BENTON PARK – It was a packed house over the weekend at the Cherokee Recreation Center, 3200 S. Jefferson Ave., for the fourth annual Malik White Basketball Classic Showdown. Dozens of spectators flocked to the gym in anticipation of the tournament, established in memory of rising basketball star Malik White.
Malik, 16, was murdered on Aug. 21, 2002, near his home in Jennings. He was a junior at Vashon High School.
The showdown was organized by Ramona Fortner, Malik’s mother, to honor her son’s memory.
Affectionately called “Mama White” by her family and friends, Fortner wore a blue T-shirt with the smiling faces of both her son and a daughter displayed across the front.
Fortner told the crowd, “The reason that I hold this event every year is because, for one, it is needed. … I had two children that were murdered.”
“I miss my kids like any other mother would,” Fortner said. “Each one of them have a special meaning in life.”
“My voice changes when I talk about Robin because that was my first baby.” she said. “She was murdered in 2007. They were five years apart. She was so protective over her sisters and brothers.”
Fortner has made it her mission to speak out against black-on-black crime, and one way she does that is by hosting the basketball showdown each year.
The women played a match first, followed by the men. The afternoon featured free food, candy and drinks, an awards ceremony, spoken word poetry and performances from several local organizations including Gentlemen of Vision and the Saint Boogie Brass Band.
Fortner said that in her effort to unite people and honor her son’s legacy, she has received support from other families who have lost children due to gun violence.
James Bolden’s daughter Jamyla, 9, was shot and killed in 2015 while lying in bed in what was called a case of retaliation. The Bolden family attended the showdown, and Bolden and Fortner shared how the death of their children had brought them together.
Fortner honored Bolden with an award at the showdown for being a positive influence.
“I actually accept this award not just for my daughter and my kids but for a lot of kids that have transitioned over the years,” Bolden said.
Bolden said strength from God was what pulled him through the dark times after his daughter’s death.
“I want people to understand that our stories [are] no bigger than the next story. We’re just a small piece on the chess board, trying to open other people’s eyes,” he said.
Alderwoman Cara Spencer, 20th Ward, presented Mama White with a resolution from the Board of Aldermen in memory of Malik and Robin.
Fortner said through tears, “It’s been 17 years since Malik was murdered and 12 years for Robin, so this is like a huge thing to give to a mother who has been out here fighting for equality.”
“This is why I do the annual event every year, to show people what God has done for me and that even at your weakest moment you will have strength and there is a such thing as the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Spencer wrote on her Facebook page, “It’s a great honor to stand in support of Ramona Fortner in her steadfast vigilance against gun violence. After [losing] two children to gun violence in St. Louis, Ramona has channeled an unthinkable pain to be a positive force for good.”
Mama White, with a microphone in hand, speaking to a gym filled with dozens of people, declared: “God picked this six-foot-one-and-a-half lady over here to get you in the gym to make you understand that the program is about love and kindness.”