Hundreds of people filled Mount Hermon Baptist Church this morning to honor the memory of Andre "Pop" Davidson Jr. , the lifelong Highbridge resident and basketball star who died last weekend at the age of 18. And perhaps an even more impressive testament to the impact Davidson's life and death has had on his community was the huge crowd that came to view his body before services began; the viewing lasted nearly two hours, and when it was cut short due to time limitations, there were still mourners waiting to see him.
In fact, so many people packed Mount Hermon Baptist Church that Wenzell P. Jackson, the church's Pastor, repeatedly asked the crowd to clear the aisles for safety reasons. Eventually, those who had already seen Davidson's body were asked to go outside temporarily in order to allow space for those waiting to enter.
The scene at the church, on the corner of West 167th Street and Nelson Avenue, was one of raw emotion. As those in attendance --a considerable number of whom appeared to be in their teens or twenties --approached Davidson's casket, many sobbed uncontrollably or collapsed into the arms of friends and family. Some shook their heads in disbelief that Davidson, who had graduated high-school less than two weeks before his death, was gone. One woman, after viewing the body, screamed, "That's not even Pop!" Many people wore t-shirts with Davidson's picture ,and some had "R.I.P. POP" carved into their heads.
Those who spoke at Davidson's service included Duvall Taylor, Davidson's oldest brother; coaches from the Kennedy High School basketball team, where Davidson was a starting forward last season; Matt. St. Croix, head basketball coach at Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica , where Davidson was slated to play next season; Mary Blassingame, Davidson's great-aunt (Blassingame was joined at the pulpit by Nicole Givens, Davidson's mother); Helen Diane Foster, councilmember for the 16th District ; and Foster's father, former 16th District Councilember Rev. Wendell Foster.
All described Davidson as confident and charismatic. "Pop could walk into a room, and even if you didn't like him, he would make you like him," Taylor said. Taylor also praised his brother's skills on the basketball court. "He would embarass you. And then he would tell you about it," Taylor said. "And then he would call your mom and tell her about it."
Both comments drew appreciative laughter from the crowd, as did Taylor's recollection that "Me and Pop used to talk for hours --about him."
Johnny Mathis, head coach at Kennedy High, hailed Davidson's versatility as a basketball player, but emphasized his qualities as a person. Mathis noted that a reporter had interviewed him recently, searching in the process for any potential negative elements of Davidson's personality; Mathis said he grew frustrated, because there weren't any.
Davidson's teammates from Kennedy High entered the church together, and sat side by side in the pulpit, many of them wearing their red-and-white jerseys. Mathis said this unity and love for one another was a defining element of the team at all times; not merely on the particular occasion.
St. Croix said that, although he would never get the opportunity to coach Davidson or develop a close relationship with him, Davidson had made a very positive first impression on him. St. Croix described Davidson as "polite" and "respectful," and added that Davidson would always look people in the eye when he shook their hand. St. Croix suggested these qualities reflected the influence of friends, family, teachers, and others close to Davidson.
Helen Diane Foster said Davidson's life disproved negative media portrayals of African-American males. "Here was a Black boy doing something," Foster said. Like the other speakers, Foster urged mourners to find inspiration in the example of Davidson's life.
Davidson, who would have turned 19 on August 10, will be buried in the same cemetery as his father, Andre Davidson Sr. The elder Davidson died in 1997 at age 29.
Davidson is survived by his mother, Nicole Givens; his brothers Duvall and Brandon; his sister, Evelle; his great-grandmothers Rhoda Lucas and Helen Davidson; his grandmothers Beverly Davidson and Margie Lucas; his grandfathers Reuben Givens and Albert Smith; his aunts Robin, Stephanie, Carera, and Brandy Givens; and his uncles Smokey, Kyle, Samuel, and Dante Burnette.
Taylor, Davidson's eldest sibling, seemed to capture the theme and the mood of Friday's service particularly well with one comment.
"I think you all lost a brother," Taylor said.