Delky, Tevin Campbell, and The Promise of Today

  • Tevin Campbell croons his 1990 hit song "Tomorrow" unexpectedly on my morning drive. What is supposed to trigger thoughts of hope for a better you--a better me, doesn't. It ushers in a never-totally-dormant mourning. Then release.
6 min read

I hope tomorrow will bring
a better you, better me
I know that we’ll show this world
we got more we could be

Tevin Campbell’s soft, pubescent voice hummed through the radio. I hesitated to listen. On that day, I just didn’t want to believe in:

the message of love tomorrow has.
Something special and it’s something we know
will last and last.  

Really, Mr. DJ? On a day where inflammation spiked through my body and lupus was licking its wicked lips to devour, this song quickly took me back to when I’d watched a youth choir pour their souls into that hopeful song. I didn’t want the next three minutes of time-shifting, but if you know Tevin’s voice; it isn’t one you just turn away from (no never). So I listened, holding the wheel with Raynard’s-locked fingers.

While I willed myself to keep pushing through this vicious flare that was blistering my eyelids and lips, memories took me to Shady Grove Baptist Church in the midst of an overflowing congregation of mourners who had come to the funeral of “Little Miss” Delky La’Tres Nelson.

If tomorrow is light
in a place where there’s none
Then now is the time
to have faith in us all

 

I wanted to turn the station. I really did, but I couldn’t. Tevin’s crooning ushered me back to the summer of 1990. At twelve years old, Delky had been raped and murdered in her home. She was babysitting her toddler brother while their mother worked. Her attacker lived across the street and is believed to have entered the house by asking Delky if the pink piggy bank he carried was for her. My mom struggled to tell me how she died. Back then, pre-teens really had no clue of what rape was. In fact, Delky and I were still teddy-bear-toting, where-is-my-momma middle schoolers.

The following summer during the time we were roommates at one of Southern University’s youth summer programs, the program had ended. Like so many of us, finding another program wasn’t easy, so Delky stayed home.

That’s when he killed her.

 

I shook my head trying not to recall the hundreds of kids who walked pass her casket while the radio kept Tevin harmonizing

If we try we can fly
to a whole ‘nother place
All we need is belief
and a smile on our face.

I just couldn’t muster the strength to shake the recollections, nor could I release the steering wheel to stop the music. Instead, I breathed and stayed present while my mind recommitted to missing Delky. I know, daze driving, not fully conscious because I saw myself.

#

It’s six years after the funeral, I’m wearing my first official press pass. I walk into District Court as an intern reporter for The Advocate. A case is just returning to session and from the Press row, I can see crime scene photos. A young face beaten and stomped so hard that the letters “o” and “k” of Reebok are imprinted on the left cheek. Another photo lays there; a slit throat and nude torso.

“Piece of crap left her spread-eagle in her own mother’s bedroom,” an older journalist whispers to me.

#

“God! I don’t want this now. No. No. No,” I prayed, driving. I was being swallowed in this outpouring of memories.

#

A middle-aged woman sits in the witness booth, and after judicial formalities, she asks to read a letter to the court before deliberations. I know she wants the murderer dead. I know she hates him. Instead of saying so, she says the letter she holds is one that helped her.

#

Although I focused on driving, I could still see this beautiful woman holding three or four sheets of worn, colored notebook paper with purple handwriting that had bled through after all the years of rereading and falling tears. Even on that day, she was wiping away tears. To my seventeen-year-old eyes, her face was familiar, but how could Fate walk me into this space at this time?

Tevin and the youth were pouring out their melody.

If we try we can fly to a place in the sun
All we need is precious dreams and a friend we can trust…

My senses were ridiculously heightened. My medicinal breakfast made the memories so vivid, so crystal clear.

#

I’m frozen in court while Sharon Horton, Delky’s mom, reads the letter I penned. A pre-teen me, aching, confused by death, enraged by whatever the hell rape was, disappointed at the ended summer camp, and mourning a beautiful, gentle friend.

“I pray tomorrow is better for you. I pray tomorrow is better for us all,” Ms. Sharon reads to the court.

#

I heard her clearly on that day, 30 years later, while driving.

Tomorrow is just for us to share
And we’re gonna send our message of love
out everywhere
There’s a promise of love, tomorrow has
something special And it’s something we know
will last and last…

Now I was angry driving, hurt honking, pissed speeding. Is tomorrow better, Candace?  Since Delky? Since Tevin? Since middle school? Will tomorrow or today be better? These rhetorical questions were not from a place of world reflection as composers Siedah Garrett, George Johnson, Louis Johnson, producer Quincy Jones, or Tevin may have meant in 1989 when they wrote the song.

I wasn’t asking because we were in a time of sexual predators lurking on social media. And traffickers snatching mothers and daughters. And brutes desecrating altar boys. And monsters peeing on wannabe songbirds. I wasn’t asking for theatricals.

I was asking because the song triggered questions that needed to be thoughtfully answered: how far away am I, personally, from that better tomorrow? Do I even hold to a promise of love or to a promise that tomorrow has something special? Do I admonish the friends around me to believe that today is for us to share, that it will be better because we still hold precious dreams? Am I giving any thing that will last?

Yes. Please, say yes.

 

The morning’s flare and Tevin’s voice were perfect partners. This 30-year-old song had poured from the radio and monopolized my present moment of dis-ease. They enraptured me and wrapped me in mourning. They challenged me to take the promise of today’s precious dreams—all that they are and aren’t—into a tomorrow that I can genuinely share with friends who I trust.

Safely in the parking lot of the place where I live my dream, I had to pause, intentionally breathe, and wait.

When the ripples subsided, I decided that my next handwritten letter or next text of comfort will end with: “Thank you for living today with me.”

Because we’re never far away
no never
one thing I can always be sure of
far away
no never
the promise of today.

 

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