Shooting victim memorialized

Published 10:55 pm Thursday, January 14, 2010

The messages were unanimous at Michael Lee’s memorial service on Wednesday evening. Remember his smile. He doesn’t want to be mourned, but be celebrated. Live life like he did: say hi to a stranger, balance school with good times and put family and school first.

Wednesday night, Lakeland High School’s auditorium was filled with friends and family who wiped away tears to celebrate the life of Lee, a 17-year-old who was shot and killed on Jan. 9.

“Tonight has been so beautiful,” said Karen D. Lee, Michael’s mother. “Mikey would’ve been so happy. We are so grateful for everything tonight.”

One young man wiped tears from his face with his black sweatshirt and a woman helped walk outside a young woman who was sobbing so hard she could not walk straight. Despite the loss felt by the students and family, speakers reminded them Lee, known best for his smile, would want them to smile as well.

“He always had the biggest smile,” said Devon Dunston of the Student Council Association. “We should remember his smile. He would not be happy to see us all so sad.”

After the service, Lee’s mother said her favorite memories of her son were his smile and ability to turn a bad situation upside-down.

“He always looked at the glass half full,” Lee said. “It is my hope people will remember Mikey as a young man full of hope, joy and promise.”

In remembrances throughout the evening, friends and teachers agreed those were Lee’s most poignant qualities.

“Mike was a young man who was going somewhere,” said Shelia Williams, Lee’s guidance counselor. “He overcame a lot of things in his childhood. But, instead of living a life of anger or fear, he lived life with determination and purpose.”

Lee will also be remembered as a young man who had his priorities in order.

“One day, Mike came in my office and told me he wanted to quit football to take care of his family,” said Glenwood Ferebee, Lee’s coach. “He taught me that football isn’t more important than your education or your family.”

In Lee’s memory, Carlos Howard, originally from Suffolk and a gradate of John F. Kennedy High School, set up a scholarship fund, to begin this year, for $1,500 to $2,500.

“He reminds me of myself when I was that age, and as much resilience as he had to overcome life’s obstacles, that resilience has to continue,” Howard said.

Howard also announced there is a $2,000 reward, funded by the 35th Street Merchant’s Association, for the individual responsible for Lee’s death.

“Come forward. Please, come forward,” Karen Lee said, holding back tears. “Don’t let this be in vain. He was too good of a boy for that.”

While Lee’s life will be remembered as an example, his death will be a wake up call for many.

“Something’s gotta change,” said Quentin Gilchrist, a teammate of Lee’s. “We’ve got to make better choices every day. We’ve got to change.”