Summaries of Last Year’s Book Signings

Second Annual Day of Remembrance

By Cassaundra Sledge

Honestly, the assignment seemed fairly straight forward—Do a write up of the two Jelani Institute events that took place 2 and 10 April 2005. I must’ve started this story at least 75 times over the last 10 months.
I diligently took notes and spent many an occasion in front of the computer. Nothing.
Then, with notebook in hand, a sentence here, a quote there, but ultimately…still nothing. Nothing until tonight.
Tonight, after a week of seemingly endless deadlines, no sleep and a runny nose, all the thoughts, false starts, notes, quotes and frustrations seemed to have shaped themselves into Jelani and another piece of his story.
Rain soaked everything outside that night except the love that was carried into that room. Greeted with crimson covered tables and gentle light, umbrellas were shaken and folded leaving a tell-tale trail of tears behind. It almost seemed symbolic of the night as nearly 50 people gathered to remember the life of Jelani Manigault and to share in the joy of progress, even in death through the J.E.L.A.N.I. (Justice, Equity, Love, and Awareness Now) Institute’s second annual Day of Remembrance.
Twenty-four year old Jelani (Swahili for “mighty”) was a peaceful and talented young man who played flute, saxophone and classical piano. He was a graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park, and was a budding fine and graphic design artist and nature photographer. Jelani was fascinated by nature – the snowflakes in winter, the turning of leaves in autumn and the smell of fresh rain. A consistent achiever, he was also a black belt in karate, an Eagle Scout, a statewide track and field champion in Triple Jump, as well as a nationally recognized athlete in soccer. While his list of achievements continues, he was mostly, as described by so many of his friends, a kind and generous human being. Yet it was he that was fatally shot on 23 Jan. 2003 by police officers in Princeton, New Jersey. The shooting reportedly occurred after a dizzying series of events that took place while he was in the midst of an anxiety attack.
That tragic event sparked debates on many issues. But there are a few that stand out above the rest and have developed into the mission of the Institute: Promoting the awareness and development of the talents, gifts and abilities of children, and increasing the education and training of first responders in the police department to heighten awareness and improve the handling of anxiety or emotional disorders.
“If people have a physical problem, people rush to your aid. It should be the same for mental illness,” Jelani’s mother, Carol, said to the audience at Our Children’s Foundation in Harlem, this year’s venue for the event. “We’re going to keep on until we make a big difference.” Applause ascended and lips parted into smiles as hope for better times ahead seemed to swell, filling the room.
Tony, a former member of the 32nd precinct in Manhattan, agreed that there are areas for improvement within the police departments.
“The bottom line has shifted from ‘(T)o protect and serve’ to ‘I want to come home at night’”. Also, according to his estimation, 99% of the cases involving extreme police force are unnecessary and is often manifested when the police officer over reacts. Therefore he encouraged people to get to know their police officers and to build relationships with them.
“The more we know about each other…works!” he said.
A woman, who was also a member of the police force and now has a daughter that has followed in her footsteps, agreed fully. She also said that the bottom line is to go home at night and offered her own piece of advice. “If you’re really looking to make a change, go to the people who are accrediting (the police trainers)…with their training standards.”
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