The student body of Belair Middle School in Pine Bluff stood in the unseasonable warmth of a mid-March afternoon Friday to bid farewell to a classmate who died nearly a week ago.
The students as well as school staff, the Pine Bluff School District superintendent, parents and members of the community gathered in front of the school to honor the memory of 12-year-old Quinshun Parks, a Belair seventh grader who died Sunday from injuries he suffered in a March 10 shooting.
“As a family we are united to come together to do something to honor Quinshun,” said Belair Principal Robbie Williams. “He is gone but will not be forgotten. We go on but a link in our chain is broken.”
Click here to view a photo gallery of images from the memorial.
Superintendent Jerry O. Payne spoke behind a wooden podium placed in front of the assembled students.
“To all that are here today, it is a sad occasion when we lose the life of a young person,” Payne said. “Life itself is a special thing.”
Payne spoke directly to the students.
“Say after me,” Payne said. “I am somebody.”
The students repeated the phrase in unison in strong voices.
“I will be a leader,” Payne said.
Again the students repeated.
And so it went as Payne continued and the students replied.
“In my class, in my school, in my community. I will succeed in my life. I will be a leader.”
Payne reminded the students of the fragility of human life.
“Tomorrow is not guaranteed,” Payne said. “You must have love in your heart for your classmates, your teachers and your parents. I encourage you to understand that violence is never the answer to resolving anything. When people get shot they don’t get back up and go to the grocery store like they do on TV.”
“Commit yourself to what you are going to do with the time that is your life from the day you are born until the day that you die,” Payne said.
Payne concluded with another rallying cry to the students.
“I will be committed,” Payne said and the children repeated. “To do my best. Every day. In my school. In my community.”
Following Payne to the podium was the mother of Quinshun Parks, Felecia Jones.
“Thank you for all that you did and all that you are doing,” Jones said as she addressed those gathered around. “I believe everything happens for a reason. This is a sign from God. Thank you.”
After Jones returned to her place in the crowd, Williams ushered Eddie Bell and Demarious Goal to the front, who together brought forward a clutch of 12 balloons.
“We have 12 because that is how old Quinshun was,” Williams said. “Release the balloons.” And they did.
The balloons, glinting in the afternoon sun, slowly but steadily ascended into the partly cloudy skies across a vacant lot and over a fire station as they made their way towards the Martha Mitchell Expressway, crossing high overhead as cars and trucks passed by below.
Williams held a single purple balloon.
“With the release of this balloon that is from Belair and in Quinshun’s memory we release him from our school,” Williams said, her voice filled with emotion as the single balloon made its way along the same path as those that went before.
The boys stepped back and Belair math teacher Jeremy Cegers made his way to the podium clutching a cardboard box under his arm.
Cegers placed the box on the podium and began to read from the Bible.
“Oh, that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away and be at rest,” Cegers read from Psalms Chapter 55 Verse 6.
Cegers pulled back the closed flaps of the box to reveal the bobbing heads of two white doves.
The birds looked up and in unison lifted off and side by side flew out and over the seventh grade class of Belair students who together raised up their arms and stretched their hands out to the departing birds.
The crowd watched as the doves continued on first in the direction of the now-distant balloons, but then arced off to the left and fluttered over Commerce Road before disappearing behind the treeline.
“I ask that you be very careful where you go and the people that you are around on spring break,” Williams cautioned as she dismissed her students and directed them to their respective car and bus pickup lines.
Bell and Goal were emotional after the gathering honoring their friend had concluded.
“He’s like a brother to us,” Goal said. “Whenever you saw him you saw the rest of us.”
“We were always at each other’s houses and doing things together,” said Bell. “We played football and basketball together.”
Belair counselor Rebecca Robinson was proud of the strength shown by her students.
“We are so proud of the way our students have come together,” Robinson said. “You don’t realize how tight knit a group you have until tragedy strikes. We have been here for Quinshun’s family and the students and staff and we appreciate the support that the community and the school district have shown to us here at Belair.”
A mother’s love
“It was so special,” Felecia Jones said of the memorial held for her son. “I appreciate everyone for everything that they have done. The kids wanted to do something and this was nice.”
Jones smiled when asked what her son was like.
“They say he was a good student,” Jones said. “He stumbled a little bit. He was a real bounce back kind of kid. Last year his father died and he looked after his brother during that time. His grades looked strong.”
“I am comforted to know that I wasn’t the only one who loved him,” Jones said of the outpouring of support by the school and other members of the community. “They are truly taking care of us.”
A principal’s strength
“It’s definitely a tragedy,” Williams said. “We want to be there for the family and also have the everyday ritual of having school. The students were so well behaved. We couldn’t have asked for a better service for him. We are going to dedicate our annual this year to Quinshun.”
“He got all A’s and B’s on his report card this semester,” Williams said with a warm smile. “I’m going to give it to his mother.”
“He was very respectful,” Williams said of Parks. “He didn’t talk loud and always said ‘yes, ma’am’ and ‘no, ma’am.’”
“I will always remember the last thing he said to me on March 9,” Williams said. “See you Monday and have a nice weekend. I’ll never forget that.”
Jones said that a wake for Quinshun will take place at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Brown Funeral Home and the funeral will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at a yet to be determined location.
“We want to give the students and others who wish to speak a chance to do that at the wake,” Jones said.
Click here to view a photo gallery of images from the memorial.