Reflecting the size of his community and the deeply-felt impact of his loss, the funeral for Rashawn Williams, the 14-year-old killed last week in a fatal stabbing on Folsom Street, had well over 1,000 people filling St. Mary’s Cathedral Thursday morning.
Lining every pew of the Cathedral’s vast space were members of Williams’ large extended family (he has about 20 aunts and uncles and scores of cousins), students Williams had known since he started elementary school at Buena Vista Horace Mann, and those he had just met at the beginning of his tenure at Sacred Heart Preparatory gathered to say goodbye. Members of the San Francisco Police Department were there to share their condolences too—Williams had been a member of the police force’s jobs program.
The overall feeling at the church during the eulogy was somber in comparison to the bright attire most people were wearing. Before and after the mass, people of all ages chatted and cried and smiled to each other.
The ceremony featured a mix of family members sharing their memories of the teenager’s short life and clergy offering prayer. His uncle Robert Powell spoke of Rashawn’s mixed, rich heritage as an African-American, Salvadoran, and Lakota Indian. His grandmother Victoria Morales read a passage from the Bible in Spanish. Father Mark Doherty, of St. Mary’s, shared a prayer for the end of senseless violence.
A choir and ensemble of 150 high school musicians performed throughout. As songs like Ave María and Envía tu Espíritu were sung, images of Williams projected against the wall of the sanctuary.
Hardly anyone in the diverse crowd, made up of many ages and races, wore black. The family had requested that the public attend the mass in white to celebrate life and green–Rashawn’s favorite color.
Uncles and other close family wore all-white suits with green bow ties and vests and gowns—some of them with Rashawn’s face and his nickname “Lil Shawnito” printed on the back with green lettering.
What seemed like the entirety of Sacred Heart Preparatory’s student body added to the sea of green and white, wearing the school’s uniform of green sweater vests and beige pants. Many throughout the crowd also wore a green ribbon, a newly-hatched icon to commemorate the teenager’s life cut short.
After the mass ended, the crowd filed out to the esplanade and watched as pallbearers took the young man’s coffin to a nearby cemetery. Williams’ younger brothers, ages 6 and 10, followed close behind.
The funeral comes after a week of daily mourning rituals in which almost a hundred people gathered at the corner of 26th and Folsom at around 7 p.m., the site and hour of Williams’ death.
Family and friends have congregated at the same spot outside of Rubin’s Market every night since Williams was killed and contributed to an altar of homemade posters, candles and flowers. Since last Wednesday night, when the altar was just a small collection of items near the corner, it has grown tremendously.
Rows of votive candles now stretch down 26th Street towards Lucky Alley, piles of flowers have heaped up, and the number of homemade posters—all scrawled with personal messages to Williams— have multiplied. A giant cardboard Number 4, Williams’ number on the Warriors youth football team, rests against the wall near a large painting of the Virgin Mary. Mylar balloons float towards the heavens.
The mourning ritual has also grown. Each night, Williams’ maternal grandmother Victoria Morales leads a recitation of the rosary accompanied. In recent nights, traditional drummers have accompanied Aztec dancers in ritualized dance to bless Williams’ spirit. One of his uncles put together a slideshow that for the past several nights has projected against the exterior wall of Rubin’s Market.
What is evident by the mass attendance of his funeral and the consistency of the nightly vigils is that Williams is someone who will be sorely missed whose life was cut extremely short.