June is usually a month that contains several joyous and memorable events such as high-school and college graduations, weddings and Father’s Day.
But this month, particularly June 9, brings a grim reminder for Stacey and Aadrian Yancey-Thomas.
It was on that day last year that Aaron Moses Mahdee – Aadrian’s son and Stacey’s stepson – drowned in a private quarry off Eric Drive in Mahoning Township in Pennsylvania.
The news saddened me and several members of my church, Rising Star Baptist Church, because we saw Aaron grow up to be a young man full of promise.
Stacey and I are members of the church’s men’s ministry, and I could see how my friend was devastated by the news.
Aaron was a 2012 graduate of Hubbard High School, where he was a member of its Spanish Club and show choir. He was attending Youngstown State University.
I believe there could be no sadder and traumatic event than for parents to bury their children, and our church family has seen this happen too often in our congregation.
But the Thomases are a family of faith, and they have trusted God to help them heal and recover from this tragedy.
I asked Aadrian to share a few thoughts about her son.
“Aaron had an infectious personality; being in his presence made you smile,” she wrote me in an email. “He was stylish, silly, honest and kind-hearted. Aaron loved life and his family. He was truly a joy to be around.
“He was slow to anger, always trying to make amends whenever possible. It may sound like a cliche, but Aaron was really one of a kind. Throughout this past year, our lives have changed in so many ways. The family unit has been fractured but not broken. We miss Aaron terribly, but God has been our comfort and our peace. God has shown us how much Aaron has meant to so many others,” she wrote.
Jocelyn Dabney is the founder of Rising Star’s drama ministry. She has directed the church’s Easter plays for years, and she also shared her thoughts about Aaron.
“He had been a longtime cast member of Rising Star’s Easter plays. He grew up in the play,” she said. “Aaron started out in the [play’s] children’s scene, went on to play a disciple, then the year he died, he portrayed one of the thieves on the cross. Even though he was a college sophomore and worked, he still found time to participate [in the play].”
Because the play was such an important part of his life and formative years, the cast and crew and a church committee established the Aaron Mahdee Memorial Scholarship.
“The scholarship was established to honor his memory and continue his legacy,” Dabney said.
Every year, a free-will offering is collected during the Easter play’s three-day run. The funds are used to defray some of the costs of putting on the production. This year, however, the cast and crew decided one of the offerings would be used to establish the scholarship.
Graduating high-school senior cast and crew members were eligible to apply. On June 14, after the close of worship service, the church will honor its high-school and college graduates, and it will be announced during that time the two students who will receive the scholarship.
“There have been kind words expressed on social media, a plethora of thoughtful cards, concerned and supportive phone calls/visits,” Aadrian said, adding the family is humbled by the creation of the scholarship in her son’s memory.
“We are forever grateful for the outpouring of love and thoughtfulness. We thank God every day for the opportunity to be the parents of such a wonderful young man,” Aadrian said.
The outpouring of love and support for Aaron will live on through the scholarship, a reminder of how important education was to Aaron, a young man who enjoyed life, worked hard and found time to serve his God through his creative talents.
Aaron’s father and stepmother, Moses and Gabriella Mahdee, six siblings, grandparents, great-grandparents and a host of aunts, uncles, cousins and friends also miss him dearly.
So, parents, make the time to hug your children today, tell them how much they mean to you and tell them how much you love them.
And remember, with love, faith, family and friends, sometimes a good thing can come out of a horrific situation.
Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly minority-affairs column. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.