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My Friend Charmaine



We can never know ahead of time, who or what may change the course of our lives.

Charmaine Lawson brought three beautiful children into this world. David Josiah was her first born. Anthony and Chloe followed. A single mom, she wanted her children to do great things and they were each making her proud.

On April 15, 2017, her life was forever changed.

David Josiah Lawson was stabbed to death reportedly during a fight with Kyle Zoelloner over a cell phone that Josiah and his friends were accused of stealing. The damn phone was never lost or stolen.

Four years have passed and no one has been held to account for this crime. I will skip over the details, everything that went so wrong on that lousy night and all the rest.

I want to tell you about Josiah's mother, Charmaine.

Charmaine came to the U.S. from Jamaica as a teenager. She has three brothers and one sister. Charmaine attended high school in Southern California, got married at 21 and brought Josiah into this world when she was 23. She worked full time while attending night school, where she earned an associate degree in sociology. She plans to return to school to get her bachelor's degree in political science after her youngest, Chloe, graduates high school.

My husband Michael and I met Charmaine soon after she arrived in Humboldt to seek — or should I say more accurately, beg — for justice for her son's killing. So far, someone has gotten away with murder.

She heard that Michael and I attended the farcical preliminary hearing and wanted to meet us. When she came to our home, I asked where she was staying. She mentioned some motel. I asked her if, from then on, she was comfortable, to please stay with us.

This precious and fragile mom and her children became family to us almost immediately.

Michael and I never had children, so we will never know her pain. But bearing witness to it over the years revealed a mother who is determined to get justice for her son while at the same time, still raising Anthony and Chloe, who lost their big brother.

I saw Charmaine sleeping on our sofa, so many times tossing and turning and sometimes moaning in grief, while trying so hard to be strong in the face of the institutions in this community that failed her again and again.

I watched her drink a special coffee in the morning to get her going as she went far and wide to seek an elusive justice. Endless conversations would ensue trying to make sense of how her son with such promise could be so senselessly taken from her with no one being held to account.

Anthony and Chloe are young adults now and what happened to their big brother will always be with them.

They spent many weekends without mom as she traveled to Humboldt from Perris, California, in her quest to get answers.

One time she rented a van and drove a dozen relatives to Humboldt. We had just built a massive deck on our house to accommodate the many good people who would come to see her here — to eat and organize, and sometimes rescue a student in need. Other times, we celebrated birthdays as a way to ease her aching heart.

We had a zillion gatherings at our house, filled with caring young and old people alike. There was always some excellent Jamaican rice and peas (that Charmaine taught me how to prepare) among other tasty foods.

Sometimes in the beginning, I would watch her face as she prepared food and she'd looked so lost that I could only wonder what she was thinking and feeling.

In spite of the madness and disappointments with the Arcata Police Department and District Attorney Maggie Fleming, she persisted.

Trying to make good out of something so awful, she has organized coat drives, food giveaways and other events for needy students in an effort to follow in the footsteps of Josiah, who was known for his generosity to the homeless and those less fortunate people he encountered here in Humboldt.

Ms. Lawson appreciates and has great love for all who have stood by and up for her and her family. She is a generous and loving woman.

As I write this, there is a civil suit pending against the city of Arcata. Rightly so. No amount of money will make this tragedy all better.

Our community owes this mother something, someway, to honor her son's short and precious life.

Among other things, Charmaine wants the construction of Josiah's House, a safe and nurturing place for the underserved students who attend Humboldt State and College of the Redwoods. We hope this can be accomplished.

There is a scholarship fund administered by our amazing local NAACP. Contributing to the David Josiah Lawson scholarship fund is a great opportunity to help Charmaine and her family honor Josiah's legacy.

Like I said, we never know ahead of time what events will be life changers. I tell this beautiful mother that I wish we had met her in life under some other circumstance. But we are better people for knowing her and her kin. Our hope is that justice will come soon. It may be elusive today but there is always tomorrow. The case remains open.

Sharon Fennell (she/her) is a Humboldt State University alum, former KHSU programmer and lives in Manila with her husband and cat.


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