Woman reaches out to help heal Natchez High graduates’ loss
NATCHEZ — Shedrick Green didn’t feel alone when he walked across the stage at Friday night’s Natchez High graduation.
Though it’s been 12 years since Green hugged his father, Dad was there — in spirit.
And though Green was never one to talk much about the death of his father, a newfound community of his peers knew Dad was there too.
Shedrick Minor, Green’s father, died in 2001 when Green was just 7 years old.
The loss is something Green said he’s dealt with personally, but not something he is quick to share with friends and classmates.
“Sometimes people forget or don’t know that you’ve gone through something like that, so I don’t talk about it all the time,” Green said. “I don’t even remember the day he died.
“I’m not trying to block it out or anything, but I just choose not to remember that day.”
Memories came flooding back when Green walked into the Natchez High School library last week and was surrounded by 18 other seniors who immediately knew his pain.
Each of the students had suffered a loss like Green’s, and each was there — unexpectedly — because of it.
A newly formed community organization — named, “It still takes a village (to raise a child),” — had come to the school to honor the students and, intentionally or not, help them open up.
Natchez native Chantel Marsaw founded the organization after her daughter asked if there was anything they could do for the seniors graduating who had all lost a mother or father.
“I thought it would just be a few, and then when she started telling me how many kids it was, I was shocked,” Marsaw said. “I just knew I had to do something for them for having gone through such a tough thing in their lives.”
Marsaw wanted to have commemorative plaques made for students to honor their achievements and remember their family members, but she soon realized that plan required more money and resources than she had available.
“I went on Facebook after that and just posted about what I wanted to do for the kids,” Marsaw said. “Everybody started commenting on it saying it was a great idea and asking how they could help.”
In no time, Marsaw said she had been contacted by several local businesses that donated enough money to get the plaques made for the students.
The students, however, had no idea what Marsaw was doing and were initially confused when called to the library.
“I thought I was in trouble,” Torian Johnson said. “When I walked in and they told me what they were doing, I just started crying.
“They had to bring in a bunch of tissues because we were all crying so much.”
Johnson, who lost her mother, Efetoya Johnson, in 2011, said she had no idea how many students in her class had also lost one of their parents.
“Some of them I knew it had happened to, but I had forgotten,” Torian Johnson said. “It’s just something people forget because we don’t all talk about it.”
The plaques that were presented to the students featured a large bulldog, the Natchez High mascot, at the top followed by the parent’s name and the student’s name.
Marneria White, who lost her mother, LaTonya White in 2002, said she’s kept the plaque close since she received it.
“It reminds me that someone cared enough to go through all this,” White said. “I couldn’t stop crying when they gave it to me.”
The experience is something that has brought the students closer together, Meghin Dawson said.
“We cried for like 20 minutes straight,” Dawson said. “We were closer after that for sure.”
Dawson lost her mother, Renee Dawson, in 2011, and said being able to open up with the other students has made her realize they should share their experiences with others more often.
“Some people should know not to take their parents for granted,” Dawson said. “Tell them you love them.”
Overall, Green said the plaque and the experience is one he used to remind him of his father’s legacy.
“He was a great man, and for me it’s all about keeping his memory going,” Green said. “Sometimes people might forget about you, but we can’t forget.
“This lets us know that people out there are thinking about us, and we appreciate that more than anything.”