Sunday, February 27, 2011

 My Son’s 16-Year-Old Friend Dies From Two Strokes
Aziz Tajj Malik Harris Was An Old Soul With a Heart of Gold
Strokes Are Hitting the Younger Generation Much Harder Than Ever; Mother Asks Youngsters to Tell Someone if They Have Body Pains
By Diana L. Chapman
The morning after four teenagers spent the night at our house, three were in the living room waiting boisterously for their breakfast and, as most boys do, dashed about yelling chaotically.
And then there was Aziz Tajj Malik Harris.
I needed something from my son’s room, which was  a whirlwind of a mess, and there I found Aziz kneeling on the floor, neatly folding his blanket and the blankets of the other three kids, and stacking them perfectly.
Pleasantly surprised by his mild manner, polite disposition and willingness to help without being asked, I picked up the phone and talked to his mom, Lovitta McLaughlin.
“Your son can come to my house anytime,” I announced, repeating it for good measure: “Anytime.”
But instead of more pleasant calls between us, I didn’t’ see Lovitta again until dark clouds gathered Friday, Feb. 25, at the 16-year-old’s funeral at the Manchester Missionary Baptist Church in south Los Angeles.
He died five days after Valentine’s Day, when he decided to stay home from Banning High School in Wilmington because of a headache. He was on the computer at his grandmother’s Carson home (where he lived) when she heard a sound and found him slumped on the floor.
According to a family friend, Aziz’s body was suffering from some type of virus; he had two strokes and his organs began to shut down one-by-one. No one saw this coming. No one ever thought of Aziz as ill. He was thin and ran cross country and did “anything I asked him,” said Coach Avery.
“He was a child who would do anything you asked him,” she said, trying to hold back the tears at one of the most painful services I’ve ever attended. “He was always willing and never complained. He always made things so simple.”
“We were honored to have him,” said Gaetano (Tom) Scotti, the principal at Port of Los Angeles Charter High School where Harris attended before moving out of the area.  “I remember his smile and how quiet he was. I meet a lot of great kids in this business, but you can tell when one has a heart of gold. He had a heart of gold. We will never forget him.”
Aziz was described as a model child, a straight A student and one that all mothers would love to have. His younger cousin, Brian, called him his idol who told him right from wrong. More than 300 people, including cousins, aunts, uncles, stepbrothers, sisters and  classmates, crowded into the service to say goodbye to a beloved boy, who touched so many hearts on his short time on earth. Aziz had won numerous awards, presidential certificates. He made the honor roll every year. And yet, there was much more to this quiet child whose uncle joked he would pay good money if he could just hear him talk.
Despite his shy, tranquil demure, Aziz left an imprint on hundreds, including mine and his many young friends. The room was packed with crowds of tears wondering why a good boy, who stayed away from drugs, gangs and crime, was gone. His politeness alone made him shine in a crowd.
“My Dear Aziz! I was thinking I gave you life. The reality is that you have given me life,” his mother wrote to him.
Aziz had asked his uncle Ricky Eubanks if he could work for him, as several of his cousins had done in the past. Ricky says he told him no “because he had plenty of time to work.” After he heard Aziz was mad at him, Ricky said during the service, he dropped by to explain his reasons. “Little did I know he didn’t have a lifetime,” Ricky said. “For almost 17 years, we had one of God’s angels on Earth walking with us.”
His step-brother, Jonathan Sherrod, added: “My little brother lived his life to the fullest. He always had his head on right.”
Aziz’s death follows breaking news reports in early February that younger and younger children are suffering from strokes. I dismissed the reports because I’d never known any children to have a stroke.  The Centers for Disease Control reported statistics that are frightening.
The incidence of stroke among males between 15 to 34 has increased by 51 percent—17 percent in females in the same age range. More startling is a raise  in even younger children – a 31 percent increase in boys 5 to 14 years old and 36 percent in girls of the same age.
Now, our friend, Aziz, had become one of these horrible statistics.
Many of us – standing with our sons and daughters – were  grateful to Lovitta, who asked that all children between the ages of 12 to 21 to stand through Pastor R. J. Ridgeway, Aziz’s uncle who delivered the eulogy.
As my son rose to his feet along with many of Aziz’s friends, Jake, Carlos, Alfonso, Kamill, Aaron and Brian, and his young family members, the pastor said: “If you feel anything in your body, you’ve got to tell somebody.  Tell your mother, tell your father. Go to the doctor. Don’t sit on it. Talk to someone.”
One of the reasons I wrote this story is to carry Lovitta’s message out to the world. We can’t afford to lose any more children as special as Aziz.
When I woke up this morning after a night of dreaming about Aziz, I had one striking of image of him – he was running at top speed with the wind.
Aziz is survived by his father, Aziz Harris of Sayre, OK; his mother, Lovitta of Carson,; six sisters, Jubree and Alexis of Carson, Azia and Asia of Long Beach, Armani and Imani of Atlanta, GA; two brothers, Naziz of Long Beach and Jabriel of Atlanta; grandmothers, Betty Mitchell of Carson and Karimah Harris of Perris,CA; grandfather Kenneth Robinson of Perris, great grandmother Essie Cantey of Manning, SC, and scores of aunts, uncles, other relatives and friends.
Burial followed at Green Hills Memorial Park, Rancho Palos Verdes.