VALDOSTA, Ga. - The community of Valdosta, along with the father of Jordan Davis, came together Friday night to honor Georgia teen Kendrick Johnson, the 17-year-old found dead nearly two years ago at Lowndes High School.
On Jan. 11, 2013, Johnson's body was found in a rolled-up mat in the Lowndes High gymnasium. Investigators with the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office ruled his death an accident. But after a separate autopsy commissioned by the family attributed the teen's death to "apparent non-accidental, blunt force trauma," Johnson's parents said they believe their son was killed and the official story was a "cover-up."
Ron Davis, the father of murdered Jacksonville teen Jordan Davis, met Johnson's parents for the first time at the celebration of life tribute, which took place at Word of Oasis church in Valdosta. Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, was also there.
Jordan Davis, 17, was killed nearly two years ago in a dispute over loud music outside a Gate gas station in Jacksonville. Martin, also 17, was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch captain in February 2012.
Johnson's family, Fulton and Ron Davis stood together Friday night to show their support in continuing Johnson's legacy.
"We are going to keep his name alive and make sure that no one forgets about Kendrick Johnson," said the teen's father, Kenneth Johnson.
Saxophones, tambourines and praise filled the air as more than 100 community members gathered to celebrate what would have been Kendrick Johnson's 19th birthday.
"He was fun. He had a lot of laughter in him. He had big dreams for himself," Kenneth Johnson said. "He loved sports."
Kenneth Johnson said in the midst of the pain of losing his son, he's gained a family, which now includes Ron Davis and Fulton.
"We have an unfortunate connection that we are the parents of murdered children," Fulton said. "Another unfortunate mishap is that we haven't gotten justice either, and they haven't gotten justice and we just bond together and we know how each other feels."
During Friday's vigil, there were dancers and former classmates wearing T-shirts that said, "Who killed KJ," hoping that one day that answer will come to light. But Kendrick Johnson's mother said it's not easy.
"It's hard; it's rough," Jacquelyn Johnson said. "It's a day-by-day, a minute-by-minute thing. One day you're happy, the next sad. One minute you chill, the next you're in depression. It's hard."
And that's why Ron Davis said they all must stand together.
"We're stronger together, and we got justice for Jordan, but it doesn't stop there," Davis said of the recent first-degree murder conviction of his son's killer, Michael Dunn. "We have to get justice for Kendrick Johnson, and then justice for Mike Brown. So we still have some work to do. We're not going away. Our children matter and mean so much to us, and we will continue to fight."
Ron Davis said since Dunn's conviction, he's had a big responsibility to the dozens of parents who have contacted him, expressing how they lost their children to violence.
"It has given us an even bigger platform, because (they say,) 'You got justice. How did you all get justice?' Well, the first thing I tell you, the Lord and God helped me get justice, and if you don't believe in that, you may never get justice in the world. Because if you don't get justice in heaven you're not going to ever get justice."
Ron Davis said he and Jordan's mother, Lucia McBath, are now creating a platform to increase "Gun Sense." He said the more guns are regulated, the less likely they will land in the hands of dangerous people.
The Johnsons hoped Friday's celebration could serve as a lesson.
"Just know that we got to protect our children," Jacquelyn Johnson said. "We got to stay on them, teach them that if they get pulled over, put your hands up. It's hard out here for our black babies. We got to stay on them and keep pushing."
Friday's event is the first in a weekend-long celebration of Johnson's life. Saturday, the celebration will continue with a community get-together at Saunders Park beginning at 10 a.m.
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