The life of Victor McElhaney was celebrated in a homegoing on March 23, 2019, at Oakland’s Temple Hill auditorium where hundreds gathered in his name.
Just 21 years old when he was killed in a foiled robbery attempt near the University of Southern California where he was attending the Thornton School of music, friends, family, teachers and clergy recalled Victor’s bright light, deep love of life and even deeper belief that music could heal the world and he was going to be a a part of it.
On the stage, easels that held pictures and photos of Victor in different stages of his young life were interspersed with at least a dozen wreaths of white flowers and a small altar had doughnuts, apparently a favored food.
“We claim this moment as sacred time as we lay our prince to rest and we support him as he begins his ancestral journey, ” said Rev. Andriette Earl of Heart and Soul Center of Light who served as officiant.
Bishop Michael King of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints also welcomed the family and friends who nearly filled the 1,600-seat auditorium.
Through various speakers Victor was exhorted as a son of Oakland as much as he was the son of his parents, District 3 Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Clarence McElhaney.
Led by Dale Anthony and Monica Moore, the praise team of his parents’ home church, True Vine Ministries, brought the house to its feet with gospel classics “He’s Able,” and “Victory,” where the members held up ‘V’ signs for Victor.
Scripture was quoted, prayers of comfort said but the grief remained palpable: So full of pain, the speakers, singers and praise dancer seldom remembered to introduce themselves.
Jennifer Johns took the stage unannounced and sang a cappella. Blues singer Faye Carol, one of Victor’s teachers, sang ‘Holy Land,” and trombonist Angela Wellman of the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music spoke of the young drummer’s ability to keep the music ‘in pocket.’
Known collectively as ‘The brothers,’ 11 young, Black men wearing black armbands printed with white V’s took the stage as one to talk about their friend.
Shavonne Bryant said Victor’s true gift was that “he didn’t see any point in living in anything but his truth. And because of that there was no room for doubt on your side either.
“The beautiful storm that was Victor McElhaney will continue to touch us,” she said.
The ability to insert intentional change into every moment that Bryant described is wholly linked to a gift for imagination so vital that for Keturah Nobles, a game they played from childhood into adulthood is so weighted with love that even with Victor’s death she will not lose it.
But Pastor Zachary Carey could not help but deviate from the call for celebration. “The violence has to stop,” he said. In the U.S., the real emergency is not at the border but in urban America from Chicago, Oakland, Philadelphia, Stockton and Los Angeles.
Over and over he asked the audience to call Victor’s name, exhorted all to remember his name and then he said something perhaps prescient. That like Emmett Till’s death became a spark igniting the Civil Rights movement, may Victor McElhaney’s be the one that brings the casual violence in the Black community to an end.
Everyone has to do their part, Carey said. “If you see something, say something. We can’t let his name be replaced by another ‘breaking news’ headline.”
He called on Mayor Libby Schaaf, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Supervisor Larry Reid, who were all present, to do their part as politicians and noted that Victor’s mother, McElhaney-Gibson had fought to get a department of violence prevention in Oakland.