There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Mojo was murdered on Benning Road, a block from Hechinger Mall. 1992.
He was a child when we first met—alert, shy as a deer, and just as graceful. Among the foster children with whom he lived, he felt exceptional and carried himself like a prince.
Through years of foster homes and tough street life, he coarsened. By the time he was 17, a knife scar from a fight in a go-go club ran from his brow to his chin.
But the last time I saw him, he still had glowing presence. I came around the corner of the U.S. attorney’s building on 4th Street NW, and he was standing by the snack wagon, spooning relish onto a hot dog. He wore a white T-shirt, white shorts, and immaculately white sneakers, all of which picked up the summer light. He was 20. He was about to face a grand jury that wanted evidence about murders in his neighborhood. It was the high season of drive-by shootings. There were plenty of people who wanted to kill Mojo. Yet there he was on that very public corner, grinning at me.
There were late-night calls from pay phones. He asked me to check his criminal records to see if there was a warrant for his arrest. I refused: “Check them yourself. I’m not going to help you run the streets.” But I was afraid for him, and I said, “Get out of D.C.” He couldn’t imagine a life beyond, say, Prince George’s County.
At 21, he was murdered. There was a funeral on Good Hope Road, and he was buried in Harmony Memorial Park in Landover. I was on the West Coast and couldn’t come. Later, it was too painful to track down his grave. But in spring 2000, I wanted to see that place where he was laid, so I drove down Benning Road, left on Minnesota, past Nannie Helen Burroughs, out on Sheriff Road to the cemetery.
Created by African-Americans in 1825, Harmony has buried D.C. families since then on its green acres for a modest price. All is tidy, cultivated. Calling ahead, I had been warned that Mojo’s grave was unmarked. If I were willing to pace it off from the closest marked grave, I could find his spot of earth in a certain “garden.” Sections of the cemetery are designated rose, jonquil, iris, and so on. Both a letter and number were given me to use as a kind of compass.
But I was baffled. There were so many unmarked graves, little manicured bumps. A spray of weather-proof flowers, or a glittering decoration that spelled SON or DAD, raised some dead from the lost. Out of the PCP and then crack epidemics, the bones of how many young men landed here in Harmony Memorial Park? And who is where? Not many brass markers could be found on Mojo’s hill. Looking around, I could see at least three green canopies flagging that day’s burials. Which of those green canopies were over the waiting graves of young men or women? Did the scattering of youth continue? Was it mostly the young who were unmarked?
At cemetery headquarters, a grief counselor located Mojo’s grave on her computer. Tactfully, she suggested that I might wish to mark his grave and showed me a book of styles and prices. Then she took me out to the “garden” again, found the nearest marked grave, and paced off over several unmarked graves to a pleasant spot near a tree. “Here,” she said confidently. Then, glancing at my face, she left me alone.
It was a cold day. Crows talked, and the wind was up. —Judith Larsen