Community celebrates Jayland Walker’s birthday at Firestone Park
As Demetrius Travis Sr. drove to his cousin Jayland Walker’s birthday party, storms hit him. Travis smiled and shook his head.
“It’s just Jayland. He’s letting us know he’s ready to celebrate,” he said. “Jayland is in good company today. At the moment we are hurting but Jayland is fine.”
As Akron continues to mourn Walker’s death, more than 100 people gathered at Firestone Park Wednesday night to sing, eat pizza, enjoy cake and wish Walker a “happy heavenly birthday.”
Walker, a 25-year-old black man, was shot dead by eight Akron Police in the early hours of June 27. He would have been 26 on Wednesday.
“We are here to celebrate Jayland today, but we have to celebrate Jayland every day,” said Tara Gibson, one of the organizers.
In the weeks following the shooting, protests erupted in Akron and across the country demanding justice and police accountability.
Akron residents Gibson, Ariel Hicks and Sabrina Jackson planned the birthday party in less than three days so the community could celebrate and remember him peacefully.
During the rally, the group marched from Firestone Park to East Wilbeth Road near the Bridgestone Americas campus – here Walker was fatally shot. Cars whizzed by, honking their horns in support as the crowd chanted “Happy Birthday Jayland Walker”.
Gibson and his 12-year-old son live five minutes from where Walker was shot. Her son is black and she said she was afraid that one day she might seek justice for him. She said now is the time for the community to come together.
“That shooting woke me up,” she said. “(Jayland) deserves to be celebrated. We had to do something to bring the community together. We are here for a peaceful anniversary and march.”
Jackson said the shooting heightened her concerns about gun violence and the safety of her three children. She said she felt it was important to hold the party for the community to see a peaceful event after being traumatized by the shooting.
“We are dying younger and younger because of gun violence,” she said. “I think it’s important that we celebrate the life we have. Just waking up, opening our eyes is a beautiful thing that should be celebrated. We should celebrate our birthdays, but celebrate every day. “
As people gathered in the park and signed a large birthday card for Walker, Hicks said the group plans to hold more community events to honor him, including another birthday celebration the next year.
Earlier today, Walker’s mother and sister, Pam and Jada, joined other family and friends at a press conference in St. Ashworth’s Temple Church of God in Christ release balloons and sing “Happy Birthday”.
Pam tearfully shared memories of her son’s previous birthday celebrations.
“Right now, as you know, is not the right time for us,” she said. “But today is a good day because it’s Jayland’s birthday.”
With fists in the air, the group held a moment of silence in Walker’s honor near a small memorial on East. Wilbeth.
Travis said he imagined Jayland celebrating in heaven with his dad teaching him a new wrestling move.
“Last week, on this day, we were able to say goodbye to his funeral,” he said. “Now we’re in the next stage of grieving. Let’s make a change. Let’s celebrate Jayland.”
Journalist Molly Walsh can be reached at [email protected]