How Loss Led to Building Legacies
The Soul Tape Volume 1 Youth Summit was a humbling experience. I started brainstorming ideas for a youth summit in July 2014 as my way to give back to my community. While jotting down my ideas, I never knew when I would turn plan to action; however, life has a crazy way of motivating you. On January 5th, 2015, I got on Facebook and saw someone post that people were shot in Lancaster. As my feed updated, the posts turned into one shot, one killed then two shot, one killed. This is always an uneasy feeling for me because Lancaster City is but so small. We all grew up together in this city. There is only one city high school so we all know each other one way or another. I knew there would be a big chance I would know this person but my heart dropped when my feed updated again and I read my cousin's name next to a RIP message. It read, "RIP DEVONTE GANTT." I couldn't control my body as it fell weak and I broke down on the floor. The Devonte I knew wasn't gang banging or mixing in the messiness of the streets; he was always the chill kid that got along with everyone and ball was life for him. That news hit me hard and still does. Before his death, he just talked to me about trying out for the Philadelphia 76ers because they were "trash." He wasn't a hopeless spirit; he had talent, he had dreams and I believed in him. Was he perfect? No. If we "deserved" to die for our imperfections, I would have died a million times over. At 22, he still had a whole life ahead of him with kids to raise. Without getting too off topic, his death was a turning point for me. I almost gave up. I was angry at my peers for letting their self-hatred push them to kill another, I was angry at my community because everyone all of a sudden had an urge to "save the children" that have been overlooked for years, I was angry at myself because I really thought there was something I could do. This led me to be confused. I couldn't figure out why people were dying before carrying out their purpose. I started to question if I would be one. I started falling into this hopeless state of mind in which I battled with my purpose on this Earth and the reasoning behind my cousin's life being taken.
The day after we buried Devonte, my great-grandmother, Della Mae, won her battle aginst cancer and passed on. This knocked me down a little more. Although my gram lived her life to the fullest ( don't let anyone tell you different), my selfish human feelings of wanting her to be physically present made me head sick. The last time I talked to her, which wasn't too long before she passed, she said, "I'm proud of you Mernie Purnie." The last time I saw her alive, she looked like she was in pain, she was weak and we needed to let her go. As I stroked her soft hair, I realized she was in physical pain but her soul was strong. She found the strength to lift the upper half of her body up and sing, "His Eye is on the Sparrow" with us. I knew then she pass shortly after that. After she passed, I had a dream and she came to be and said, "I love you Mernie Purnie. I'm really proud of you so don't stop doing what you're doing. Ignore all that negative nonsense and keep writing your poetry. God has something in store." That dream was the moment I started to pick myself up and decided I will use my gifts and resources to evoke change; first in my city, then in the world. I met with my team, I met with the mayor and I began to work through my hurt. I found healing in helping and peace in productivity. I knew my next event will make them both proud and honor their names in the way they deserved.
Although we were already planning for a youth conference, it didn't have the meaning it did after this turning point. During the time I was mentally and spiritually weak, I felt my ideas were being shot down then used behind my back and I just battled with wanting to move forward. However, I knew I was passionate about this and I had to press forward. I met with my team and we all came to the conclusion that this summit will be like no other and any vision God gave me, no man can hinder or taint the greatness embedded in the message we were putting forth. And so it began...