The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Saying farewell to Karon Blake, ‘man of the house’ at age 13

A funeral flier for Karon Blake. (Emily Davies/The Washington Post)

At a funeral Monday for 13-year-old Karon Blake, held at Israel Baptist Church in Northeast Washington, a young man holding a crown began a slow walk through the chapel. He was followed by a woman wearing a white leotard and gold angel wings. Both were headed for an open casket near the pulpit.

Dozens of youngsters rose, the lights on their cellphones ablaze as they began recording the procession. At the casket, the crown was handed to Karon’s brother, who appeared to be about 5. After getting a lift, the child placed the crown on his slain brother’s head.

“The kingdom of heaven belongs to Karon today,” a preacher said from the pulpit.

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Karon was shot and killed Jan. 7 during a predawn confrontation with an adult over car break-ins. Now, his young friends and family were processing their pain through videos and social media postings that many adults would find alien. Meanwhile, church elders were trying to provide solace with words from a Bible that seemed just as foreign to the youths.

“If a man dies, shall he live again?” a preacher asked, citing the Book of Job. He got no response. “Let me bring it closer to home,” the preacher tried again. “If Karon dies, shall he live again?”

More confounded looks.

“My man, my man, my man,” one of Karon’s aunts said during a time set aside for personal reflections. “He used to get so mad when I kissed all over him. And his mother … any time she called me for my nephew, I was there, ever since he was a young’un. I will be missing my man, my man.”

At a viewing before the funeral, young people had bunched up alongside Karon’s casket. Hardly any of them shed a tear. One of them later said to another, “I didn’t see where he got shot.” They had a comfort level around death that should not be normal for children.

Having a small child put a crown on his deceased brother’s head seemed unusual, too.

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They did not seem to need help coping with death as much as they could use help living in a world where Black life only matters on signs and on a paved plaza near the White House that bears those words.

When a preacher began recounting the biblical story of Lazarus rising from the dead, youngsters began to yawn and shift in their seats. And when youths rose from their seats and began filing out of the church, the preacher implored them to stay. “My brothers and sisters, don’t walk out. This is the most important time of your life,” he said.

They did not intend to spend that time in church pews, apparently.

Photos of Karon projected on the chapel wall showed a progression of life that many would find familiar. He was a cute boy, obviously doted on, dressed nicely and well groomed. One photo showed him with a fresh haircut and a smart part on the right side. The expression on his face was a young scholar in the making, a college-bound kid from a low-income housing complex called Brookland Manor.

Later photos showed him growing from a child to what he looked like when he died.

According to D.C. police, Karon was shot during a confrontation at around 4 a.m. with a Black man who heard cars being broken into and went outside with his gun to investigate. The neighborhood had been plagued by car thefts and carjackings. A stolen car had been found near the scene of the shooting, which police said produced evidence that Karon and two others had been inside.

The Karon described by friends was smart, funny, respectful and sometimes silly. And not prone to confrontation, let alone violence. But the compliment that seemed to impress the most was that he was the “man of the house,” as a friend and one of the preachers both put it.

The title is problematic, especially for a 13-year-old boy, no matter how mature it makes him seem.

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According to some of his friends, Karon would sometimes cut short his day at Brookland Middle School to pick up his siblings from their elementary school, then catch a bus home with them. “He was like a man leaving home for a job,” a school friend said. “He’d say, ‘See ya. Got to go pick up the kids.’”

So rare are fathers in some of these neighborhoods that people seem to have forgotten why having them around is important. Protecting the family, the home and community — that’s part of it. Another less-acknowledged effect is somewhat disciplinary.

Put a 13-year-old boy in that role and who knows what he’ll attempt to live up to the part.

School was the place where Karon could use his time wisely — reading in the library, helping younger students learn to shoot a basketball in the gym, and setting an example by demonstrating common courtesy and common sense.

But then the coronavirus pandemic hit. Schools were closed, disrupting the free breakfasts and lunches for him and his siblings. Many people lost their jobs; friends tried to pitch in and help as best they could. Expenses rose at Karon’s house as his need for more food and bigger clothes grew.

He’d been in fifth grade when schools closed and returned two years later as a seventh-grader. A huge and perilous jump.

“A grand jury is assembled, and we know that the records are secret,” a preacher said, speaking of the city’s investigation into Karon’s death. “But nothing is hidden from the Lord, and we pray that justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

The youngsters had their own way of saying that.

“It’s crazy that he’s not here,” one of Karon’s childhood buddies told the church. “I want justice for Karon — on three.” And when he counted “One, two, three,” the audience shouted, “Justice for Karon!” The chapel erupted in applause.

Karon’s casket was taken from the church in a glass carriage drawn by a motorcycle. At the gravesite, his friends released three white birds, which they said symbolized his ascent to the kingdom of heaven.

They and the preachers were finally singing from the same hymnal.

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