Exclusive to Our Time Press
By Kerryann Natoya McNish
We were supposed to have been in each other’s lives forever, from weddings to vacations, our children’s graduations, our grandchildren …
Three weeks ago, our journey together that began 23 years ago at age three, ended abruptly and now I have only my memories and a treasure she left behind for the world. This experience of having to say goodbye to someone close to your heart is a fate I wouldn’t wish on an enemy. And in the case of Alicia Mack, my dearest friend, it is bittersweet.
Alicia was the kind of woman who gave all she could with no expectations of a return: always offering words of encouragement and a shoulder to cry on. Alicia was a woman of integrity, a woman of distinction, a woman of substance, a woman of God.
When I was three years old, my family migrated to Brooklyn, NY from a town called St. Mary’s on the island of Jamaica. My twin sister Terryann T. McNish, and I were enrolled in the MacDonough Street Headstart program located in P.S. 5 at Halsey Street. There, we met Alicia.
While Terryann and I were quiet and reserved, our new friend Alicia was spunky, energetic, and vibrant. She was a sweet kid who quickly befriended us, despite our unfashionable appearance and our unique accent. Those early years were the beginning of a sisterhood that would withstand all challenges, and transcend dilemmas for more than 20 years. We eventually grew from being naive children — eager to venture out into the unknown — to compassionate, assertive women, with Alicia leading the way.
In elementary school, Alicia always stood out. She once was selected to be the voice of our school’s morning announcements, singing the Black National anthem, “Lift Every Voice” or when she recited Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech during Black History Month.
At MS143 School of Performing and Fine Arts, Alicia was enrolled in accelerated classes, and was a member of the student government, the school choir and the drama team. At Talent Unlimited H.S. (TU) she studied drama and before graduating, she performed in Off Broadway plays.
Alicia, Terry and I used to pretend we were girl groups like TLC, or SWV and our, favorite, Destiny’s Child. She always said, “I want to be Beyoncé. She has grace. She’s sensual, and she’s a leader.” She had a powerful voice. .
After TU she attended Norfolk University for some of the “best years” of her life, pursuing a BA in Mass Communications. She built long lasting ties, but unselfishly gave it all up to return home to Brooklyn to care for her parents.
Once back in Brooklyn Alicia was no longer the same Alicia she was when she left.
Shortly after returning to Brooklyn; Alicia took part in Vannguard’s YAI, an Internship program that offers young adults the opportunity to explore the realities of professional careers and the inner workings of the business world.
Alicia interned on Legacy Ventures’ Project Green spring 2009 program founded by Legacy Ventures and supported by media partner Our Time Press. She directed activities that increased community awareness of the benefits of living greener, and community-based resources including the Neighborhood Housing Services of Bedford Stuyvesant, Magnolia Tree Earth Center of Bedford Stuyvesant, Herbert Von King Park and the Hattie Carthan Community Gardens. She also coordinated a tree planting with 600 schoolchildren in the park, and took part in a yard sale fundraiser for these programs.
Her byline article about her experience appeared in Our Time Press, and I remember when she told me how inspiring it was to know someone like Mr. Greaves and Mrs. Green-Greaves of Project Green. She described them as an example of what African American couples should be doing, being bosses, and she respected them for their multiple projects that served the community.
In 2010 Alicia became a member of the Bedford Stuyvesant Early Childhood Development Center (BSECD), eventually assuming the role of Family Worker. She prided herself on her work and established genuine friendships with the BSECDC parents by facilitating counseling groups like Parents in Journey
On May 14, 2013 Alicia accomplished a major dream: college graduation. She successfully earned a Bachelors degree in Public Relations & Advertising from St Francis College in Brooklyn N.Y She later worked as a PR account exec for R&B artist Dave AL (formerly of the group 718 who was signed to Capital Records). The day after her graduation, Alicia’s informational and inspirational syndicated talk show, “FYI” (“Free Youth Inspiration”) which she copyrighted, premiered on BCAT channels 79, 68, 83 and 43. She was concerned with the lack of substance in television shows geared towards African America youth, and was bent on changing the landscape with “FYI.” which she produced, directed and wrote. “FYI’s” first episode entitled “Get Your Life” showcased people who straightened up their lives after experiencing many adversities. I was her very first guest. In that same episode she presented a tribute to Mr. Hicks of the Vannguard YIAP who passed away earlier that year. I felt her joy because two of her biggest achievements came back-to-back. Alicia would say, of course, that her greatest accomplishment came when she accepted God as her personal Lord and Savior.
Alicia went from being a fun-loving partygoer to being a Deaconess at The Resurrected Church (TRC) presided over by Bishop Ronald T Perrien. Her duties included but weren’t limited to the youth ministry and evangelism. At age 26, Alicia was able to accomplish more than many people may ever get to do over a lifetime. But perhaps the greatest joy to this woman who loved children came when she learned early summer 2013 that she was expecting.
Alicia loved to sing. She was full of soul. Every time she sang you would have no choice but to stop what you were doing and listen. And she sang every morning to her baby. One of my favorite songs she composed is “Love Lesson Learned,” a masterpiece about the symptoms of a broken heart — pain, self-doubt and confusion – and learning from it all. Alicia was on the verge of a singing career: she was performing at funerals, weddings, Open Mic’s, as well as auditioning for such television broadcasts as P. Diddy’s “Making the Band”, “America Idol”, and “The Voice.”
I still hear her voice reciting the words to what became her favorite song in the last days of her life, “Zion” by Lauryn Hill (which is where she got the inspiration for her then-unborn daughter’s name).
“Unsure of what the balance held I touched my belly overwhelmed by what I had been chosen to perform. But then an angel came one day told me to kneel down and pray for unto me a child would be born woe this crazy circumstance I knew her life deserved a chance but everybody told me to be smart look at your career they said, “Alicia, baby use your head, but instead I chose to use my heart”. This was Alicia’s version of this beautiful song. We use to march around imitating a Church choir singing the words to the chorus “MARCHING, MARCHING, MARCHING to Zion, Beautiful, beautiful Zion.” Just repeating it over and over as my daughter watched us astonished and confused. And as Alicia hoped her Zion would hear.
On December 16, 2013 I received a call from Alicia informing me it was determined she would deliver Zion Tyana Mack, three month’s before Zion’s March 2014 due date.
I was familiar with the trials Alicia encountered during the seven months of her high-risk pregnancy, but I was surprised just the same. I rushed to Downstate Medical Center to be by her side. We talked excitedly about her new role, as a mother.
Alicia had a routine C-section that went off without a hitch. I was there the whole time waiting until she came out of the operating room. At 4:08 p.m. Alicia gave birth to beautiful Zion, a precious miracle – born at 1.8 ounces, 3 months premature.
I was then able to see Alicia after the birth. She was in recovery, heavily medicated, but she had not seen her baby. She was told that the baby was fine, and she would get to see Zion in the morning, and that all she should do is think about regaining her strength. She was in considerable pain, so I called the nurse, and she was administered more pain medication. She was soon dozing off to sleep. I kissed her and told her I love her, and would see her the next day.
Later, I texted her knowing she would be too tired to read it that evening. I wanted the message to be waiting for her when she woke up. The message partially read: “from school to regular life and now even parenthood …. I’m so proud of you Alicia … you are officially a mom. Zion Tyana Mack is perfect just like her mother: strong … Alicia; you are one of the strongest woman I know. God bless you always.”
Around 6:00 a.m. on the morning of the 17th of December, I received a call from Alicia telling me she felt better and she just wanted to sleep. We giggled a little as I kept calling her Mommy; using the tone of my daughter’s voice. She then went on to tell me how much she loved my daughter, Epiphany and me; I told Alicia that we loved her too. She responded that she was tired and wanted to sleep.
It was our last conversation.
Later that evening while returning from surgery, her mother, Mrs. Nancy Mack, received a call from Alicia’s dad, James, urging her to get back to the hospital. A blood clot had formed in Alicia’s leg and instantaneously traveled to her lungs. It caused her to go into numerous cardiac arrests. Then, her heart, tired, stopped pumping on its own. She lost consciousness, and fell into a coma.
Before dusk, Alicia regained slight movement in her upper body, she was even able to comprehend and communicate with us by blinking her eyes. I went to sleep in the waiting room of the hospital that night feeling so optimistic that we would be able to communicate with hugs, kisses and words. But that never came to be.
The night of December 18, 2013, my sister Alicia Mack lost her life.
Alicia’s funeral was packed in the sanctuary and mezzanine at Upper Room Baptist Church down the street from the Bed Stuy Volunteer Ambulance Corporation. Bishop Perrien of Alicia’s home church, TRC, resided. There was wall to wall sad faces and the sound of weeping.
But I have a lifetime of memories: the voice, the facial expressions when she heard or witnessed something she disagreed with, her inability to be negative regardless of how bad a situation looked, her spontaneous dance breakdowns that often came at inappropriate times, but evoked laughter from bystanders; her infectious laugh, her long conversations, how we partied hard Saturdays and did our walk of shame on Sundays, her first heartbreak, her first menstrual period.
We were blessed to have known a woman who constantly aspired to bring positive change and hope to all she met and who did not fear to give of herself.
I was blessed to be the recipient of that gift, and I rejoice in knowing I am alive to celebrate Alicia’s greatest gift, a wee warrior at Downstate, who is blessed with a great legacy.
As Alicia would have sung, “Now the Joy of my world is in Zion.”
(Note to readers: Ms. McNish is a student at Metropolitan College of New York, majoring in Human Services. Kerryann journals and performs at Spoken Word events. An aspiring writer, she says this story about her best friend, Alicia Mack, launches her first step towards that goal. The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Written by Ms. McNish with Bernice Elizabeth Green)