TAMPA — On the night of Jan. 5, just after midnight, Life Malcom heard a frantic knock on his bedroom door. He woke up alarmed, opened the door and heard his younger sister say she thought someone had shot Lyfe, his son.
Lyfe Lazarus Coleman, 18, was collapsed outside on the front lawn, still wearing the McDonald’s uniform from his late-shift at work.
The stunned father stood in his front yard unable to help his dying son.
Less than four hours later at Tampa General Hospital, Malcom held his son’s hand as the teen drew his last breath.
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Exactly nine months later, in the same area of his front yard, Malcom stands again, surrounded by friends and family, to “remember the life of young Lyfe.”
It is the ninth such monthly gathering, held last Monday, and those involved say it is a fitting tribute to the young man who meant so much to so many people.
“I want what we do here to be a celebratory event,” says Malcom, 40. “One to remember the very short, yet very impactful life of my young son, and to celebrate, even as we work to fix things and make things better.”
A custom street sign bearing Lyfe’s name hangs on the fence, above a memorial with dozens of candles, stuffed bears and liquor bottles. The home is near Robles Park on Jefferson Street. There is talk of trying to have the street renamed for Lyfe.
About 8 p.m., the group pulls closer together as family friend Uwezo E. Sudan starts the ceremony.
“This is not an easy thing to do,” Sudan says. “But it’s going to be done every fifth of the month. And while it is specifically about Lyfe Lazarus Coleman, it’s also about us and our community. Who we are and what we stand for.”
As darkness settles in, a yellow streetlight throws shadows on the sidewalk. Sudan thanks those attending, acknowledging they could be anywhere else but made a choice to be here. The gathering of about 20 people — mostly young men — forms a semicircle around Sudan, who kneels beside the memorial.
“We want to remember Lyfe Lazarus Coleman, and all the others in our community who have been taken from us. They will not be forgotten.”
Sudan is a priest in the Ifa faith, a traditional African religion of the Yoruba people.
He speaks about the connectedness of all African people and how they are responsible for one another.
“What happens to you, happens to me,” Sudan says, before performing traditional rituals, ending with the lighting of a candle and a recitation of names.
They repeat the name “Lyfe Lazarus Coleman” and those of others lost this year.
Malcom then expresses appreciation to those who have gathered in memory of his son.
“So many of you have been here for every one of these nine extraordinarily awful months,” Malcom says. “I hope you know that I’m here for each of you. I love you like I love my son and now we need to duplicate that and spread that kind of love and accountability for each other.”
As the ceremonial portion of the gathering winds to a close, music is turned up, food and drinks are offered, and mobile devices come out to take pictures, text girlfriends and check sports scores.
Malcom goes along with the festive part of the get-togethers, but he hopes the monthly gatherings lay a foundation.
“They should be the building blocks that will change the circumstances that led to this tragic situation that I have to experience every day.”
Asha Coleman, 18, is Lyfe’s younger sister.
“We could really count on each other,” she says. “He was my best friend. I just don’t see any good reason why I now have to turn 19, and 20, and all the years after that, without my brother by my side.”
She also hopes that the unity of the monthly gathering will capture people’s attention.
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Lyfe Lazarus Coleman was the first person killed in Hillsborough County this year. Since then, 27 other people have been slain in Tampa alone, compared to 18 all of last year, a city police spokesman said. Most of them are young black men.
Tampa detectives continue to investigate Coleman’s death. No one has been charged with the killing.
Malcom said police have been in contact with him and he appreciates their efforts, but he is more focused on what he can do within the neighborhood.
“We are still struggling with this ridiculous banditry,” he said.
“We will grow this celebration from just a gathering in a front yard. The purpose is to make sure that Lyfe’s name is never erased from the Earth, and to change this violent culture that plagues our community.”