Scholarships awarded as part of black history event

Staff writerFebruary 9, 2014 

Ashly Thomas knew the tears were going to come when she walked to a lectern Saturday to accept a scholarship named in memory of her friend Jalon Bea, who was killed in an October gun accident.

She couldn’t hold them back when she hugged his mom, Jackie, in front of hundreds of people attending a Black History Month celebration in the Lincoln High School gymnasium.

“I’m going to make his mom proud and continue his legacy,” Thomas, 17, said.

Their embrace and the two other Jalon Bea scholarships awarded to Nahum Sutton and Hassan Kitt brought a heartfelt moment to Tacoma’s annual stomp fest and black history celebration.

The $150 awards will help the three students cover expenses on a visit to Langston University, a historically black college in Oklahoma, this spring. Jalon Bea had been planning to go on the trip.

Just before his death, he told adviser Michael Hankins, “I can’t wait to step on that black college so I can see all the fine girls, join a step team and show them what Tacoma has,” Hankins said as he introduced the scholarships.

Hankins cried, too, remembering the 17-year-old boy.

“I know if (Jalon) was here today, this whole floor would be full of people dancing,” Hankins said.

Two themes prevailed during the evening. One showed off the talents of performers, such as the Lincoln High School drum line and a mix of dancers and poets. Their beats echoed in the gym and inspired a little dancing, too.

The other called on young students to make the most of their education to succeed after graduation.

To that end, the celebration recognized two Tacomans who have made a difference in the lives of young people over the years. One was Betty Mewborn, a longtime foster parent and founder of a cancer support group. She received the celebration’s lifetime achievement award.

The other was Charles Weatherby, a doctor whom Hankins introduced as Tacoma’s version of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable. Weatherby played along by pinching his Bill Cosby-like sweater.

“The key to life is education,” Weatherby stressed to the teenagers in the gym.

Jackie Bea said her son was headed in that direction. She’s hoping to create a foundation in his name that would award more scholarships in the years ahead.

He died Oct. 11 after a friend jokingly pointed a revolver at him without realizing the gun was loaded, according to police reports. The friend, Tanielu Lotovaivai, is awaiting a March trial on manslaughter charges in Pierce County Superior Court.

Jackie Bea wore a purple sweatshirt with Jalon’s picture on it to “keep him close.”

“I know my son would be happy; he’d be proud,” she said.

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 adam.ashton@ thenewstribune.com

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