As Jelani Day remembered at service, mourners pray for healing, answers

“The journey does not stop here,” his mother Carmen Bolden Day said. “I’m only getting ready to lay Jelani to rest. But I can’t rest because I don’t know what happened to him.”

SHARE As Jelani Day remembered at service, mourners pray for healing, answers
A wreath encloses a photograph of Jelani Day near his casket at services held Saturday at Danville High School in Danville.

A wreath encloses a photograph of Jelani Day near his casket at services held Saturday at Danville High School in Danville.

John Fountain/Sun-Times

Jelani Day returned home Saturday a radiant, good and honorable native son.

His remains lay in a closed mahogany-colored casket, highlighted in bronze and topped with a spray of white flowers that was flanked by a multicolored assortment of dozens of roses and other floral arrangements that shone as vibrantly as the life that friends and family say he lived — before it was unjustly cut short.

But it was unquestionably a celebration of the life of the 25-year-old Illinois State University graduate student, whose body was found Sept. 4, floating in the Illinois River in Peru, despite the mystery and questions surrounding his disappearance and death.

The more than three-and-a-half-hour afternoon service, which began at noon and was held at downstate Danville High School, flowed with tears and with music, with prayers and praise. There were also messages of faith and hope.

Mourners gather outside Danville High School Saturday as Jelani Day’s casket is led to waiting pallbearers in Danville.

Mourners gather outside Danville High School Saturday as Jelani Day’s casket is led to waiting pallbearers in Danville.

John Fountain/Sun-Times

Perhaps no message rang more loudly than the declaration that it ain’t over. Not his legacy or light. Not the demand for justice for Jelani Day.

“The journey does not stop here,” his mother Carmen Bolden Day told mourners. “I’m only getting ready to lay Jelani torest. But I can’t rest because I don’t know what happened to him.

”Whoever you are, I want you to know, your time will come,” the mother continued as the crowd rang out in support. “Jelani did not deserve this.”

Throughout the service, there were expressions of love and of gratitude for having been touched by a light called Jelani. Among them was childhood friend Paul DeArmond, 26, who spoke of their ties since kindergarten, of their fondness and love for each other and of how Jelani’s desire to become a speech pathologist was birthed by his desire to help him.

Justice for Jelani Day 1 + 2 + 3

‘Justice for Jelani Day’

Screen_Shot_2021_10_11_at_9.15.50_AM.png

Read Sun-Times columnist John W. Fountain’s series of columns on Jelani Day’s disappearance and the quest to find out what happened to him.

Part 1, published Sept. 24: I am in Peru, Illinois, asking about Jelani Day, who is every bit as human as Gabby Petito

Part 2, published Oct. 1: The mystery of the death of a son of Danville, Jelani Day

Part 3, published Oct. 8: Some things no mother should have to endure

The service began as a preacher declared from the podium, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?”

The choir, dressed in black, some holding red roses, sang”Praise Him, praise Him... Jesus, blessed savior, is worthy to be praised.” The drummer beat slowly, the melodic keys of a piano drifting toward heaven, filling this high school auditorium turned sanctuary.

Jelani’s family filed in, walking down the center aisle as hundreds of mourners stood, the crowd stretching even to the balcony, some wiping away tears, others trying to fight them back.

Soon, the song, “Jesus Loves Me,” spilled from the auditorium’s speakers as young people lined up to present red roses, one by one, to Jelani’s mother and the immediate family.

The choir sang: “The best is yet to come,” their joyful noise seeking to lift the spirits of those who gathered here and who grappled with a sense of not only sorrow, but disbelief and horror over Jelani’s death.

”We’re praying for their strength,” the program moderator said. “We’re praying for their strength.”

There were prayers for healing. Prayers for strength. Prayers for answers. Prayers for justice.

And there were reassurances that, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Paul DeArmond, 26, Jelani Day’s childhood friend, speaks at his service Saturday at Danville High School in Danville.

Paul DeArmond, 26, Jelani Day’s childhood friend, speaks at his service Saturday at Danville High School in Danville.

John Fountain/Sun-Times

There were hands. Hands lifted in praise. Hands outstretched for divine strength. Hands for tissues to wipe away a flood of tears. And hands rested upon shoulders in comfort for this abrupt farewell amid the echoing question: “What happened to Jelani Day?”

There was also wailing — the unbearable audible release of sorrow too heavy to hold — that rose intermittently amid this grief-stricken assembly.

And yet, there was also celebration. In the old-time church way. The evoking of “Hallelujahs” and “Glorys” that have long soothed the souls of Black folk, even amid the endurance of unspeakable horrors, and which stirred the crowd, even if momentarily.

And there were remembrances: Of Jelani as a church boy, singing in the choir. Of his laughter. Of growing up.

And on today, there was the blessed assurance, one speaker told mourners, that Jelani “now has exchanged his white coat for a white robe.”

And there was a promise, a vow, to seek answers and justice for Jelani Day.

The Latest
Kahleah Copper is one of eight players making their World Cup debut, along with her Rutgers teammate, the Sky’s 2015 17th overall draft pick, Betnijah Laney, who plays for the New York Liberty.
They were in a parking lot in the 7100 block of North Clark Street when they were attacked, police said.
They were driving in the 1700 block of West 43rd Street when they were shot, police said.
The woman was driving in the 5300 block of South Lake Shore Drive when she was killed in a car crash, police said.
The man was in a backyard at a gathering in the 11800 block of South Hale Avenue when he was shot, police said.