Family and friends of Jelani Day, along with hundreds of members of the Illinois State University community, gathered the evening of October 7 at Redbird Arena to honor his memory.
Illinois State President Dr. Terri Goss Kinzy opened the memorial service on behalf of the University community, offering the Bolden-Day family deepest sympathies.
“We are joined together in loving memory with Jelani’s family and friends. As we honor Jelani’s life, I offer my thanks to his incredibly strong family and those in our Redbird community who came together over these weeks to raise awareness, provide care, and support each other,” Kinzy said.
Day, 25, of Danville, was a first-year graduate student in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. He was reported missing August 25, and his body was recovered in early September from the Illinois River near Peru. No cause of death has been determined at this time.
Day had dreamed of becoming a speech-language pathologist to make a difference in others’ lives. He was described as a passionate, protective, strong, and intelligent man who made an impact in the community and in his master’s program.
“I’m just grateful that you all have shown our family love, that you stood beside us, walked this walk with us when we were trying to find him,” said Day’s mother, Carmen Bolden Day, during the service. “Jelani is missed so very much—his presence is missed so very much. Jelani’s life spoke for itself because he was great and he would tell you who he was and made it known to all of us. Jelani is somebody you’ll never forget.”
Before the memorial, the Black Student Union led students, faculty, and staff on a silent march from the Bone Student Center to Redbird Arena, where the crowd filled the first level of the arena. The event also featured prayers, a poem reading, music, and remarks by representatives from Day’s family, the Student Government Association, the Black Student Union, the Association of Latinx American Students, IMPACT Movement, and Day’s classmates from his speech-language pathology program.
Multicultural Center Director Dr. Christa Platt concluded the ceremony by presenting a plaque and an art piece to Day’s family on behalf of the University. She read a small passage from the plaque crafted from a poem by staff member Jazmyn Thomas: “We honor Jelani, and he is irreplaceable. We will never forget our dear brother. We see Jelani Day—a grandson, a son, a nephew, a brother, a cousin, a friend, and forever a Redbird.”
Celebration of Day’s life will continue Saturday, October 9. The Bolden-Day family will hold a service at noon at Danville High School, 202 East Fairchild Street. Flowers can be sent directly to Leeks and Sons Funeral Home, 304 East Williams Street, Danville, IL, 61832.