A liturgy for tragedy

The corner of 29th and Franklin in the Whittier neighborhood of Denver, Colo., where De'Quan Walker-Smith was shot and killed on March 19. (Marrton Dormish)
The corner of 29th Avenue and Franklin Street in the Whittier neighborhood of Denver, Colo., where 18-year-old De'Quan Walker-Smith was fatally shot on March 19. (Marrton Dormish)

I never met 18-year-old De’Quan Walker-Smith. However, thanks to an invitation from my friend and pastor Kathy Escobar, I had the privilege this morning of participating in an hour-long remembrance of Walker-Smith’s tragic, untimely death. I joined seven others, representing several area churches and Christian ministries, at the intersection of 29th Avenue and Franklin Street in Denver, Colo., where on March 19 Walker-Smith was the victim of a drive-by shooting.

The beautiful, yet unassuming “Moment of Blessing” liturgy that we observed was inspired by Street Psalms, part of the Issachar Community and Mile High Ministries in Denver. Each of us volunteered to lead a different part. I read a short description of the gang-related events of March 19. Together, we recited Psalm 23 and the Beatitudes from the Gospel according to Matthew. We prayed over the ground where Walker-Smith was fatally shot, which is across the street from a popular dog park and Manual High School: “…We come together this day to reclaim this space of death as a place of life. This place where violence occurred we are reclaiming as a place of peace. This place that causes us fear, anger, and pain, we are reclaiming as a place of hope and community…That which was taken away from us by violence and death, we reclaim as a place of life, community and hope.”

I didn’t grow up in the Whittier neighborhood where the shooting took place, but as a public school student during Denver’s era of mandatory busing for racial integration, I attended Cole Middle School a few blocks away. From 1987-1989, I learned to play up-tempo basketball under the watchful eye of Cole’s gym teacher, Rudy Carey, who was then the head coach of the Manual High boys basketball team and is now one of the all-time winningest coaches in Colorado high school basketball history. I still feel a connection to that neighborhood however slim that connection might be.

Kathy and I and other members of our local faith community soon hope to adapt the “Moment of Blessing” for the northwest side of the Metro area, which has experienced pain and violence of its own, and is, in its way, in need of “reclaiming.” In the meantime, my heart goes out to De’Quan’s community, especially his family and his friends, who have held public vigils of their own. May De’Quan rest in peace and may his neighborhood live in peace in his memory.

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