DANVILLE – The hundreds of people who attended Saturday’s celebration of life for 25-year-old Jelani Jesse Javontae Day were a testament to how beloved the aspiring doctor and his family are in the community.
The four-hour-long service was held in the auditorium of Danville High School, where Day graduated in 2014. He would continue on with his education, graduating in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in communicative sciences and disorders from Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, Ala., and was pursuing a master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology at Illinois State University in Normal. His goal was to earn a doctorate.
Many college friends and associates called Day an inspiration to others on campus. To honor his memory, representatives from the National Alumni Association of Alabama A&M University, 100 Black Men of Greater Huntsville, Black Speech-Language Pathology Association, and Omega Psi Phi fraternity and the House Arrest 2 dance team, both of which Day was a member at A&M, presented Day’s family with resolutions and declarations.
There were uplifting moments during the homegoing service with gospel songs sung by a celebration choir, comforting words spoken by several ministers, and stories from family and friends that illustrated Day’s caring nature and sense of humor. “Jelani is missed and cared about. He was smart, kind, compassionate and loved his family,” Day’s mother, Carmen Bolden Day, said. “Jelani made peace and he accepted God, and I know he’s in heaven.”
“Thank you, God, for him,” Day’s grandmother, Gloria Bolden, said. “He took care of his dad and then he would come over and take out my trash.
“I’m honored to be his grandmother,” she said. “We never hung up the phone without saying ‘I love you.’”
One poignant story was told by Paul DeArmond, a childhood classmate of Day’s since kindergarten.
“He was always nice to me. He went to college to help people like me,” DeArmond said. “He wanted to become a speech therapist because of me.”
DeArmond shared that Day came to him in a dream last week and that Day smiled at him, which comforted him.
“I’ll always remember what a good friend he was to me,” DeArmond said. “He will always be in my heart.”
Bolden Day explained, “People teased Paul in school, and Jelani stood up for him. Jelani loved him.”
During the service, family members and friends also expressed sadness and determination to find the truth behind Day’s mysterious death.
Day went missing Aug. 24 after he was seen on video surveillance that morning at the ISU student center and then, about an hour and a half later, at a business in Bloomington. His car was discovered in a wooded area of a park in Peru, Ill., on Aug. 26, and his body was discovered along the Illinois River on Sept. 4. A month after Day went missing, the LaSalle County Coroner’s Office finally identified the body as Day’s. Bolden Day thanked God for her five children, adding “they are the best part of me.” Jelani was her fourth child and youngest son.
“He was the loudest, and he would argue with you up and down,” she said.
Day’s skillful debating and role as a protector for his siblings and cousins were characteristics many family members mentioned during the service.
“Jelani was my protector, but Jelani made me tough, Jelani made me strong because he said he might not always be around,” his younger sister, Zena Day, said tearfully. “I want to say thank you to Jelani for being a great brother and for making me laugh the hardest.”
Cousin Emani Davis called Day “a big brother and protector all in one.”
After telling a story about how Day would find older sister Dacara Bolden’s journals and diaries no matter where she hid them, Bolden read aloud her journal entry from the night before in which she said she missed her brother’s bear hugs and Facetime calls.
“I feel lost, heartbroken, and that I have failed you,” Bolden said. “You always wanted to protect me, but I always wanted to protect you, and I’m so sorry this one time I couldn’t.”
Day’s older brother Seve said, “He was confident in himself everywhere he went, and that’s why everyone loved him.”
Because of that self-confidence, Day’s mother denounced any notion that her son would take his own life.
“My son fought until the end,” she said. “He would have never allowed anyone to do anything to him without putting up a fight.
“My son would never do anything to himself,” Bolden Day said. “He would have never driven himself 60 miles, hid his car in the woods and taken the license plates off.
“He would never go to a river he didn’t know and take his clothes off,” she said. “No one’s going to jump in the water if you know how to swim — which he did — to end your life.
“Whoever you are that did this, I want you to know your time will come,” she vowed.
That sentiment was echoed by many family members and friends.
“God sees you and He knows,” said Day’s aunt, Terri Davis, adding a warning about her sister, Carmen, “You don’t know who you’re messing with. She’s a fighter, and she will not let this go.”
“For those who did this, this is far from over,” Emoné Davis said. “We are seeking justice for my cousin.”
“We may not know exactly what happened, but we have ideas,” Seve Day said. “But whoever did this to my little brother, I swear to God I’m coming for you.
“Pray for my family,” he added. “Pray for us as we go down this journey.”
Bolden Day called upon everyone to help and pray for her family as they demand justice for her son.
“We need all of you to help,” she said. “After today, the struggle continues.”