At high noon, warm sunlight bathed West Broadway. A gentle rain ushered in late afternoon. Maze’s Frankie Beverly sings: “
Joy and pain are like sunshine and rain
Over and over you can be sure
There will be sorrow but you will endure
Where there’s a flower there’s the sun and the rain
Oh and it’s wonderful there both one in the same
This surely was the kind of day he sang about. For even in the middle of death’s trauma and pain, North Minneapolis parents found unquenchable joy and life affirming love in their sons and daughters. Hundreds of North and other area students poured into the sanctuary at Shiloh Temple International Ministries, 1201 West Broadway Avenue, to pay respect and grieve the life and death of Brian Cole.
Cole died from a gunshot to the head one week prior, following the Juneteenth celebration. Cole and friends were outside, down the street from where he lived at 8th and Oliver Avenues N. A young man who had perhaps arrived in the neighborhood by car, but approached the group of friends on foot, fired several shots, witnesses said. One fatally struck Cole.
The midday Saturday funeral service featured speaker after speaker describing Cole’s charismatic personal magnetism. On behalf of coaches and former teammates, Coach J.R. Logan, who coached Cole from 4th to 8th grade, said to Brian, “Thank you for the opportunity to teach and work with you.”
Logan said, “With Mr. Cole, there was never a dull moment.” He said the team is retiring Cole’s jersey number 33. “There will never be another,” he said.
Traci Batsell, mother of Rickey Batsell-Parks, one of Cole’s best friends and teammates on the celebrated North High School basketball teams, told the community and Cole’s youthful classmates that the funeral itself was a testament to the power of young people. She said her son’s need for grief counseling led him to contact the pastors of Shiloh Ministries, Bishop Richard D. Howell, Jr., and Bettye Howell. That counseling led to young Batsell’s request, on behalf of his friend’s family, that the funeral be held at Shiloh. Though the situation was one of tragedy, sadness and grief, it was the young people’s leadership that inspired the grand funerary celebration that befittingly reflected the massive reservoir of love for Cole in our community’s heart.
Acknowledging the palpable sense of love present, one parent, consoling her daughter who had just spoken, said, “I cannot imagine what it is to lose a child. And so I have this message to all of the young people here: Love yourselves enough to keep yourselves safe.”
In reference to the spate of killings in our community, Cole’s grandmother, Darlene Cole, said mournfully, and angrily, “Before, Brian, it was somebody else’s kid. This has to stop!” One of Cole’s friends said he was sad because he wasn’t there for his friend when the incident occurred. He wondered if his being there would have made a difference. “I am also a victim,” he said. “There is something better for you,” he told the other young people. “We must do something about our kids,” he told the adults.
James Everett, a youth advocate, admonished the community and the young people. “We used to die in cotton fields,” he said referring to the nation’s legacy of de jure slavery and post-emancipation de facto slavery. “Now we die in cotton T’s,” he said. Long white t-shirts and long gym shorts have emerged as uniform of the day for young gang bangers, though wearing a big white t-shirt, does not necessarily mean a person is a gang member. Despite the failure reflected by fratricide, James said, the generation is still the greatest the black community has ever produced, and, is the last hope for black people’s and humanity’s freedom.
Two ministers eulogized Cole. Pastor Celester Webb, who spent 20 years as a firefighter, said, “I have seen death. But nothing prepares you for the death of your child. I challenge those of you who have come here today to take a stand and say ‘No more!’”
“This is a defining moment for young men and young women,” he said. “Twenty years ago, almost to the day, I lost my best friend, Lionel, to gun violence. God spoke to me as I carried him to the grave,” he said.
“I’m in the grave yard. My friend’s dead body is in my hands. And I hear a voice. My life changed. I gave my life to God. I got a job. I got married and started a family. It was a defining moment. Let this be your defining moment. I challenge men to stand up and say ‘No,’ to the violence in our community. Go to these young men and say ‘we don’t need guns to settle our differences,’” he said.
Webb said he has known Cole since Cole was in the 5th grade. In his plain talk eulogy, the pastor said Cole stood out in any crowd. In any group, “there is always someone who is distinguished, different, and unique, even in a group of peers. Those of you, who know sports, know you can’t always tell how good a player is by the warm-up suit he is wearing, or by his stretching routine. But you can tell by that certain swagger. You see it when a kid just walks onto the court with complete confidence. Brian was calm. We call that demeanor, ‘poised’. We talk about the game where Brian didn’t score the entire game, but scored when it counted most, to win the game.”
Webb said his own son was the same age as Cole, and their families met and became close when the young boys competed in 5th grade basketball. “We lived in the suburbs and were coming into the community to play against some “Northside” boys. When Cole strolled onto the court, radiating calm confidence, I knew we were in trouble,” he said.
“In street basketball,” he said, “there is something you can say that is respected anywhere in the country, in any community. It doesn’t matter if you are the worst player in the world or the best. If you walk to the court and say ‘I got next,’ there is absolutely nothing anybody can do, nothing that can happen, to keep you from getting in the next game.”
“Except one thing,” he said. “You can walk away. If you do, you forfeit your court time.”
“Here before you lies Brian, dead. Which of you is saying, ‘I got next?’ You can walk away. Let this be a defining moment in your life,” he said.
“I am angry,” Webb said. He said how we devalue our own lives and existence both fuels and is fueled by white America’s disregard for our humanity. He said he was incensed by early news coverage on Cole’s death in the local daily newspaper. The first news reports didn’t include names, next of kin, and other relevant information that would let the reader know this was a full human being who life ended. But, he said, on the same page, there was a big story about the death of a dog, with the name of the dog, and picture of the dog, and details about the circumstance of the dog’s death.
He asked rhetorically, “To them, are our lives less significant that that of household pets?”
The denigration of black people’s image, and of our sense of self, is one of the byproducts of the negative aspects of hip hop culture and music, said Pastor Tyrone Maxwell, a youth minister at Shiloh. For this service, the young pastor took off his white clergical collar, saying, “I am one of you,” to the hundreds of young mourners.
“There’s more to life than dying,” he said. “There is more than what 50 Cent and Lil’ Kim want you to believe life is all about. They will tell you that the image they are presenting is 90 percent fantasy. It’s not real! But you go killing each other, imitating what you think is real because it’s in the videos, and in the music.
“I need you,” he said. “I need you to help raise my 8-year-old son. And to help me raise my little daughter.” They should strive to be good examples for young children, he sad. “I don’t call my son ‘dog.’ I am not raising my daughter to be somebody’s baby’s mama. The need to be able to look at you and see strong, proud black men and women.”
Maxwell called all the young people in the service to come to the altar in the front and center aisle of the sanctuary. They stood. Hands stretched skyward, they answered the call to prayer. They cried. They prayed. They pledged to seek peace in their lives and in our community.
Their own tears reflecting love, respect and admiration of these young people, as well as grief for the loss of Cole’s life, the hundreds of parents, teachers, civic and political leaders again feeling joy and pain.