Jelani was such a special person. He was kind and compassionate. Learn more about Jelani Manigault.
Find out about the Author, Caroline Brewer. Click here for more!
The Jelani Tree
What's in the book The Jelani Tree? Click here to find out more.


TO: New and Old Friends of Jelani Manigault and Family
FROM: The Manigault Family;
DATE: April 1, 2004
RE: An Invitation to the Launching of The J.E.L.A.N.Institute/Foundation
And an Introduction of the book The Jelani Tree by Caroline Brewer
Just over a year ago, Jelani Manigault was killed tragically in a most bizarre series of events -- (a massive anxiety attack which came upon him ever so suddenly, which led to a terrible car crash with injuries, which led to a cry for help at a nearby residence, which led to a terrible misinterpretation of what was actually happening to him [and what he was trying to describe to the residents], which after some turmoil led to the tragic shooting by four police officers)
Those who knew Jelani for the fine, wholesome, loving human being that he was for his entire life could not even fathom such a thing happening to him -- nor could his family, who were with him just moments earlier. We have family members today who still cannot bring themselves to come to grips with his death. He was just a wonderful, sweet human being, with everything to live for, and who had no history of anxiety.
Having been killed at age 24, he became a statistic, along with the unbelievable numbers of young men (especially) who somehow never make it to age 25. The family has tried since then to find some way to bring a positive result from what happened to Jelani -- to bring healing of some kind out of an absolutely nightmarish situation.
A book entitled The Jelani Tree has evolved. It was the brainchild of former Teaneck resident, Caroline Brewer, who never knew Jelani but was prompted to write it after hearing the glowing tributes paid to him at his memorial service by a whole host of young professional people -- his peers from high school and college.
They knew him well, thought the world of him, and spoke of his stellar qualities as a human being. The book salutes those qualities and seeks to give a voice to all young people who, for one tragic reason or another, are no longer with us.
The book will form the backing for an Institute bearing Jelani's name, that will seek to inform and persuade the general public as well as those in direct contact with individuals in moments of crisis -- persuade them that lives as precious as this one should have been saved, by employing effective alternative means, and certainly not ended, by shooting to kill and asking questions later.
So the JELANI Institute (Justice Equity Love and Awareness Now Institute) will seek to bring about healing and change in the very peaceful way that was Jelani's own trademark. (We feel that if anyone's life deserved to be saved and treated with care and love, Jelani's did. And there are hundreds of others like him. So if the work of the Institute saves even one life, then perhaps we will have succeeded in making something positive out of such a negative, incomprehensible experience.)
What Happened to Jelani -- January 2003.
Some of you may not know what actually happened. My son, Jelani Manigault, still resided in Greenbelt, Maryland, at the time of his death; but he was in the process of moving back to New Jersey that very week -- to be closer to his family and to his fiancée who lived in Westchester County, New York. He was a recent graduate of the University of Maryland - College Park. I had gone down to Greenbelt over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend to help him pack for the move, which was to take place the following weekend.
As I prepared to return to work in New Jersey that Tuesday following the Monday holiday, Jelani called me from where he was and indicated to me that he felt very strange and did not understand why it was difficult for him to sit still, -- there being a kind of panic in his description of what he was feeling. (He would later tell hospital personnel that he had had difficulty sleeping in recent weeks and that occasionally he had experienced moments of feeling quite anxious, although the feelings had always subsided.) I decided to have him checked out right away, so he rode back with me to Jersey as far as Princeton. He seemed fine as we traveled.
We called for his dad and fiancée to join us as we sought treatment for him. All three of us were then with him when he was examined, and later released, by the Princeton Medical Center, with a referral for follow-up at some future date. Their conclusion was that he may have had a mild episode of something but that there was nothing seriously wrong. All seemed well. He planned to go back to his apartment the next day and complete the move by the end of the week.
Then in the middle of the night, Jelani suddenly awoke with something excruciating happening in his head, as he described it. He could not sit still and paced back and forth. When we got him to sit down, he looked up at me and his last words to me were, "Mom, this is such a nightmare." Then without warning he left the cottage where we were staying, went out into the frigid cold, got into my car and sped off, not knowing his way around that secluded wooded area. A few blocks away, he lost control of the vehicle on the winding curves and suffered injuries in a terrible car crash. He managed to free himself and seek help at a nearby residence. But the homeowners, who had heard the crash and had opened their kitchen porch door to him thinking that they could help him in some way, misinterpreted what he was trying to explain to them, largely about his head. It sounded like mumbling to them.
From what we have been able to piece together, Jelani then tried on his own to make the "nightmare" go away by making some superficial cuts on his wrists with one of their kitchen knives. We surmise that the husband struggled with him, and while in a bear hug sustained several injuries including ones to his side and to one of his hands. The wife panicked and called police, saying “There is a Black man in our kitchen with a knife.” The police approached our son with their guns fully drawn, yelling and screaming at him as he stumbled, dazed, out of the house. This being the very worst thing that one can do in the presence of someone suffering from anxiety or emotional distress, he was totally unable to respond to them and remained in a dazed, unresponsive state, while turning from a sideways stance to a frontal one, according to accounts.
Given the inability to follow their commands and given that slight movement forward on Jelani’s part, one of the officers who had reportedly just tripped over a log “felt threatened” and then opened fire, followed by shots from his fellow officer, killing our boy with shots to the stomach, the groin, and through the very top of his head while he was down or going down. His body was left to freeze solid on the sub-zero temperature ground while state police conducted their investigation and interviews. On the other hand, the homeowner -- an extremely prominent figure in Princeton society, as it turns out -- was taken to a hospital immediately. His wounds were non-life-threatening, thank goodness; and we were told by a minister who visited him the next morning that he would be able to return to work in a week or so. We want to be very clear that we deeply regret that anyone at all was hurt as a result of the agony that our son was experiencing that night. In fact, the homeowner sent this minister to find us that next morning and to speak to us in private without media attention, and to assure us that he and his family were quite sure that our son never entered their home with the intention of harming anyone, and that they deeply regretted what happened to him. We were very grateful for those loving words and for the good-Samaritan nature of that family.
Jelani’s family has been absolutely and totally devastated by what happened to him!
The Institute is our attempt to make sense of what happened, to pay tribute to the warmth and love that was our son, Jelani, and to prevent others from meeting a similar fate.
Carol Manigault
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