By Ahjahnae LaQuer
The weather on the morning of Feb. 11 was frigid cold and windy. However, instead of keeping warm inside the comfort of their own homes, Joneé Brown and Gerald Williams were on their way to say their final goodbyes to their 20 year-old son, Gerald Ronald Williams.
The funeral was held at Reid Temple AME Church, which is home to 8,000 church members, 300 choir members, and a sanctuary built to hold 3,000 people. Ushers in white gloves greeted mourners young and old as they started to swiftly enter the building around 10:13 a.m. Guests signed in at the sign-in stations located on both sides of the sanctuary doors. Overhead two monitors displayed slideshows of pictures taken throughout Williams’ life.
“I remember him when he was a baby,” a family friend was heard saying as a photograph of a newborn Gerald R. Williams flashed across the screen.
At least 300 people gathered inside the Shekinah Sanctuary to pay their respects to a young man that had impacted the lives of many in such a short amount of time. Morgan State administrators and President David Wilson were also in attendance.
Inside the sanctuary, family and friends assembled a pathway to the front of the church where Gerald R. Williams’ body lay in a Carolina blue casket adorned with over a dozen white roses.
Suddenly a familiar voice was heard throughout the room, it was Gerald R. Williams’ voice coming through the speakers. A video had been playing that was taken on the day his mother told him that he had been accepted to Morgan.
“Are you serious?” was all he could say as he jumped for joy with a smile on his face.
Gerald R. Williams had close family ties at Morgan. He was a relative of the Vice Chair of the Board of Regents, Rev. Dr. Frances Murphy Draper and great-great grandson of Carl J. Murphy, whom the Murphy Fine Arts Center on campus is named after.
“There are no human words that can express how we’re feeling at this time, but I feel glad that there’s comfort in the word of God,” Draper said before reading a scripture from the Bible.
The funeral service continued with other readings from the Bible and the singing of inspirational songs.
Several friends and family members later approached the podium to give two minute reflections of the impact Williams had in their lives.
“The day he died, we were talking about grades and school,” said Matthew Oghogho, Gerald R. Williams’ roommate, “He told me he didn’t check his grades until the first day of the semester. I said, ‘Gerald, you be stalling.”
As the audience laughed Oghogho continued on to say, “He told me, ‘Nah I got a 2.8.’ I said,” Oghogho paused, “this year, we’re gonna aim for that 4.0.” The audience roared with applause.
Gerald R. Williams had goals and aspirations to become a sports broadcaster, similar to his uncle, Ronald Williams, whom he’s named after.
According to his uncle and many other friends and family members, Gerald R. Williams loved football and his favorite team was the Cincinnati Bengals.
Ronald Williams was excited when he heard that his nephew would be attending Morgan, but said his proudest moment was seeing him this past Thanksgiving.
“I was asking him how everything was going and he was so focused,” Ronald Williams said, “He said, ‘I got this’.”
The program provided at the funeral described Gerald R. Williams as “fearless”.
“Gerald was fearless because growing up, he was always the smallest person; He had a late growth spurt,” said Brandon Coates, Williams’ older brother.
“When he joined Duval High School’s football team, he was like the smallest person on the team. Like, not even just short, but literally like a small person, like 100 pounds,” Coates said with a laugh, “And he still went out there and competed. He was always small, I used to make fun of him and say, ‘You’re gonna be like Gary Coleman’.”
Coates went on to share memories of when he and his brother worked construction together, stating that his brother always faced challenges head-on.
“He was always right there beside me, no matter how skinny he was, he was never scared, he never quit,” Coates said.
Fearlessness was a trait associated with Williams even in his last hour.
“He wasn’t scared ‘til this day, he was there to help his friends, even until the day he died,” Coates said.
Vice President of Student Affairs at Morgan, Dr. Kevin Banks who sat beside President Wilson at the funeral agreed that the act of violence against Williams was senseless.
“As the pastor said, this was senseless, and we’ve got to be better as a learning community because that’s what we’re there for,” Banks said.
Banks urged student leaders to take initiative in building a stronger community at the university.
“I talked with student government the other day and I said, ‘You all have got to get out here and go around and talk to these students, listen,” said Banks. “‘Don’t talk at them; listen and hear what’s going on’. And we’ve got to build stronger community.”
According to Banks, students should be advised that everyone is going to be required to take conflict resolution mediation before they can register next semester.