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ISU community comes together to commemorate the life of Jelani Day

Maritza Navar-Lopez/WGLT
A celebration of the life of Jelani Day was held Tuesday evening at Redbird Arena at Illinois State University.
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The Illinois State University community came together Thursday evening with music, tears, and a celebration of life for late student Jelani Day.

The memorial was led by students and campus leaders offering words of consolation, expression and support, including ISU President Terri Goss Kinzy.

“As we honor Jelani’s life, I offer my thanks to his incredibly strong family and those in our Redbird community that came together over these weeks to raise awareness, provide care, and support each other,” said Kinzy.

The event, at Redbird Arena, featured a prayer from the Rev. Tim Allison from the African American Ministerial Alliance and a poem recited by Jazmyn Thomas from the ISU Multicultural Center.

Black Student Union, Student Government Association, and the Association of Latinx American Students (ALAS) emphasized the importance of carrying on Day's legacy — while also demanding justice and answers.

On Sept. 23, authorities identified Day’s remains, three weeks after discovering his body near Peru, Ill., in LaSalle County. He'd been missing since Aug. 24. His death remains under investigation by what authorities previously said was a “multi-jurisdictional unit” that includes the LaSalle County sheriff’s office, Illinois State Police, Peru Police, LaSalle Police, Bloomington Police, and the FBI’s Behavior Analysis Unit.

“This is something that we will carry with us for not only the rest of the school year but for the rest of our lives,” Ximena Sanchez-Ramirez, president of ALAS, said at Tuesday's event. “So, carry this with you and use your voice. The voice is the most powerful tool you can have, and no one can take that away from you."

Some of Day's classmates shared the memories they held, including his passion for his career. Amanda Regez recalled the kind gestures Day made toward his fellow classmates.

“One day while some of us were walking to class, Jelani drove by us and yelled, ‘Hey ladies,’ and waved out the window while dancing to his music,” said Regez. “This is how we will remember him — happy, positive, and hardworking.”

The Bolden-Day family attended the memorial and thanked the Redbird community for its support.

“He made his presence known where he was. And if you would have met him, you would have liked him. I’m just grateful that you all have shown our family love, that you stood beside us,” said his mother, Carmen Bolden Day.

She expressed the need for continued support to find answers about what happened to her son.

“I just wish I could go back to Monday, August 23rd ... hear him... talk to him... I could’ve kept him on the phone longer,” said Bolden Day.

“I appreciate you all doing this for him. I mean through the days that go on, I don’t know how I’m going to cope,” added his father, Seve Day.

The family will be hosting a Celebration of Life for Jelani Day at noon Saturday, Oct. 9, at Danville High School. Danville is his hometown.

Maritza Navar-Lopez is a student reporting intern at WGLT. She joined the newsroom in 2021.
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