After Jayland Walker graduated from Buchtel High School, his family asked him about his plans for the future.
Walker, who had wrestled all his life, said he was thinking about going semi-pro, much to the thrill of his young cousins.
What would his wrestling name be? His family offered suggestions.
“Nah,” he told them. “I’m gonna be String Bean.”
“With Jayland, you didn’t always know if he was joking or not, so we kind of laughed it off,” Walker’s cousin Robin Elerick said, chuckling as she shared this memory during Walker’s funeral service Tuesday at the Akron Civic Theatre in downtown Akron.
Elerick was among several family members and clergy who spoke during the funeral for Walker, who was shot and killed by Akron police officers June 27 after a brief chase. They provided the first insight from the family of the 25-year-old man whose name has become a national rallying cry for police reform.
Who was Jayland Walker?:‘He was the most sincere, most kindhearted person,’ friend says
About 1,000 people attended the visitation and service, held at the theater in the heart of downtown, where several demonstrations have been held, leading to clashes to between police and protesters.
The family’s decision to allow an open casket led some people to compare Walker’s funeral to that of Emmett Till, who was lynched in Mississippi 67 years ago.
The funeral was open to the public and livestreamed. Attorneys for the Walker family requested that the public and media give the family privacy for a burial scheduled afterward at Greenlawn Cemetery.
Funeral begins with music
Walker’s funeral began with uplifting music, with men and women singing on the stage at the Akron Civic Theatre.
The songs included “I Have No Reason to Fear” and “The Lord is Messing with Me Right Now.”
Bishop Joey Johnson of the House of the Lord in Akron gave the opening prayer, asking for the gathering to magnify and uplift Walker’s family.
Pastor Marlon Walker then read resolutions passed by several government bodies and churches to recognize the Walker family.
“Black people whose voices call out for justice are unheard,” said a resolution from the national Church of God in Christ.
Pastor: ‘Nothing right about this’
Bishop Timothy Clarke, a Columbus pastor and the national head of the Church of God, pumped up the crowd with his passionate remarks.
“We must not normalize this,” Clarke said. “We cannot make the deaths of our sons and daughters at such an early age a normal thing. There is nothing normal about this. We must not try to act as if this is all right. This is not all right!”
Clarke said people shouldn’t spiritualize Walker’s death by saying something like, “God needed a flower.”
“Jayland would be better with his family — alive and loving.”
Walker’s best friend, cousin remember him
Walker’s best friend, Dupri Whatley, shared memories of growing up with Walker, including playing basketball and listening to music.
Whatley, a Summit County sheriff’s deputy, said he would call Walker all the time for advice, saying he wouldn’t be where he is without Walker.
Whatley choked up several times as the audience encouraged him and cheered in support.
“He’s gonna live through me,” Whatley said. “I’m never gonna forget him.”
Elerick said Walker was her youngest cousin, so she remembers him being born and knew him his entire life. She said he “had the biggest heart” and was “so sweet and so authentically genuine.”
In the last few weeks of Walker’s life, she said, he was going through a hard time after the death of his fiancée in a car crash. She recalled the two of them sitting quietly, holding hands, crying and exchanging many impromptu texts and phone calls.
“There were a lot of ‘I love yous’ back and forth,” she said.
Elerick said from Walker’s death, she wants people to remember moments.
“God does not waste moments, and it’s so important to share the moments with the people that you love as often and as much as we can with each other,” she said.
Walker’s uncle calls him a ‘kind soul’ with the right shoes
Tom Addie, Walker’s uncle, described his nephew “a kind soul with a great heart” who always wanted to get the last word and always had the right shoes.
When Walker entered a room, Addie said, he would give his relatives hugs and tell them, “I love you.” He said Walker did the same when he left.
“That’s what we need to cherish and think about,” Addie said. “All this will handle itself. Jayland’s at peace now.”
Addie asked people to keep their family in their prayers and thoughts.
Pastor: There are many Jayland Walkers
The Rev. Robert DeJournett gave Walker’s eulogy, which was just under 40 minutes.
He said they all “grew up there” at Akron’s St. Ashworth Temple, where he’s now the pastor, and called “our family church.”
When Walker was young, he couldn’t pronounce DeJournett’s name. DeJournett’s family called him “Robert Earl” — his first and middle name — and Walker would call him “Robba Girl.”
DeJournett said Walker’s mother, Pam, and sister, Jada, described Walker as sweet, caring, thoughtful, humble, an all-around nice person who was raised in a good home and was an “undercover mama’s boy.”
They said he was loyal, “almost to a fault,” honest and well-rounded. Jada told DeJournett her brother was “one of a kind,” saying “I don’t use those terms lightly” and that she only also describes her father and grandfather that way.
“We’re here until the end,” DeJournett said. “We’re going to keep on pushing. We’re going to keep on fighting. We’re going to keep on lifting up our voices and in celebrating the life of Jayland Walker. One must know who he was.”
DeJournett said there are many Jaylands across the country — young, respectful, fun-loving men who have never been in serious trouble.
DeJournett said he is a proponent of getting help from mental health professionals and admitted that he has received this assistance himself.
“Emotions are raging for many of us,” he said. “We’re grieving. Grief comes out differently depending on who you are. It’s normal. Grief is a normal, natural reaction to loss, conflicting feelings caused by end of or change in the familiar pattern of behavior.”
People protesting is an expression of grief, DeJournett said, and should be permitted — as long as it’s nonviolent. The family has been calling for protests to be peaceful.
DeJournett read the names of other Black people shot and killed by police, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tamir Rice. He said he never thought this would happen in Akron and that this incident would garner national attention for the city.
“But God knew, and he wants us to show the world how to go through this the right way and utilize the power of his strength to do it with dignity and respect,” he said.
DeJournett also said he believes “this is going to be the last time that we have to do this.”
“But God, we’re gonna continue to push and push and push until a change is gonna come,” he said.
‘This happens to all of us,’ says Akron woman attending event
Those who attended the viewing and service included people who knew the Walker family and those who didn’t but wanted to pay their respects.
One Akron woman said she attended the services because she wanted to see with her own eyes “the injustice that happened in our city.”
“This is a fear that I have, that police will shoot my boys,” said Tashe Ase, 42.
Ase is a former activist and founding member of a group started years ago called Stop the Violence in Akron. She said Walker’s shooting reinvigorated her desire to get involved.
Ase, though, is worried about outside protesters causing problems in Akron.
“They’re riling everybody up,” she said. “We will have to be here with these [riled up] police officers.”
Celeste Tolbert of Akron, who is a distant relative of Journei Tolber, a 4-year-old killed in Akron on Friday night, said she has a son who is close to Walker’s age.
“I hurt for the family so much,” she said. “By the grace of God, it could have been my son.”
Akron resident LaToya Smith, who knew Walker and his fiancée through her niece, had the same thought about her son.
“It was just awful,” she said. “I wish we could all just get along.”
A group of about 20 people, some armed with semiautomatic rifles, came to Akron for the service. The unarmed people went inside, while the armed members stayed on the sidewalk outside the theater.
Outside the theater were a man carrying two semiautomatic rifles and a sheathed machete on his back, a woman holding a shotgun and other men carrying semi-automatic rifles, machetes and handguns.
Ilyse Walwyn, one of the unarmed members of the group who was allowed inside the theater, is a Cleveland resident and member of the New African Nation Gun Club and other organizations. She said she had a cousin who was shot and killed by Cleveland police.
“Power to the people,” she said. “Let the world see us.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334 or email@example.com. Jim Mackinnon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previous Jayland Walker coverage
Seven seconds of shooting:What 13 police bodycam videos show in Jayland Walker’s death
Akron council:Speakers criticize Akron council for actions of police
‘Jayland should still be here’:Former Akron police officer talks about his cousin’s death
‘We are angry. We are hurting,’:Pastor for Jayland Walker’s family says in call for non-violence
Akron City Council:What members said about the Jayland Walker fatal police shooting