My diploma from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst hangs in a cherry wood frame above my desk. It is a reminder of my former life, the four years I spent pursuing my degree in biology and doing independent research in a biochemistry lab. It is also a reminder of the four years I spent learning about myself, getting into trouble, doing the stupid things college kids do, and meeting the people who helped me become who I am today.
In the lower right hand corner of my diploma is a button, fastened with Ticky-tack to the glass. On the button is a picture of a man named Franklyn Nwachukwu. Franklyn was my Resident Assistant during my freshman year at UMass. Being an insolent freshman, I really gave Franklyn a run for his money, tearing down the bulletin boards he spent hours setting up in the hallways and generally causing trouble on the 20th floor of our dormitory, something I look back on with both laughter and regret. In short, I really tested the boundaries of the RA/friend rules. Not only was Franklyn down to earth, he was also a role model for us. He was around our age, but worked harder than anyone we knew as a student in UMass' competitive nursing program. He worked long and hard to pay his own way through college.
Franklyn died on July 15, 2005.
He was in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston, either walking to or from his cousin's house, when he became the target of an attempted robbery. He was shot in the abdomen and died later that night at Brigham and Women's hospital. He went from being Franklyn, the dedicated student, loyal friend, son, and brother, to another name in a list too long of young lives cut short by meaningless violence in Boston. Like many of these cases, justice has yet to be served. Franklyn's family, community, and tight-knit Nigerian community of Boston will likely never find peace in this lifetime, no matter the legal outcome of his case. I can still see Franklyn's little sister weeping at his funeral as she spoke of her brother, throwing herself on his casket as it was carried out. Sometimes I picture Franklyn's mother, awaiting answers that may never come and trying to live on with a pain that will never leave.
From time to time during the rest of my undergraduate years, I would glance at the button bearing his image, a memento from a campus memorial held in his honor the following Septemember, and remind myself to always look forward, to push myself like Franklyn did to succeed and to inspire others to do the same. I have yet to fully realize the potential in myself like Franklyn. The four year anniversary of his murder having recently passed, I have been thinking more about him lately. Perhaps this is because I recently drove past the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History during a weekend at the Cape. It was here, with my parents, that I received the news of Franklyn's death while seated on a bench amid acres of sweeping marshland and beach grass. Driving by the idyllic scene brought back the same sinking feeling. I could hear my friend's shaking voice, the words "Franklyn died last night" falling one by one like pebbles into a pond of innocence.
Four years later, that period feels like a whole different lifetime. Time does not care if or what you're grieving. The seasons have marched on, and many of the people we knew then have gone down their own paths, but the lessons to be taken away from Franklyn's senseless death remain. His presence in my life was brief, and because of that it was perhaps easy for me to transform my grief and anger into action. The way Franklyn lived his life and pursued his goals has become one of the many models I have tried to live my own life by. Maybe this is how people live on, within the fabric of others' lives, influencing them and pushing them to do things they otherwise would not. One way or another, I, and all of the many people whose lives Franklyn touched, will take him along. And someday, I will thank him.
Here's to you, Franklyn.