The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ma’Khia Bryant remembered at her funeral as ‘a smart girl capable of fulfilling all of her dreams’

Family and friends attend a visitation and funeral for 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant at the First Church of God on April 30 in Columbus, Ohio. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Gospel music filled the church as friends and family gathered Friday to say goodbye to Ma’Khia Bryant, the 16-year-old girl who was shot and killed by a Columbus, Ohio, police officer earlier this month as she attacked a woman with a knife.

At the socially distanced funeral, held at the First Church of God in Columbus, family members joined community and spiritual leaders in remembering Bryant as a smart girl whose bright future was cut short.

Bryant’s family wore blue, her favorite color, and she was laid to rest in a casket lined with the same color.

Speaking for the family, Don Bryant, a cousin, described her as a teen who enjoyed styling hair and making good grades in school — “a smart girl capable of fulfilling all of her dreams.”

“Ma’Khia was a 16-year-old child, a teenage girl who did not deserve this,” he said. “The family is sad, the family is hurt, the family is angry. We look at a grieving mother and father who miss their daughter so much. We look at her brothers and sisters who don’t understand why Ma’Khia had to die.”

Bryant was killed April 20 by an officer who responded to a 911 call at her foster home. Police arrived to find an altercation outside involving several people. Bryant was shot four times by Officer Nicholas Reardon, who saw her swinging a knife at a woman.

Reardon was placed on administrative leave following the shooting, pending an investigation.

Foster parents want answers after death of 16-year-old in Columbus

The funeral was also a call to action for law enforcement to stop killing Black people in encounters that have become so regular that they are now known by the victims’ names. In his eulogy, Bishop Timothy J. Clarke urged the culture of policing to change to avoid more services like the one Friday.

Family and friends gathered on April 30 to say goodbye to Ma'Khia Bryant, the 16-year-old girl who was shot and killed by a Columbus, Ohio, police officer. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Paul Vernon/AP/The Washington Post)

“We’ll get Ma’Khia back when police training changes. We’ll get Ma’Khia back when White officers don’t see Black skin as a threat to them,” Clarke said. “We’ll get Ma’Khia back when we learn how to de-escalate and talk and communicate. We’ll get Ma’Khia back when we value one another and respect one another.”

The funeral came days after Columbus leaders called on the Justice Department to investigate Bryant’s death, as well as police killings of Black people throughout the United States. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is investigating the case, which has raised questions about police officers’ use of deadly force. Her death also has caused foster parents and child welfare advocates to call for reforms to Ohio’s foster care system, which they say is underfunded and overwhelmed.

Foster parents want answers after death of 16-year-old in Columbus

Bryant’s death, which happened shortly before former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s conviction for murdering George Floyd was announced, unfolded amid a crucial time for policing nationwide. At this week’s speech to a joint session of Congress, President Biden repeated his support for policing reform and urged lawmakers to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act by the anniversary of Floyd’s slaying in May. Biden has pressed Congress to bring legislation to his desk by May 25 that would ban chokeholds, prohibit racial and religious profiling, establish a national database to track police misconduct and bar certain no-knock warrants.

Biden, in speech to Congress, offers sweeping agenda and touts democracy

That sentiment was echoed by Bryant’s cousin, who pushed for those in attendance and watching the live stream of the service to not just say Ma’Khia’s name, but also act in her name.

“Ask yourselves, what are you doing to make sure no more Ma’Khias are taken from us,” Don Bryant said. “Change must happen and it must happen right now.”

The 90-minute funeral was open to the public, but followed coronavirus guidelines. Among those in attendance was Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black woman who was killed by Louisville police during a no-knock raid at her home last year.

The Rev. Jamal Bryant of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church near Atlanta noted how Ma’Khia should be thinking about the SAT’s or prom right now instead of being laid to rest.

Emmanuel Anthony, principal of the Academy for Urban Scholars, presented Bryant’s family with an honorary high school diploma for their daughter. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, offered words to Bryant and her family on a day when the nation was “watching Ma’Khia fly.”

“Ma’Khia, we will do better because we know better — because we can do better,” Beatty said.

Throughout the funeral, Clarke pleaded with those watching to grieve for Ma’Khia long after Friday.

“We are not going to commit her remains to the ground and forget her,” the bishop promised. “We will talk about her and remember her and we will allow ourselves to grieve her.”

At the end of the service, a rousing rendition of the Patti LaBelle song, “When It’s All Over,” reverberated throughout the church. Pallbearers pushed Bryant’s casket, which was covered in a blanket with photos of her face, toward the church’s exit as family members and attendees followed in a single-file procession.

Speaking into the microphone, Clarke told family and friends that it was time to “say goodbye to this sweet angel.”

“Sleep on, Ma’Khia,” Clarke said. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Tim Craig and Randy Ludlow contributed to this report.

Read more:

Foster parents want answers after death of 16-year-old in Columbus

Ma’Khia Bryant’s family remembers her as loving, affectionate: ‘She didn’t have a chance to live her life’

Child welfare systems have long harmed Black children like Ma’Khia Bryant