Charlie Davis was laid to rest this week. Charlie wasn’t a celebrity or some star that the entire world knew. Charlie was a friend to my parents, a guy that grew up right here in the community. He graduated from Boys High, served his country in Vietnam, returned home and made a decent life for himself, his wife Lenora and their family. No bells and whistles. No unbelievable acts or unheard-of struggles. Charlie was a regular Brooklyn guy.
His funeral was on Tuesday. Hundreds and hundreds of people packed into Emmanuel Baptist Church to pay their respects. There were people in that church that I hadn’t seen since childhood, elders that used to party with my folks, faces that I remember from barbecues and from Junior’s, all there to wish Charlie well on his journey from here. The Boys High Guys, a group of friends that all went to Boys High around the same time as Charlie, got up and spoke about their friend. He loved his wife. He was a good friend to have. He’d go out of his way for a friend in need. He was funny and loving. He cared about his community and for his neighbors. Over and over, those who spoke told the truth about Charlie Davis. Black Veterans for Social Justice, an organization committed to servicing veterans and their families, were at the funeral en masse. The staff and the Board of Directors filled the entire left side of the church. Charlie was on the board of BVSJ, and what he meant to their mission was evident in their commitment to being there for him now. Even the pastor performing the ceremony was friends with Charlie. Pastor Perry laughed with us as he discussed his friend. He talked about planning a boat party, and Charlie coming to him and asking him to hold the boat from leaving the dock because he had a friend in town that needed to get somewhere, and he was going to drive him to make sure he got there. Pastor Perry laughed about it, telling Charlie, “You’re lucky I’m the Captain!” He held the boat for Charlie and Charlie went and did what he had to do. The funeral wasn’t sad. Folks weren’t melancholy. Everyone was in a great mood, more than willing to talk about their experiences in Charlie’s presence.
We live in an era where social media likes are more important than actually interacting with people in real life. I know people who have thousands of Facebook friends and they don’t know any of them. I walk the streets and watch as most of us are too consumed with our smart phones to even see the world around us. We don’t know the kid from up the block anymore. Kids don’t play outside like they used to, don’t bag groceries at the local supermarket to make some change, don’t play stickball in the street during the summer. The personal things that made us community, the interaction between youth and the elderly, the communication between neighbors, the trust we had in one another, these things are dying. We bury a piece of it every time another elder transitions.
The importance in those things is that communication and camaraderie amongst neighbors strengthens the community’s consciousness. The Boys High Guys are a bunch of 70-something-year-old men that have been friends for 60, and in some cases, 70 years. Their children know one another. Their grandchildren know one another. Jesse Scott is one of the Boys High Guys, and every time I see him in passing he always asks, “How’s your parents? How’s your family? Give them my best.” He cares about more than just what’s going on with him. He cares about what’s going on with all of us.
They all do. That entire generation does, because they were raised with a kinship of struggle, a togetherness predicated on the ideal that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Nowadays, the individual identity supersedes the community. It is I before we, mine before ours, and that shift in ideals destroys loyalty, and friendship, and community.
What is to come of a community that can’t come together and speak honestly about being united, standing together, loving each other, being there for one another in times of need? That was what I was reminded of in that church as we said good-bye to Charlie. I looked out amongst the pews and saw the community that raised me. They all raised me, not just Hopie and Pops, but Ms. Joan and Ms. Ware, and even Uncle Blackwell. And it made me think, who am I raising? Who are we raising? Thank you Charlie for being a stand-up guy and a model example. The baton that you’ve passed shouldn’t be a wandering one. It should be taken and carried on.