Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain
“He loved playing football. He was a leader. He was focused. He was determined to get out of the hood.”
These words spoken by Crystal McNeal, give some insight into the character, direction and plans regarding her son Davon Thomas McNeal, 11, who was shot and killed in the District of Columbia on July 4, 2020. Davon was one of seven people killed in the District within the first four days of this July, according to this July 5th Washington Post article. Crystal, who works as a violence interrupter in the city to help mediate disputes between criminals and beefing groups to urge them to put down their weapons, was hosting a July 4th cookout in the Southeast D.C. neighborhood of Cedar Gardens in Anacostia–an event that was geared to restore peace and trust in the violent neighborhood–when shots fired struck her son Davon in the head. He was retrieving earbuds and a cellphone charger from his aunt’s car when he was shot. By August, at least four men had been charged in Davon’s murder. The four men had also attended the neighborhood cookout that Crystal hosted with the intention of restoring peace in the violent community–only to have her son killed there.
“He was always smiling,” says his mom Crystal.
Davon liked to play football with the Metro Bengals, an organization that provides youth cheer and football programs in the District. He had made 28 touchdowns. He also loved the colors orange, black and white.
Davon was a sixth-grader at Kramer Middle School–a school and community that has long been on my heart and in my prayers joined by our ministry partners. In 2017 thru 2018, I along with a dear sister in Christ, Barbara Crymes West of Washington State whom I met during grad school, began developing a faith-based leadership development curriculum to help students–particularly those living in high-poverty and high-crime communities–to navigate present and future challenges through biblical principles. The curriculum components are also designed to equip students to lead others in their environments to prepare for future education and career opportunities. Along with the curriculum, we wanted to provide lunches for the students, field trips, supplies and equipment–of which 15 donors gifted us $925 (with a fundraising goal of $2,500) toward those costs via a Facebook fundraiser conducted in November 2018. With a greenlight received from the school’s principal at the time, Roman Smith, and Site Coordinator Cliffone Ault, we prepared to launch the curriculum in February 2019. However, a change in school leadership and a few other events placed the curriculum launch with Kramer Middle School on hold, if not permanently.
We are grateful for everyone who donated and supported this work whether financially, or through guidance and review during the curriculum’s development. None of that is wasted. We are still setting funds aside, praying and desiring to launch the curriculum as the Lord wills in 2022 or after, knowing that the needs still exist, although it may be with a different school or community. Nonetheless, our hearts remain with Kramer Middle School and the community as we supported their food bank in 2019 and the Lord also positioned us to serve the community in a unique way this year, even through the devastation of a young life cut short by violence.
Since learning about Davon’s murder on July 4th, he and his family have been very much on my heart. I have been praying to know how to help them. Given what has been a busy few months with other ministry work, in the quiet few days leading up to this Christmas, I had opportunity to research articles to reach Davon’s paternal grandfather, John Ayala, who would connect me to Crystal. John explained that in early August of this year, the Davon Thomas McNeal, LLC was launched to help clothe and feed the District’s homeless population. Crystal, along with her 10-year-old son, 18-year-old daughter, 20-year-old son, other family, friends and volunteers, have been helping to clothe and feed 256 men and boys staying at the 801 East Men’s Shelter (part of St. Elizabeths East), at 2700 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, SE. The food and beverages are prepared by volunteers and clothes donated. I was amazed and also pleased to learn how the family is serving those in need in Davon’s honor while still grieving his death in what has been less than six months’ time. Speaking with Barb and another dear sister in Christ, I asked them if it would be okay to give the $925 raised to support the McNeal family in their efforts and they were in agreement. I told John our intentions of donating $1,000 to Crystal to support their work of clothing and feeding the homeless–particularly when many are so hard-hit by this pandemic–loss of income, food, shelter, etc. Before giving the check, I told John that I wanted to meet Crystal.
“Everyone deserves a chance to make it.”– Davon McNeal
I had opportunity to speak with and meet Davon’s mom Crystal on Saturday, December 26, 2020. I am grateful to have met her and others serving the men at the East Men’s Shelter. The day was bitterly cold as men lined up to receive shoes, warm, thick socks, clothes, and a hot meal. A blessing to pour into this community in Davon’s honor. Those items were unloaded from Davon’s tribute van provided by Philadelphia Steelers football player, Anthony McFarland. McFarland was raised in Prince George’s County. When he learned of Davon’s murder, he reached out to the Metro Bengals to see how he could help. I saw the van and it is wonderfully designed with photos of Davon and with scripture from Deuteronomy 31:6 (“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”- New Living Translation). The van also includes Davon’s tagline “Everyone Deserves a Chance to Make It” as words taken from a Frederick Douglass speech he recited in English class, encouraging hopeful futures beyond the hood.
The Davon Thomas McNeal Tribute Van
Men from 801 East Men’s shelter grateful to receive warm clothes and shoes.
In the photos posted below, is the card and gift of $1,020 presented to Crystal McNeal along with the names of each of our donors (a donor provided $20 cash day-of along with our $1,000 check, so a total of $1,020 was given to Crystal along with the purchase of men’s socks). Our donors were: Andy from Kansas, Barbara from Washington State, Becky from Minnesota, Cheryl from Washington, DC, Cindy from Minnesota, Dee from Florida, Felicia from Maryland, Gregory from Maryland, Jaime from Virginia, Jason from Pennsylvania, Julie from Kansas, Justus and Rachel from Minnesota, Makeba from Florida, Mary from Washington, DC, Nicole from Washington, DC and Sonia from Maryland.
Such a blessing. Thank you for being a part! A blessing to be aligned with what God is doing right now.
Crystal, her family and the community plan to host a parade at Kramer Middle School in Davon’s honor on Saturday, January 9, 2021 on what would have been his 12th birthday. I plan to attend.
God bless you. Continue to pray for God’s supernatural peace to heal the McNeal Family and SE DC.
Nicole presents Crystal McNeal with group card and gift of $1,020 to help support the family’s efforts of clothing and feeding those in need in Davon’s honor. Davon was also a sixth grader at Kramer Middle School in SE DC.
Group card with donor names and states represented given to Crystal McNeal on December 26, 2020 at 801 East Men’s Shelter.
Check for $1,000 presented from group to Crystal McNeal to support work of The Davon Thomas McNeal, LLC.