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Godmother of slain girl cries out for change

Staff photo / Nathanael Hawthorne Tayana Smith, godmother of slain 10-year-old Persayus Davis-May, right, speaks with local minister Timara Harrison, left, at a vigil honoring Persayus Thursday evening in Wean Park. More than 65 people from the community gathered in the park to listen and speak of change that has to happen in order for the city violence to stop.

YOUNGSTOWN — The godmother of Persayus Davis-May, the 10-year-old girl killed in a Wednesday morning shooting, spoke out Thursday and called on the community to change.

“I just wanted to implore to every member of the community to impact your circle,” Davis-May’s godmother, Tayana Smith said. “If people in your circle are aggressive and want to retaliate or don’t handle anger very well, then let’s find some anger management and let’s agree to fixing some things. Let’s come together. Fix what you can right there.”

Upwards of 65 people made their way to Wean Park on Thursday night for a vigil honoring Davis-May. Several people spoke, including Smith, local minister Timara Harrison, and Youngstown council members Julius Oliver, D-1st Ward, and Samantha Turner, D-3rd Ward.

“We have to inspire our children to be different and do things differently. All this generational trauma that we’re just living in and sitting in, it’s time to come out of it and this is the problem right now because we have a baby that’s dead and nobody knows who did it and they were standing right there,” Turner said in an emotional speech.

“It is unacceptable. We have to take back our communities. … If you’re going to complain about it, be ready to do something about it.”

PERSAYUS

Smith said Persayus was amazing.

“She was an amazing little girl. She was super fun, fun to be around, fun to have in your life but she was also supportive and caring and loving and she would do anything for you,” Smith said.

Above all, Smith said Persayus loved her family and was naturally nurturing when it came to her siblings. She said for four years, since Persayus was 2 years old, Smith had custody of her.

“She made my understand the love between a mother and child. … She was all I had, my one and only. She meant the world to me,” Smith said during a live social media video Wednesday. “She still called me mom.”

Smith added Persayus had a strong connection to her family and would get excited to see her brothers and was even more excited when she found out her mother was having a son.

“When her mother had her youngest son, (Persayus) was very nurturing and wanted to be a part of it,” Smith said. “She wanted to do everything. She was very nurturing and caring and compassionate as a person.

“She just always amazed me at her character,” Smith said. “The Bible says we should become like children and she taught me the reason why. If you offended her and you apologized, she immediately forgave you and she moved on. She didn’t hold onto it, she was just resilient. She was amazing. She would teach you by just her actions because she was a good person in her heart.”

TIME FOR CHANGE

Harrison, who said God changed her and helped change her children’s lives, spoke from the heart and told the crowd about her past and how change is most important.

“I came from the streets. My father was a dope dealer, so I learned to deal dope,” Harrison said. “God saved me. He saved me not through people but through a relationship with Him.”

Harrison explained what she initially thought was the life for her. She said she taught her children wrong, but was able to redirect the trajectory of their lives — something she said needs to happen for generations to come.

“What needs to change is our perception of ourselves,” Harrison said. “We have to change the way we think. We have to change what we say… We need to help one another and stop criticizing. We all know what the problem is. We all see what the problem is. What can I do to be the solution?”

Smith said the community needs to hear more positive stories, such as Harrison’s, to connect to the community and — above all — create change.

“That’s what we need in the community. Your story, your ability and showing how you redirected because I don’t think your story is uncommon. If you came up in that era or that environment and you were able to redirect, that’s what we need to do to connect you to the community,” Smith said about Harrison’s speech.

Turner also said the community needs to do what it can to influence change.

“I want to be very, very clear, everybody here must put their time, energy and resources where their mouth is,” she said. “Please, please, please do something about it. Don’t complain about it, do something about it.

“If you see something, say something. It’s not about snitching. It’s about saying you don’t do this here. If you’re in the street life, you’re in the street life, but we don’t kill babies in this street life,” Turner said.

To influence change, Smith said it starts with the narrative.

“We must change the narrative,” she said. “We must change how we react.”

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