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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Violence Extinguishes Life But Not Light of Young Activist

by Starla Muhammad

Gentle giant, kind, passionate, loving, full of life and dedicated to helping children; these are just a few of the words used to describe Bilal Ammar Russell by family, friends, co-workers, classmates, teachers and other community residents at a memorial and celebration of life service on January 24th. Hundreds of people filled the auditorium of South Mountain High school to remember and reflect on the life and legacy of a young man who touched so many lives . Bilal, 25, was shot and killed at his home in south Phoenix, a victim of mistaken identity according to local authorities.
“Bilal loved life”, Dr. Larry Russell, Bilal’s father told the crowd. Bilal’s life was cut short the night of January 14 when according to published media reports, Bilal answered the door of his home to unknown persons asking for someone who did not live at the home. The strangers refused to leave and shot Bilal. Wounded, Bilal managed to run through the house, crash though a window to escape and make it to his backyard where he later died. Dr. Russell compiled a makeshift memorial from rocks at the spot where Bilal’s body was discovered later that night by his brother. Police are calling it a tragic case of mistaken identity and acknowledge Bilal was an “innocent victim”. No arrests had been made at the time of this writing.
According to those who attended the memorial service and a candlelight vigil the night before, Bilal was an advocate for emotionally disturbed children, many of whom he helped while working as a behavioral and life coach for Black Family and Child Services of Arizona. Children who were victims of neglect, physical and emotional abuse, had been counseled and helped by Bilal. “He was a mentor, friend and big brother to my grandsons”, shared Ms. Baziga who traveled from Tolleson, AZ to pay her respects. “I have 55 grandchildren and Bilal met each one. Each one fell in love with him”. Bilal was a brilliant student and was a graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C. with a degree in psychology. He had recently been accepted to attend law school at several colleges. Folks of all ages, races and backgrounds paid their respects to the memory of a young hero who will be greatly missed.
Prior to his death, Bilal and close friend Kendra Stewart were in the process of forming GIFTS, an acronym for Get Involved for Their Sake, a non-profit organization for emotionally disturbed children. Ms. Stewart, Dr. Russell and others vow to continue to keep Bilal’s memory alive by continuing his work with GIFTS. “We have a responsibility to finish what Bilal started” said Betty Shorter-Yancey, Bilal’s aunt. The family hopes to convert the house where Bilal died into a center for GIFTS. The house is now affectionately called, “Bilal’s House”.
Bilal leaves to cherish his memory his loving parents Dr. Larry Russell and Paulette Russell, several siblings, aunts, uncles and a host of family and friends. “A shining star has left us, but that star is still in our hearts”, said Dr. Russell.
Photo: Provided by the family of Bilal Russell

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