kabuye said. “He was a really goofy kid, loves to have fun, jokes in every situation, had a humongous heart.”
The 6’6” student athlete was bound to play basketball for Compton High School this fall. Although other schools were interested in him, Miller wanted to be a Compton Tarbabe.
“My son was the life of the party; he was always taller than everyone,” Taloma said. “He has been a bright, bright star in my life. I’m grateful that he was my son and I was his mom; he’s been an awesome, awesome blessing.”
Compton Mayor Aja Brown had known Miller for several years and spoke at the vigil, compelling people to find justice for him. The suspected shooter has not been found and police have not discovered a motive for the shooting.
“He loved his family, all of his siblings and he had a vision for his future,” Brown said. “Because of this violence, his future was snuffed out.”
To start the vigil, Greater Zion Church, pastor Michael Fisher, led attendees in a word of prayer. He mentioned how he too has lost several of his childhood friends to gun violence.
“The truth is that the streets are smaller than a lot of people think and somebody somewhere knows what happened and who did this to this young man,” Fisher said. “As we turn to God even in these hard times, these trying times, continue to come together as a community that we can turn our cities, our culture, our community around and make sure that these kids live to see old age.”
The pastor announced that he would open the parking lot of Greater Zion so AAU organization L.A. City Wildcats will have a place to operate, so youth will have a safe place to train during the pandemic.
One coach noted how Miller was on his way to a park the day he was shot. Miller would ride his bike or even walk 10 miles to play basketball. L.A. City Wildcats founder and president Derrick Cooper called Miller an “extremely hard worker” and “passionate.”
“I’m going to open a foundation in Semaj’s name,” Cooper said. “We just love him so much.”
On behalf of the City of Compton, councilmember Michelle Chambers recognized Miller with a poem.
“He was my nephew’s friend,” Chamber said. “He was at my brother’s and sister’s house all the time, playing with their children and I said, ‘That’s a big boy, you need a birth certificate, how old is this kid?’”
Miller recently graduated from Success Work College Preparatory Academy in Long Beach; the president, Valanitta Jingles, presented Taloma with Miller’s diploma and gave his younger brother, Michael, a full ride scholarship to the private middle school.
“Semaj Miller wore his heart on his sleeves, he was a big baby,” Jingles said. “I would have a conversation with him and he would end that conversation by hugging me.”
Mentors and coaches reiterated how Miller was innocent, respectable, and kind. He wore a size 16 shoe and was generous enough to share a pair of shoes with a fellow L.A. City Wildcat when he was given two new pairs.
“Most kids won’t share,” said Compton basketball coach Tony Thomas. “He shared his brand-new pair of shoes that he got from James Harden.”
Youth throughout southern California wanted to battle against him on court and the players at Compton high school took notice. High school players and adults would try their hand at playing against Miller.
“He used to always text me every afternoon, every day to come play basketball,” said his cousin Craig Walker. “I used to ball him up, had to teach him something. He was getting good; he likes to play. He wanted to enjoy himself, he was happy.”
Many of the speakers shared stories of how they also lost childhood friends to gun violence.
“I’ve witnessed a friend of mine at a young age—at age 14—be gunned down before our very eyes and it was while he was coming to rehearsal at church,” said Tim Davis, who sang a solo during the vigil. “I’m sick and tired of this.”
Philanthropist and former gang banger, Chico Brown also recalled losing his best friend at the age of 14. Thomas invited Brown to watch Miller play basketball.
“We have to pay attention to what’s going on in our city … this really, really hurts,” Brown said. “I was going up there every Tuesday and Thursday watching Semaj.”
Greater Zion Church youth department president Davion Pilgrim recited Bible verses and left an inspirational message to the family and friends of Miller.
“I want to encourage the family to remain grounded in faith, though it is clear that the devil is still working and tearing down our community,” Pilgrim said. “I like to reinsure my generation: be not dismayed God will strengthen us and keep us.”