Wichita State celebrates the life of Letitia Davis

Chance Swaim

Wichita State held a celebration and commemoration of Letitia Davis’ life Friday at Fairmount United Church of Christ.

Davis’s memorial came nearly one year after she died in the hospital after being beaten, raped and set on fire on Nov. 14, 2014, in Fairmount Park. Davis died eight days after the attack.

Four candles were lit in her honor and remained lit throughout the ceremony.

More than 80 people — including Davis’s four children — attended.

“In all candor, I was hoping for a bigger crowd,” said Ted Ayres, director of Community Engagement and Opportunity at WSU. “Actually, I was dreaming of a standing-room-only crowd.”

The Letitia Davis attack prompted a series of actions taken by WSU to make the neighborhoods around campus safer, including the creation of the Enough is Enough task force, efforts included in a grant awarded by the Kansas Health Foundation, and increased lighting on the outskirts of campus.

Ayres, who helped organize the memorial, was pleased with the crowd that did show up.

“The people that came enjoyed the program, got the program and we had good representation — we had Letitia’s family, we had people from the neighborhood, from the university and from the city,” Ayres said.

Ayres introduced a variety of speakers for the memorial, which included an opening prayer by Student Body President Joseph Shepard, and presentations from community liason Darryl Carrington; commentary by Karen Countryman-Roswurm, director of WSU’s Center for Combating human trafficking; Alicia Sanchez, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion; WSU student Katie Crandall; and John Tape, pastor at the Lutheran Student Center.

“Ted and Karen and Katie, everyone. I think everyone did a wonderful job,” Carrington said.

Carrington, who lives in Fairmount neighborhood and attends Fairmount United Church of Christ, read the poem “Momma” by Gordon Parks.

“You want to do something that’s meaningful and touches people, and I think we did that,” Ayres said. “But you always want to do better.”

“Doing better” was a major theme of the memorial, along with preventing future tragedies and attempting to look forward in a positive way.

Countryman-Roswurm’s commentary focused on the consideration of violence against women.

“May the memory of her life not only extend beyond tonight, but may it extend beyond Letitia to these other [victims of violence],” Countryman-Roswurm said.

Ayres challenged the crowd to think during a silent meditation of what could be done in the future — both as individuals and collectively — in light of Countryman-Roswurm’s words and in recognition of the life of Davis.

Shepard said he did not view the memorial as sad, but as an opportunity to celebrate Davis’s life.

“[The memorial] is an opportunity to heal, so we can move forward in a positive way,” Shepard said.

“We don’t mourn, but we celebrate,” Shepard said during his prayer.

To conclude the ceremony, Ayres read a couplet by Scottish poet Thomas Campbell as the four candles were put out: “To live in hearts we leave behind / Is not to die.”