The tragic specter of 2015 — the most murderous and perhaps the most tumultuous year in Baltimore’s history — will be slow to fade. But, arguably the most horrific homicide our city has ever witnessed and the heroic martyrs of that heinous act, could help strengthen our collective resolve as we go forward.
On October 16, 2002 Angela and Carnell Dawson, and their five children were murdered in their home in the Oliver neighborhood of East Baltimore, by Darrell Brooks who set their home on E. Preston Street (Brooks lived nearby in the 1200 block of N. Eden St.) ablaze when he hurled a firebomb into it.
According to police, Brooks also attempted to firebomb the Dawson home on October 3, 2002 in retaliation for Angela Dawson repeatedly reporting drug and other criminal activity in and around their neighborhood. Less than two weeks later, perhaps encouraged by a lack of law enforcement response to the initial attack, Brooks (who at the time was 21) succeeded in murdering an entire family, because they had the audacity to fight back.
“They fought, they advocated, they tried to get the government, the city to listen to them and listen to their woes and what was going on in their community. And they were not listened to and subsequently they were murdered by another community member,” said Navasha Daya, an international recording artist, community leader and resident of the Oliver community.
Daya recently released, “I Am Because We Are (Tribute to the Dawson Family),” which is the third single from the original motion picture soundtrack, “Lom Nava Love,” a documentary chronicling the life and work of Cherry Hill community organizer Shirley Foulks. The documentary is written, produced and directed by Daya’s husband Fanon Hill (Hill also wrote, composed and produced the song).
“For me it was a very emotional process of singing it and recording it,” Daya added. “This family…they represent what our people are about.”
The phrase, “Lom Nava Love,” comes from the Ewe language spoken in West Africa, and embodies the understanding, `if you love me, then you will come to me,’ which describes Foulks’ approach to organizing.
For Daya, her work on the soundtrack for the film represents the latest steps in a musical journey, which began about 20 years ago when she was a student at Morgan State University and co-founder of the R&B, Soul, Jazz fusion group Fertile Ground. Her odyssey has evolved into a solo career (after Fertile Ground dissolved several years ago), that has brought her international acclaim in various genres including House, Jazz, and Neo Soul among others.
The documentary “Lom Nava Love” is birthed from the community building work of Daya and her husband Hill through The Youth Resiliency Institute they founded. The Institute is the recipient of a $500,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and it endeavors to restore disenfranchised communities in Cherry Hill and Albemarle Square in Baltimore and East Cleveland, Ohio, where Daya and Hill are originally from.
“Black families living in low-income communities often possess rich tactics and practices that can transform entire neighborhoods,” Hill said. “Far too few institutional structures and systems value poor Black families enough to acknowledge them as possessing solutions to ills plaguing our cities, which in turn, creates an unequal two-tiered notion of citizenship. The Dawson family lived and died in such a system,” he added.
For many of us, 2015 was almost unbearable, but if we try to forget it, we do so at our own peril. But, perhaps the spirit of the Dawson family can help inform our thoughts and actions going forward. To that end, Hill and Daya want us to remember them.
“We want to honor the spirit of this family, which everyone should look at as a model of how determined and resilient we are,” Daya said.
Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday, 5-7 p.m. on WEAA 88.9.