In a church, and before an altar heaped with the symbols of life, they came to say goodbye to a child who had barely tasted it.
First, the boy’s mother and father, dressed in crisp white, and his grandparents and relatives, in the color of mourning. Then, a dozen little boys stepped forward in black and yellow football jerseys that proudly proclaimed “No Limits.” Finally, children in green Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costumes gazed upon their friend, who would forever be frozen in a world of crayons and cartoons.
Before them rested King Javon Carter, in an impossibly small casket draped in white, his 6-year-old head barely visible.
“It is his will, that every need be supplied,” the church choir sang. “I won’t harm you with words from my mouth. I love you; I need you to survive.”
On an altar bursting with white roses and yellow chrysanthemums, someone hoisted a crown toward heaven, then gently rested it upon the child’s head. As the casket’s lid was lowered, the congregation sang, “I’m coming home to Jesus.”
King was a first-grader at Van E. Blanton Elementary, a leader of his football team — the Warriors — a lover of junk food and green reptile cartoon characters. At age 6, he remembered all the words to the Gospel song “Take Me to the King.” His life was cut short a week ago in front of his Northwest Miami-Dade apartment. Police say King was collateral damage in the crossfire between rival teens who had been feuding on Facebook.
And while much of the week was given to the search for justice — police have arrested three teenagers in connection with King’s shooting — Saturday gave way, instead, to a search for meaning.
Against the walls leaned images of green Ninja Turtle faces, floral arrangements shaped like footballs, and a teddy bear. Virtually every seat in Opa-locka’s New Birth Baptist Church held a soul Saturday as congregants praised their Lord, but also chided some of their children for solving their problems with guns — and some of the parents who are raising them.
In his eulogy, the Rev. Gaston E. Smith of the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church read from the book of Samuel of the death of King David’s son: While the child clung to life, David prayed and fasted. When the youngster died, David changed his clothes and ate once again. David’s servants asked him, “You fasted and wept for the child while it was alive, but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” David’s reply: “But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”
Like the child of David, Smith said, King Carter can never return. Instead, the pastor said, the youngster will lead his community by teaching others how to live.
In the story of David, Smith said, “God gets the attention of David, but he also gets the attention of all those who followed David.”
The meaning of King’s death, Smith said, was that the youngster had become “a sacrificial lamb,” to teach his community, his state, and his nation to cherish their children — and to stop killing them.
“One by one, our children are being picked off by violence,” Smith said. “One by one, we are losing our children. One by one, we are going to the cemetery. One by one, we are comforting our families. One by one, we are dealing with tragedies like the one we are dealing with today.”
“The good news is that King Javon Carter no longer has to sing “Take Me to the King” because right now he is in the arms of the King,” Smith said. “King Carter has met King Jesus.”
Mourners for the youngster included those barely old enough to read, but whose words stirred the cavernous church to tears. Another boy named King, King Pierce, spoke bravely of his friend while he cradled a microphone against his chest. “King was a good boy who didn’t do no harm to anybody,” the boy whispered. “He always had big dreams. He was my best friend.”
As the tot spoke, a woman parceled out tissues as King’s teammates dabbed away tears.
One of the youngster’s coaches, Johnny Joassaint, began to preach when he spoke of the little boy who “was not only King by name, but also by character.”
His voice rising with emotion, Joassaint rebuked churchgoers for filling the worship hall for a small child’s funeral, but “not on a regular Sunday. He’s 6 years old!” Joassaint shouted. “These kids are precious. If we raise our kids right, and show them love, this will not happen. We make it so hard with our choices.”
“Long live King Carter, man,” Joassaint said. As he left the altar, mourners sang: “Take me to the King. I don’t have much to bring. My heart is torn to pieces.”
The principal of King’s school, Tangela D. Goa, said she will forever remember King’s “smiling face” as he entered school every morning. King, teachers said, was a precocious, friendly, well-mannered boy who studied hard and wanted to be an FBI agent. “I can only imagine what his teachers and family are going through,” Goa said, “because my heart breaks.” Burying children, she added, “is not in our job description. As teachers, it is not in our job description.”
Goa exhorted the congregation to love and protect their children. “We need everybody to stand for our babies,” she said. “We need you to stand not just today, but to stand tomorrow, and to stand a year from now. These boys and girls need you to stand for them.”
King’s father, Santonio “Blaze” Carter, also called upon mourners to ensure that the little boy did not die “in vain.”
Carter asked congregants to launch a “movement” to teach children to end the violence, and to “be their own men. The mission is to save our kids,” Carter said. “Something has got to change.”
But Carter also left mourners with a hopeful heart. On bended knee, Carter proposed to King’s mother, Monica Smith, who he said had been his soul mate since the two were King’s age. “Right now, I bow and ask you to be my wife,” Carter said, as Smith covered her face with her hands.
“I want you to say “Congratulations,” he told the stunned church. “For today, it’s congratulations. We don’t want to hear ‘sorry’ no more.”