I’ve always struggled to relate to the ways that Black youths memorialize loved ones and peers who wind up wearing a morgue sheet before donning a graduation robe.
The “Rest in Peace” T-shirts, with images of the dead surrounded by angels and peering from silkscreened cotton, seem to be trivializing the killings, not discouraging them.
“I think that for a lot of young people today, the idea of a vigil or some kind of mourning in their own way, of a friend or a relative or someone who looks like them, has to do with them trying to understand that they live in a world that is unsafe and uncaring, and to try to put some pieces in place that give them comfort,” said Dr. Altha Stewart, senior associate dean for community health engagement at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.
Stewart is also director of the Center for Health for Justice Involved Youth, which focuses on helping youths struggling with behavioral and mental health issues that may land them in the criminal justice system.
“That cotton memorial T-shirt might be the final, tangible thing for remembering that [slain] person when everything else seems far out of reach,” she said.