Family and friends of Andre Dupree Payton -- close to 500 people -- attended his funeral Tuesday morning. The gathering was held at the Maranantha Church on NE 12th Ave. at Fremont. Pastor Boris Rhodes and Elder Robert Richardson led the family in procession through the packed crowd who had turned out to honor the slain teen, comfort his family and be comforted by a service that stressed the power of love.
"We send our deepest condolences," Elder Richardson told Andre Payton's family. "Our prayers will be with you -- not just this morning, but for many, many mornings." TheSkanner News Video: Mourners leave the Maranantha Church
The teen had graduated from Grant High School, just three months before the shooting that took his life. He was remembered as a young man who loved his mother, friends and family, and worked hard to prepare himself to meet the challenges of adult life.
'The reality was that he was a great young man – and as with all of us, he had far more pluses than minuses," Richardson said. "What will be in my heart and mind is a great young man."
Throughout the service, many people testified to Andre Payton's generous heart, his sense of humor and his care for family and friends.
"He was the sweetest kid," said one longtime friend. "I love you Dre," echoed from many voices.
A slideshow of photographs played Andre Payton's journey through childhood and growth to manhood. Aaron O'Bryan Smith, sang for the teen's mother, Selena Harris, 'A Song for Mama." Teressa L. Raiford, his aunt, read his obituary.
"In the 19 years of his life, Andre showed so many people so much love," she said. "He gave so much of himself in a way that made people feel special. I know because that's what he did for me."
Ayric Joe Payton read from the bible, quoting Proverbs 3:5 -6 and First Corinthians 13.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding," he read. "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…"
Tieleen Francine Freeman, Andre Payton's grandmother, sang "Eye on the Sparrow.' Her powerful and melodic voice filled the church. Ushers, immaculately dressed and wearing gloves, handed out tissues to the mourners. Voices rang out from time to time saying "Amen" and "That's right," in support of the speakers.
About 15 people shared their memories, including his brother, Tonari Harris; and his sisters, RaShay Burns, Rakeisha Burns and MarShay Taylor.
Pastor Boris Rhodes chose for his sermon the Gospel of St Luke, 15:11-20, the parable of the Prodigal Son, much beloved by his father despite his flaws.
"Andre was with us for 19 years," he said. "Andre had a purpose and he did what he was supposed to do. God called him to be with him…God doesn't make mistakes."
He urged those hurting to put their trust in the Lord, then everything will work out. He told Selena Harris and the family that Andre will always be smiling down on them and wants to see them living healthy, whole and purposeful.
"I heard he was a man that liked to cook," Rhodes said. "I asked the family if he was funny or corny and most people thought he was a little bit corny. But what I heard was that he was a man that loved everyone – I learned that he was everybody's daddy."
Pastor Rhodes got a few laughs out of those present – as he reminded them they would laugh again. He had heard that Andre Payton cooked a mean Hamburger Helper. So he got up at 5 a.m., he said, and cooked Hamburger Helper for the funeral party.
He appealed to all the youth who were present to "slow down" and let go of thoughts of revenge. "I know this is a homeboy service," he said. "Get it in your heart and in your spirit that 'I'm going to make a change.'" He echoed the words of the prodigal son parable, "Jesus will meet you from a great way off."
Police, parole officers and gang outreach workers were present in numbers. Some were attending the service for a teen they knew and cared for. Others were waiting outside the church or in the neighborhood, alert for any outbreak of emotion-driven trouble. Many youth were in attendance, a few wearing handkerchiefs or clothing that suggested a gang allegiance.
Elder Richardson, Samuel Thompson of Self Enhancement Inc., and several others called to the congregation to join the Restore the Village campaign, launched last Wednesday at SEI. They asked those present to join together as families and as a community to do whatever it takes to stop young Black men from shooting one another.
"We've got our marching orders from God – that's right, to man up," Richardson said.
Tyrone Payton quoted from Ephesians: "In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger."
Thompson had worked with Andre Payton for three years, helping him succeed in school and graduate. Hearing about his death, "hurt like a pain I've never felt," he said. "Andre was like one of my nephews, one of my kids. I just really want his friends to understand … the reason it's called senseless violence is that it makes no sense.
"The pain you guys are feeling now is nothing to what his family is feeling. And if we continue on the path we're on – as men not being accountable, by us not being resposible for our children, by us not being fathers, not having respect for families, this will happen over and over and over again."
Just after the funeral was over, tragedy almost did happen again. A young man leaving the funeral was shot just blocks away on the intersection of N.E. Going and Rodney. He was injured in both legs and taken to hospital to be treated. Just like Andre Dupree Payton, he was 19-years-old. Unlike Andre Payton, he will live.