One month after the killing of Nyiah Courtney, pastors and funeral-goers alike took to the microphone in remembrance of the little girl while also decrying the violence that has gripped the city.
“There’s an old proverb that says . . . it takes a village to raise a child. . . . Anytime we’re killing our babies in that village, our village is sick,” D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) said to those seated in the pews. “We can no longer sit back and think this is normal.”
The mourners responded in agreement with head nods and claps.
On the night of July 16, Nyiah, her mother, Dominique Courtney, father Nico Griffin and older sister Nakyiah were walking home in their Southeast neighborhood of Congress Heights when shots were fired from a sedan on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X avenues.
Nyiah was killed. Her mother was also shot and hospitalized. Four other adults, including her father, were wounded in the attack and suffered injuries that were not life-threatening, police said.
Less than two weeks later, police arrested Marktwan Hargraves, 22, of Maryland, and charged him with murder in the 6-year-old’s slaying.
Nyiah’s killing drew wide attention in a year when homicides are up in the city. On the same day of her funeral, the District reported three daytime homicides.
Dressed in pink garments from hats and shirts to pants and dresses, members of Nyiah’s family walked up to her casket, flanked by flower hedges on each side that spelled out “Ny Ny” in pink roses.
A video played on two screens showing pictures of her smiling face, dancing in TikToks and posing with her signature “peace and love” hand sign.
The family described Nyiah in her obituary as “a shining star with a fierce attitude” who loved “riding her bike, dancing, singing, skating, swimming, boxing, TIK TOK and just being a little kid at heart.”
She was excited to start first grade in the fall at Ingenuity Prep Public charter school, the family said.
Her classmates and teachers made her a book filled with handwritten letters and drawings, which were read at her funeral by Pastor Lance Aubert.
“I love you, Nyiah. You are my best friend. No matter what,” one of the letters said.
“Nyiah, there are no words that could capture the essence of an angel and that’s what you truly are,” another said.
As Senior Pastor Walter Staples took to the podium, his message centered on a “bloody city,” in reference to a Bible verse, and compared it to the District.
“Every day there is bloodshed,” Staples said to the mourners. “We get phone calls every day . . . about somebody who is bleeding in the streets.”
The church burst into claps and shouts during his eulogy as he described the community at a “crossroad” and needing to stand up to gun violence.
“I’m calling out every politician, every pastor, every priest . . . every constituent to do one thing for me,” Staples said. “We have to make some noise in this city.”
“Can you stand with me today?” he continued. “If that’s you, and you’re willing to stand, stand up with me right now.”
Nearly everyone in the congregation rose to their feet for the city — and for Nyiah.
Nyiah loved playing with her and her sister’s dollhouse and dancing with her big sister, her family said. The two girls were “inseparable,” the family’s obituary said.
“We got a 10-year-old who gotta go to school next year without her sister,” Regina Pixley, a community organizer in Ward 8, pleaded through tears about the shootings across the District. “We gotta stop.”
Pixley remembered rushing to the street corner the night Nyiah was slain and going to the hospital with the family.
As they walked out of the hospital at 3 a.m., Pixley recalled, Nakyiah turned to her grandmother.
“Grandma, Grandma, is my little sister okay?” she asked. “Why’d you leave my little sister in that hospital?”