Forever thirteen

Published 8:48 pm Wednesday, January 29, 2020

By QuaWanna Bannarbie

On Jan. 26, 2020, she was exactly 96 days from her 14th birthday. She woke up that morning excited about another opportunity to play the sport she loved. She boarded a plane holding the big hands of the father she adored. That afternoon, she was helplessly unaware that her breath would stop as the aircraft carried her near the heavens. The chartered Sikorsky S-76B helicopter never made it to its destination on earth. Her life concluded in 13 full years.

As the mother of a beautiful and brilliant 13-year-old girl, Gianna Bryant’s death has rattled my heart in a rather unnerving way. The evening of Jan. 26, I was driving my only daughter to the home of her best friend, who, ironically, was celebrating her 14th birthday. As we drove down Hillpoint Boulevard, it occurred to me that Gianna Bryant will not celebrate another birthday. She is forever 13.

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When my daughter was preparing for school Monday morning, I spoke with her briefly about Gianna’s death. She was concerned that everyone would be talking about the tragic death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter. She doesn’t like to talk about death. I challenged her to boldly engage her fellow classmates and friends as to what it would mean if their lifetime concluded at the age of 13. After school, she told me that I was correct and that everyone was talking about Kobe Bryant. So, I further challenged her to write about her thoughts on death at 13.

Jenesis wrote:

I am 13 and straight terrified of dying. So, the death of this 13-year-old girl really shook me. I want to know what would people think if I died today.

I imagine at my funeral that someone would say, “Jenesis was a young girl with dreams and aspirations beyond the limits of this world. She was a friend, a neighbor, a sister, a daughter and a student. She loved to build things and draw, she was quiet but loved to have fun with her friends. She was reserved and shy but would speak out on things that mattered to her. Above all, she was loved by many people throughout the community.”

I think the news would hit my teachers really hard. My teachers would be sad. They would say, “She was so smart and creative. She was going to be something special one day. I enjoyed teaching her so much. Her mom was such a nice person, and her family must be really hurting right now. Jenesis was such a good student. She was so different from others. It’s such a terrible loss.”

My daughter, Jenesis, is likely not the only 13-year-old girl who had deep thoughts that resulted in her switching places with Gianna Bryant in her mind. Although Jenesis was in shock, hurt and admittedly scared, a child’s death presented an opportunity for her and I to discuss how life is full even at the tender age of 13. She was able to reflect on how she is endeared by her community and how she believed she would be remembered. I love that.

Our hearts are saddened at this tragedy involving a distant family that we do not know. May this community look at the known Gianna Bryants who live in your neighborhood, sit in your classrooms and watch television in your living rooms and encourage them to live and work like today influences their forevers — because it does.

Jenesis Bannarbie is a student at King’s Fork Middle School.

QuaWanna Bannarbie is an adjunct professor of nonprofit leadership and management with Indiana Wesleyan University, National and Global. Her children attend Suffolk Public Schools. Connect with her via or via Twitter @QNikki_Notes.