Mourners comfort one another at the funeral of Jamail Johnson, the YSU senior killed in last Sunday's off-campus shooting rampage. About 1,800 people attended Saturday's service at YSU's Beeghly Center to honor the young man best known as a mentor, peacemaker and beloved role model.
By SEAN BARRON
Combine selflessness, peacefulness, compassion, love and diligence with being a beloved role model and leader, and you will have the essence of 25-year-old Jamail E. Johnson, many who knew him say.
That’s a large part of what defined Johnson and how they feel he should be remembered.
It also reflects a treasured legacy Johnson left that was captured by those who attended Saturday’s Celebration of Life ceremony in Youngstown State University’s Beeghly Center.
An estimated 1,800 family, friends, co-workers, elected officials, clergy members, fraternity brothers and others attended the program to remember and honor Johnson, a YSU senior and 2003 Liberty High School graduate who was shot to death last Sunday during an off-campus party at an Indiana Avenue home used by YSU fraternity members.
Eleven people were injured, including Shavai Owens, 17, a Boardman High School student who was critically injured by a gunshot to her head.
Charged with aggravated murder, 11 felonious-assault counts and improperly discharging a firearm into a habitation are Braylon Rogers, 19, of East Lucius Avenue, and 22-year-old Columbus E. Jones Jr. of Cambridge Avenue.
Jamelle Jackson, 18, of West Boston Avenue, and Demetrius Wright, 20, of West Avondale Avenue, face felony charges of carrying a concealed weapon and tampering with evidence, respectively, in the killing.
Johnson, who was born in Stratford, N.J., transferred to YSU from Ashland University, majored in business management and worked at YSU as a tutor.
He was a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., worked in retail sales at Foot Locker in Southern Park Mall in Boardman and mentored students at Woodrow Wilson Middle School.
He also was a member of Higher Praise Covenant Church, where he served as an usher and on the Youth Ministry Team.
Many mourners cried when Johnson’s brother Bruce Alexander spoke about several good times the two had shared. Alexander recalled that when he played football, Johnson made it known how proud he was of Alexander.
Alexander also remembered a conversation in which Johnson expressed a desire to be famous and do great things.
“He was as close to perfect as you can get. He was an angel on Earth,” Alexander concluded.
Johnson’s life was cut tragically short, but his 25 years were spent loving, caring for and mentoring others, said Roger Fort, an uncle.
“Jamail was a humble and kind man; his love and affection was endless,” Fort said, fighting back tears. “When Jamail gave his life, the character of the man burst forth in victory.”
Also struggling to speak at times was another uncle, Mike Cobb, who urged the audience to take more seriously how they treat others, in part by taking time to listen to someone who‘s hurting.
Lynn Johnson, an aunt, quoted the biblical verse Matthew 5:43, which talks about the importance of loving and praying for one’s enemies.
“We are here to celebrate the life of a peacemaker. Let the peacemaking legacy of Jamail Johnson resonate through the Mahoning Valley, this country and the world,” said Mayor Jay Williams, who implored attendees to commit themselves to maintaining Johnson’s legacy of peace and reaching out to others.
Another poignant moment was a standing ovation offered when YSU President Dr. Cynthia Anderson presented a diploma cover to Johnson’s family.
During the university’s spring commencement ceremony in May, Johnson’s official bachelor’s degree in business administration will be conferred to him posthumously, Anderson said.
“Please know how very proud of Jamail Johnson we are,” she added.
Brenda Spencer of Youngstown knew Johnson only casually because he occasionally attended her church, New Bethel Baptist, on the city’s South Side. Nevertheless, she was aware of how he positively impacted others, especially youngsters.
“The community lost a great leader and role model. His life touched so many people,” she said.
One of those young people was Jerrell Shorter, a Wilson Middle School eighth-grader who read a letter he had written two days after Johnson’s death.
The letter, published in The Vindicator on Thursday, details how Johnson had helped Jerrell with his math, encouraged him to be a leader and urged him to study and avoid negative influences.
It is hoped Johnson’s example will open others’ eyes to try to counteract many negative forces in the world, said Rachelle Shelton of Youngstown, a family friend.
The service nicely captured Johnson’s character and personality, Shelton said, adding that his family is getting by.
The ceremony also included remarks from the Rev. Solomon Hill, pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Youngstown, as well as more biblical readings from the New and Old Testaments.
Musical selections were “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” “He’ll be Remembered,” and a selection titled “Jamail.”
L.E. Black & Phillips Funeral Home handled the arrangements for Johnson, who was interred at Tod Cemetery on the city’s North Side.