Published: Aug 10, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Aug 10, 2011 04:22 PM
On June 29 I answered a phone call from Latifah White, the sister of Lakeia Lacole Boxley, the 33-year old woman whose partial remains (bones) were discovered in a back pack and turned over to the police by a homeless man in Durham last August.
She had left several messages seeking help from the NAACP to "tell the media to stop labeling my sister as a prostitute and not a victim." Deciding that this was not an issue for the NAACP, I had placed Ms. White's call at the end of my long list of calls to return behind what I felt were much more pressing requests for NAACP to address.
This time I answered the phone. "Ms. White, I am so sorry for your loss and I understand your anger towards the media but there is nothing that the NAACP can do about the way the media spins a story," I said.
She continued, this time crying: "But my sister had a family, she belonged to somebody who cared for her. She didn't deserve what that evil man did. Nobody should be treated like that, not even an animal. I told my sister when I left Durham I was coming back for her, and now she is gone and nobody seems to care," she blurted out in one breath.
Several weeks passed and even though she had been on my mind, I hadn't done much other than to make a few phone calls to try and set up a vigil for Lakeia Boxley and all the other women who are on the streets of Durham. How many other Lakeias are there out there who have lost their way and who are just waiting for the family member, like Lakeia's sister, who said, "I will come back for you," to actually return for them?
Ms. White called me several weeks . I asked her to tell me about her sister's life. This is part of the story Ms. White told me:
"Lakeia grew up in Jersey City, N.J. My grandmother always had us in church. We belonged to Miracle Temple where my grandmother was the mother of the church. Lakeia's father died before Lakeia was born but he left her a lot of money. After he died my Uncle Gregory became a father figure to Lakeia and many of my grandmother's other grandchildren whom she was helping to raise. Lakeia was really smart and creative in school. She even took college courses in high school. She was a good communicator and liked to write poetry. She really wanted to be a model though and always stood out among all the other kids. My mother moved them down to North Carolina; Lakeia graduated High School in Durham. I can't remember the name of the school but I think it was the Durham Arts School or something like that. After high school Lakeia went to Job Corps. After that she came back to Durham. When she came back from Job Corps she was really depressed. ... It was like her mind wasn't really together any more. She spent about two years in and out of a mental health facility and then she came back to my mother. Lakeia said one time when the money her father left her was all gone it was like my mother didn't care for and love her anymore. I have to be honest about this, it was my mother who got my sister hooked on drugs. She started smoking crack with my mother and then she got way out there. She was supposed to be getting help for the way she was feeling but I don't think they did a good job. She would sleep in the woods and in abandoned buildings and stuff."
I asked if Lakeia had suffered any trauma as a child that would make her so sad. Ms. White responded:
"Well honestly I think she was always sad about her father passing. She was also raped as a minor in the projects in Jersey City. They trapped her at one of the exits. She also later told me that one of my mother's guy friends molested her but that my mother didn't believe it. But what I really want people to know is that she loved her children. She loved helping people; she would give you her last dime. My mom had mental health problems too so that was also part of it. As the big sister though I got married and had kids so I really couldn't help her like I wanted to. I do want her spirit to know now though that I did come back and I want the man to pay for what he did to my sister. They are even trying to say now in his defense that these may not be my sister's remains that I have. How could they put our family through this?"
At the conclusion of our call I told her that I would try to write this story and hoped that it would get published. Again, she graciously thanked me.
Ms. White informed me that the court proceedings for Lakeia will start back up on Aug. 15. A candlelight vigil for Lakeia and other women victims of crime, drug addiction and mental illness will take place in front of the Durham County Courthouse on Aug. 13 at 5 p.m.
Michelle Laws is the president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP.