July 8th my heart stopped. My faith was challenged. My 25-year-old nephew died in an accident. The loss of my father in 2004 was devastating. The loss of my nephew was beyond traumatic. When I received the news about my nephew, I was angry at God. All of my volunteer, youth mentoring, and coaching was because of him. This nephew was my first baby, my most spoiled. He always brought other kids around. I would tell him that auntie time is just for you guys. He would say, “But they don’t have anybody.” After my dad passed, to fill the gap I did things my dad would do with them. When my nephew started high school, we had weekly outings. I told them that we would go bowling, just auntie and the nephews. He asked, “Can I bring some friends? There’s no youth group at the church and the parks don’t have after-school stuff for us?” I relented, “Okay, bring some friends.” When Saturday bowling arrived, 20 teenagers showed up, mainly boys. “Hey Auntie Ronda!” By his junior year, I was teaching ACT prep, job training, and having summer and winter retreats. All because this nephew could not bear to see other kids without. I told him that he could not save everyone. He would not listen to me. When he died, I said that I would not do any more volunteer, mentoring, or coaching. As I read messages from his friends after his death, I could hear his voice. “Auntie, they don’t have anybody. They need you.” It would dishonor his memory if I did not reach out. His friends are now my new “auntie’s babies.”
My nephew lived “I am my brother’s keeper.” At his funeral and at the Navy Memorial, over and again young people and his commanding officers repeated how he was a leader and brother to all. Several friends commented that when things were bad in their life, my nephew would say, “If you don’t have family now you do, I’m your brother.” When he passed, I was inundated with messages from his friends from high school, band, the military, and his biker group. One woman reached out, “I did not know him but my husband served with him on a deployment. I have never seen my husband like this. He must have been special.” My nephew’s impact on others provided some comfort as we tried to understand why such a good soul was taken so soon. Before the funeral, my sister, his mother, was shocked that over 200 people attended a beach vigil to honor him where he was stationed. Strangers were reaching out. A state trooper that pulled him over for spending months ago reached out. “I remember him. He was special. I stopped him for speeding and ending up talking in the back of the car about life and faith.” Commanding officers from different deployments and bases he served reached out to my sister. All with nothing but praise and how even though my nephew could get on their nerves, he was valued and a leader.
My heart was still heavy because he had a family. My nephew spent so much time being his “brother’s keeper” I wondered who would look after his girls. Naturally we would, but they lost a father. At the funeral and the memorial, I was surprised at the young men. Many were military and others motorcycle buddies of my nephew. They all vowed to look after his girls. These young men, mid-twenties, set up what the young ladies dubbed “daddy daycare” for my great nieces. During the funeral and Navy memorial, they took turns babysitting. I barely had a chance to hold and spoil my great nieces because these young men took their promise to step in and watch over my nephew’s girls seriously.
Even after the funeral, I would check and someone was on “daddy daycare” duty. Young men with diaper bags carrying my niece taking her to the beach or playing with her. Every day, a different friend babysitting. I expected the support from the young ladies to be strong. However, I was floored by the support from these young men. They regularly checked in on not just on the girls, but my sister, her husband and also me.
The loss still hurts and tears fall at certain memories. I am crying as I write this. However, I am encouraged. Even in death, my nephew is his brother’s keeper and teaching me to have faith. Since the birth of my nephews and nieces, at night, I always prayed for them by name. “God bless….” After my nephew died, I cried and could not because his name was always first. After seeing the dedication of his brothers, now instead of his name, I insert the names of the “daddy daycare” crew.
There are tons of negative media images about black boys and men. I am glad to see and know black men who are being the village to our youth. I have new “auntie babies” via the “daddy daycare” crew. Auntie sees you, am thankful for you, and praying for you. Continue to defy stereotypes. Be your brother’s keeper.
This originally appeared in Ronda’s blog, Ronda-isms.