HSU mourns slain student’s vibrant life

April is the cruelest month.           

– T.S. Eliot

Josiah was the happiest of us all.

– Student Katauri Thompson

Paul Mann
Mad River Union

ARCATA — A dozen Easter lilies, lustrous as white linen, adorn the dais in the cavernous ballroom of Humboldt State University. Their number symbolizes the 12 Apostles and the 12 Tribes of Israel.

David "DJ" Lawson

Flanking the stage are five-foot easels surmounted by large floral displays, rainbow-like, particolored.

Atop the dais, necklacing the altar table that memorializes David Josiah Lawson, is an assortment of more bouquets, a lush, chromatic symphony of spring hues, tints and blooms: scarlet rhododendrons, pale spider lilies, bright lemon tulips, alabaster calla lilies, garnet orchids, ruby gladiolas, whimsical baby blue and violet snapdragons.

The altar table is bedecked with translucent candle lanterns emblazoned with Christ’s portrait; with the sophomore’s black L.A. baseball cap; a string of white lacquer beads; a Black Power pin; and a pastel lime, three-dimensional Fire & Light heart inscribed “HSU.”

Stage left stands a large poster portrait of the vigorous, high spirited HSU sophomore, who was known and cherished for his confidence, exuberance, incandescent smile, dashing vigor, warm generosity, vise-like handshake and love affair with candy apple red sneakers.

More than 400 chairs are set out in the spacious, high-ceiling hall; every single one is occupied. All the same, mourners line every wall and spill into the vestibule on the second floor of the University Center, where the windows are flooded with radiant spring sunshine.

The campus Bell Tower rings in the five o’clock hour, resounding inside and across the Quad, the musical tones recalling the solemn majesty of a venerable Old World cathedral.

Suddenly, a hush descends. Mother Charmaine Michelle Lawson, younger brother Anthony Lawson and sister Chloe Jordan, knotted together in indescribable grief, stride slowly, haltingly up the long aisle in an intimate processional suffused with anticipatory dread.

Reaching her son’s portrait, Charmaine bows her head, then crumples, barely steadied by her children and loved ones, who lower their heads in unison. Her wails of agony and anguish reverberate throughout the ballroom, engulfing the throng. “My son! My baby, oh my baby!” she cries out in near-frenzied gasps from her deepest being.

Eventually, she subsides in momentary emotional exhaustion and is gently seated with her family, including Josiah’s grandmother and a cousin, Matt Weaver.

University President Lisa Rossbacher read a prepared text, paying tribute to Josiah’s singular popularity and character. Voicing the campus’s collective sorrow, the president said, “Josiah touched so many people’s lives. His smile, his positive and supportive attitude, his friendship: we celebrate those talents today.”

Honoring the Native American heritage of the university’s ancestral lands, the home of the Wiyot people, Rossbacher introduced nine members of the Indian Tribal & Educational Personnel Program. Led by Native American staff member Vincent Feliz, the chorus performed numbers including “Willow Song,” which enshrines endurance and strength. The music was dedicated to Josiah’s family.

Corliss Bennett-McBride, director of the university’s Cultural Centers for Academic Excellence, noted that Josiah was majoring in criminology, a field he wished to enter “so that he could help others who looked like him.”

Josiah always gave you a hug, she enthused, and he had a legendary smile “that would knock you right out of the room.”

Photo by Mark Larson
Members of Brothers United shared their memories of David Josiah Lawson.

Brothers United, a campus club of black students who organized the memorial celebration, gathered on stage. Brother Katauri Thompson proclaimed, “Nobody had the spirit that this man had.” Thompson and the brothers saluted Charmaine “for creating such a wonderful young man, with a loving heart.”

Cousin Matt Weaver said “D.J.” “had so much charisma.” He underscored that Josiah celebrated life and “he’d want to see everybody party” after the memorial service.

The eulogy was delivered by Pastor Phil Griggs of the Living World Christian Church in Riverside, who had been Josiah’s track coach in high school.

The name “Josiah” means “God heals,” the pastor intoned. The teenager’s death is an occasion “to look at our own lives and begin to really see just how precious and just how frail and just how short life can be,” Griggs affirmed.

“This is not about race, this is not about color, this is about life,” he admonished.

Josiah impacted lives, the pastor emphasized. “Are you going to do the same?”

Photo by Mark Larson
Michelle-Charmaine Lawson and family hugged each other as they gathered in front of a photo of David Josiah Lawson after the memorial vigil.


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