OVER-THE-RHINE— Mourners recalled Africa Hope at her funeral Thursday as a girl who excelled at math and science and planned a career as a biologist and model – with the brains and beauty to do both.
“That little girl was brilliant,” said Lisa Hamm, president of the Cincinnati College Preparatory Program, West End, which Africa attended from fourth to seventh grade. “She always was smiling. She always was polite. She always visited my office to give me a big hug.”
New Prospect Baptist Church, about a quarter of a mile from the 1700 block of Vine Street, where Africa was shot and killed June 18, was filled to standing room Thursday afternoon for her visitation and funeral.
Corline Stone, 74, of the West End, the grandmother who cared for Africa since she was 2 months old, sat in the front row, a few feet from the open casket in which Africa’s body laid, dressed in a white blouse and holding a flower.
Stone brought up Africa because her mother, Vanessa Hope, 50, was addicted to drugs.
One by one, relatives spoke during the 90-minute funeral, forgiving Vanessa Hope, praising Stone for her selflessness and pledging to unify the family in the wake of Africa’s death.
Harold W. Croft, 36, is being held on $500,000 bond after his arrest last Friday on the charge of felony murder in connection to Africa’s death.
And while speakers expressed their faith that Africa was now in heaven, New Prospect Pastor Damon Lynch III criticized the thinking that God called Africa home. Instead, Lynch anguished over the loss of her limitless potential and challenged the congregation of African-American mourners to turn their own lives around.
“God didn’t say, `I need another rose in heaven.’ Stop putting that stuff on God,” Lynch said in his eulogy, which started with the display of rap video “Self Destruction” from the Stop the Violence Movement.
“That’s a message for our people: We’re headed to self destruction,” said Lynch, referring both to Croft’s race as an African-American and how Africa, though gifted, couldn’t resist the lure of the streets.
From the start of 2005 through April 22 of this year, 86.1 percent of homicides in Cincinnati in which an arrest was made are cases of black-on-black violence, up from 75.1 percent from 2000 through 2004. Those numbers are reflected nationally.
Africa, a ninth-grade student at Taft Information Technology High School, near her home, had a juvenile record that included curfew violation, running away and disorderly conduct.
Lynch compared Africa and other struggling African-Americans to the Biblical prodigal son. They go away. Some straighten themselves out, learning hard lessons, and come home. Others, like Africa, don’t live long enough to learn how gifted, lovable and valuable they are.
“It’s in you, beautiful black people; there is all kinds of greatness in this room. Ain’t no quitting in this life,” said Lynch, who then looked down from the pulpit to Africa’s grandmother. “Miss Corline, job well done. You gave all.”
And then to the congregation, he said, “This beautiful young girl with the beautiful name has gone to find peace and rest. If you love Africa, you owe it to her to do something with yourself.”