Saturday was a day for hugs and tears.
It was a day for mourning and celebrating the all-too-short life of Tony Terrell Robinson.
Roughly 1,000 people filled the Milton McPike Field House at Madison East High School – with the overflow of another 200 or so people watching on video screens – as the public funeral service was held for Robinson, the 19-year-old who was fatally shot by a Madison police officer during an altercation on March 6.
Among those who attended were U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Mark Pocan, Mayor Paul Soglin, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, Madison School District Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham and state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison.
While his grandfather, Tyrone Henry, vowed “there will be justice for Tony Terrell Robinson,” the theme of the day was of remembrance and savoring the Tony Robinson who meant so much to so many in the room.
A series of speakers, friends and family members spoke of a young black man who had worked his way through some unfortunate choices and was determined to make something of his life.
One of those speakers, Alize Carter, recalled one of her last conversations with Tony.
“You ever have that feeling like you’re going to live forever, like you’re never going to die?” she recalled him telling her. “I don’t know how I know it, but I do. Just watch, I’m going to change the world.”
The accuracy of that forecast, others noted, has been evident in the days since his death, which inspired a succession of peaceful, but strident protests and a renewed intensity at many levels throughout the community about solving lingering problems of racial inequity.
His aunt, Lorien Carter, wrote a poem in Robinson’s honor and read it during the service.
In part, it said, “My nephew was not a victim. Victims do not survive. He is our martyr who lives forever in our lives. His loss was not in vain. His memory lives on … a champion of change. Cry for him now, but fight for him in time.”
A friend, Elijah Carter, said Robinson was like a brother to him. He struggled to get through his eulogy, as Robinson’s mother, Andrea Irwin, came up to the stage to encourage him, and finally his mother, Shauntay Carter, had to take over and finish reading his message.
“He began to talk about how he was going to live forever and he was going to do something great,” Elijah Carter wrote. “I just hope the angels know what they have … and what was taken from us.”
Another friend, Jordan King, recalled observing an evolution in Robinson. “He was frustrated with life, angry with the choices he made in the past,” King said. “He saw no way out.”
But more recently King said there was a newfound determination to change his fate.
“I knew he was becoming a man,” King said. “When his eyes close for the last time, I died, too. We have to do what Tony did not live long enough to do. Because to live defeated is to die another death.”
Jack Spaulding, one of Robinson’s best friends, said the two often talked of their plans. They had even envisioned someday opening a restaurant together. “When I open up the restaurant, I’m going to name it ‘Tony’s,’ ” Spaulding said.
Robinson’s grandmother, Sharon Irwin, quoted Martin Luther King in talking about the community’s response to his death.
“You can’t fight darkness with darkness, hate with hate,” Irwin said.
“We only have one way to move and that’s with respect and love,” she said. “We’re going to stand strong and firm, but we’re also going to show respect and show that respect to Tony, too.”
And then, leading up to the playing of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” during which the entire crowd rose and raised their hands, she said, “I know my boy is out there … he’s rocking the universe.”
Later, Irwin talked about her grandson’s growth in the aftermath of his conviction for armed robbery that led to probation.
“He made a choice,” she said. “It was not the proper choice. You make choices in life and there are consequences that follow those choices that you make. He was walking like a man through the adversity that he created for himself.
“He understood what he did and he regretted it. But he was moving in the way and growing to be a man.”
Craig Spaulding, Jack’s father, saw that maturity happening. And he bemoaned the fact that Robinson won’t be able to realize his potential in life.
“This is a tragedy that totally could’ve been prevented,” Spaulding said. “I wouldn’t say he was troubled. He had a bad night. He didn’t need eternity; he needed a bottle of water, a sofa and an hour’s worth of cartoons.”
Spaulding has been actively involved in the protest marches following Robinson’s death and sees a silver lining in the way people have responded in Madison, in contrast to the violence that marked the protests last year in Ferguson, Missouri.
“There’s not going to be another Ferguson,” Spaulding said. “This is a movement of peace and love and kindness.”
Sharon Irwin sounded a similar note in talking about her grandson.
“We stand for what he stood for,” she said. “We stand for peace, we stand for change. He was young. He was black. And he’s beautiful.”
SOURCE: Dennis Punzel
Wisconsin State Journal