Clergy and leaders from across the country joined the family of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant at her funeral Friday to honor the teen’s “vibrant” spirit, grieve her unfinished life, and call for communities to better protect vulnerable young people — particularly other Black girls and foster children.
Inside the First Church of God in Columbus, Ohio — where the sanctuary was lit in Ma’Khia’s favorite color, blue — Bishop Timothy Clarke asked those gathered to open the ceremony with a round of applause for a “little girl who has touched and shaken the world.”
“Celebrate Ma’Khia, celebrate her. She didn’t live long, but she lived well, and she made a difference,” Clarke said. “We’re going to send this precious baby home with the honor and dignity that she deserves.”
On April 20, a Columbus police officer fatally shot Ma’Khia in the driveway of her foster home as she stepped toward another young woman while holding a knife. Minutes earlier, Ma’Khia’s 15-year-old sister, who also lived at the home, had called 911 because several older girls were trying to “fight” and “stab us,” the girls’ grandmother Jeanene Hammonds told the Washington Post.
In the pews, Ma’Khia’s heartbroken family sat dressed in white and blue, reflecting the colors of the spring sky outside, dotted with clouds. Others wore T-shirts printed with Ma’Khia’s beaming face. The crowd included Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther (D); the Rev. Joel L. King Jr., a nephew of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.; and Tamika Palmer, whose 26-year-old daughter Breonna Taylor was shot and killed last year by Louisville police officers who entered her apartment unannounced after midnight.
Ma’Khia’s funeral was broadcast across America and also in Europe, church leaders said.
Her cousin Don Bryant spoke for the family, remembering a “loving, intelligent, funny” girl who shared a close bond with her mother, Paula Bryant.
“This was a child that had so much love in her heart, a smart girl capable and deserving of fulfilling all of her hopes and dreams in this world,” Don Bryant said. “This was a child whose life was cut way too short. Ma’Khia Bryant did not have to die — she should still be here.”
He challenged those gathered, as well as state and national leaders, to take action to prevent further tragedies. Earlier this week, the family’s lawyer called for federal investigations of both foster care and policing in Ohio.
“What are you doing to make sure no more Ma’Khias are taken from us?” Bryant asked. “Are we just talking about it, or are we doing something about it? Doing nothing is not an option.”
U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D), who represents Columbus and recently became the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, took the stage to mourn the loss of a “young butterfly,” another child lost after “our system, our community, our leaders have failed.”
“Today we stand together. Today we fight for justice, together,” Beatty said. “I make this commitment to you: that I go back to Washington and I do more and I do better, because she and this community deserves that.”
The congresswoman also pledged to fly a flag over the nation’s Capitol in Ma’Khia’s honor.
Other speakers invoked the weight of Ma’Khia’s lost future.
“This is a baby that is before us. Today, she should’ve been thinking about the SATs, thinking about the prom, thinking about going to Spelman or to Howard,” said the Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant, who flew in from Atlanta to lead the service. “We can’t sugarcoat the fact that we should not be here today.”
Ma’Khia’s funeral served as a substitute for an academic milestone day she didn’t live to see.
During his remarks, Ma’Khia’s former principal at the Academy for Urban Scholars presented the family with an honorary high school diploma as an “early graduation.” Ma’Khia had been “one of mine,” Emmanuel Anthony said.
“We have a crisis in America with racism and police killing our Black men and Black women and not even sparing our children,” he added. “We also have an opportunity in the Black community to go back to the collective community mindset, to say that even if this child didn’t come from me, that this is still one of my children.”
Church leaders took the opportunity to speak directly to the young people in attendance, asking all those ages 16 and younger to stand, while attendees cheered them on toward graduation and a “long, right, healthy life” without fear.
“I want you to cheer for them, that their unborn grandchildren will have a better way of life because of what we do,” Jamal Bryant said.
As the service closed, he invited young people in the pews to honor Ma’Khia’s life by celebrating themselves the same way she loved to — by smiling for a selfie and sharing it on social media.
“Because you are still here,” Bryant said, “you are a living witness that the struggle continues.”