Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Catching Nayla's Tears

“Durham is known for being the place you go if you wanna kill a black man and get away with it,” Nayla Rudder told me after her boyfriend was murdered. He was the only boyfriend she ever knew. They fell in love when she was 15. I was preparing to perform their wedding ceremony before he was killed.

Their life of love came to a tragic end on June 18, 2011 when a car pulled up next to his and a person inside fired bullets at Michael Hunter. Hunter, 30, drove his car 200 yards until he lost control and crashed into a tree near the Fayetteville Street exit ramp on the Durham Freeway. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

It happened in the middle of the day. “Someone had to see something,” Rudder told me as she fought back the tears caused by the memory of the love she has lost. “The police know who did it.”

She gazed at the daughter left behind. “I have to do it by myself now,” her tears robbed me of the strength needed in that moment. “Another black man killed for no reason.” I nodded my head and counted the love ones lost over the years-Juan Coleman, 27, Jamel Holloway, 27, Lennis Harris Jr., 24, and Jonathan Skinner, 26. I pondered the pain of my friends Lennis Sr. and Donnamaria Harris after receiving word that their son was killed along with three others.

The quadruple homicide that rocked the city happened close to six years ago. Rudder still waits for her own justice. She waits knowing enough, but not enough to put an end to this madness. Like so many waiting for a conviction, the healing can’t begin in earnest until a face is placed on the reason behind their nightmares. The ongoing quest for justice obstructs the ability to release enough to live.

I remember first reading about Hunter’s murder. It was part of a sickening week were two black men were murdered on the Durham Freeway-one on Saturday and another on the following Monday. I read it with interest. I felt sorrow for the families, but then I ran into my friend Nayla. She helped me make the connection that the news article failed to make for me. I knew him. I know her. They are a part of me.

There is a lesson in Nayla’s pain. She shouldn’t have to carry all of that sorrow on her own. The loss of Michael is our loss. There is a teenager who will grow up without a father to show his love. She will grow up aching while doing her best to live according to the expectations of grown folks. How do you study when daddy is gone? How do you maneuver through puberty with the brokenness caused by the loss of your papa?

I watched as Nayla trembled to fight the eruption of tears. I contemplated the list of loses I’ve endured over the years-Tia Carraway, murdered on the 4th of July 2001 while taking a lunch break at Durham Regional Hospital. She was killed execution style on Barbee Road. I shed a tear for my friend. Delia Allen, killed at the I-Hop while waiting to eat breakfast, Keshaun Patterson, 17, killed at the Northgate Mall, two-year old Shaquana Atwater, gunned down while playing in Few Gardens in 1994. The list goes on. Too many tears to count. Too many memories to run away.

I sucked in the pain long enough to be present with my friend. From there I ran to my car to release the ache of two many funerals. “He was the same age of my own son,” I howled in frustration. “He is someone’s son, someone’s nephew, someone’s grandson, someone’s cousin. He is someone’s friend. He’s someone’s daddy, and he is the love of Nayla’s life.

I couldn’t catch the tears. I never can. I allowed them to remind me of my purpose. Even though it hurts we must be reminded that we are connected to one another. Nayla’s tears belong to me. They belong to all of us. Because, deep down, we are just one big family.

Here’s my shoulder Nayla. Cry if you need.


  1. There are no simple answers, but it is important to have the discussion. Thank you for writing this powerful piece.

    As a parent, I think about the shooting of two young children this weekend and shudder because as I write this I realize my own son very well may be out on the playground at his downtown school right now.

    Some days it seems all we can do is pray that the madness and violence simply doesn't find us. But there has to be more we all can do. I look forward to that discussion.

    Paul K.

  2. I love it, what you have put into words is beautiful. I pray they find out who did this, even if they seldom happens here. The night I took that picture of Nayla and Mike....I never would of believed he would be gone so soon. Thank you.
    Phyllis Rickard

  3. Carl I have been fighting back my tears all day. This article touches me in so many ways.I remember this day all to clearly. My daughter ,and I struggle everyday with the loss of Michael. They say time heals all wounds, I'm just waiting for our day to come. Another African-American man taken away to soon, the sad part is that once that act of violence has been done we are the ones who have to suffer with that loss.For Michael I can only look up to the sky now ,and ask him to watch over me, and his baby girl.Carl I truly thank you for this. There are not enough words in the English dictionary to express my gratitude.You are a awesome man , and I am blessed to have you in my life. I LOVE YOU.

    1. I just happened upon this article while looking up something else. I am so sorry for your and your daughter's loss. As a mother of 3 daughters, there is so much I want to type and say right now but can't. It just knocks the breath out of me. I will have you and his family and friends in my prayers as always!

  4. Nateshia WilliamsMarch 27, 2012 at 6:34 PM

    Michael is my brother. I really appreciate you writing this to try to bring some light to the crime in Durham. I cry every night when it's quiet usually when I'm putting my daughter to sleep and I'm thinking about how much I miss him. When I think about how much he meant to me and what a bright future he had ahead of him. It's not fair. I don't understand our justice system and how someone can get murdered in broad daylight and no one gets arrested for the crime. The street where he was murdered has cameras on every corner but of course when I asked about that I was told that the were not operational. I want answers and I want to know why this happened to my brother. We have to do something about the crime in Durham. I was there for 23 years and now I don't even like to visit. I still have family there so we must get our voices heard so that there are some changes made. If we don't do something this will keep happening and someone else's family will be feeling this unbearable pain. As Nayla said we are left to deal with this pain. I will always be there for Shaniya don't worry.