COLUMBIA — The Rankins are a musical family. So it only seemed fitting that at 17-year-old Bryan “Phatman” Rankin’s funeral his grandma Willa Rankin, his aunt Sheila Rankin and his father, Bryan Rankin, would sing in tribute.
“I’m going to try to sing this song for my boy,” Bryan Rankin said Saturday afternoon. “If I fall, you all just pick me up.”
“I can’t remember feeling so much pain/ And my tears keep falling like the pouring rain,” Bryan Rankin sang. “Precious Lord please, take my hand/ Help me stand.”
Toward the end of the 14-minute song, written by Fred Hammond, Bryan Rankin held his arms outstretched and cried out as one of the background singers took over the lyrics.
One of the elders of Urban Empowerment Ministries church, where the Rankin family are members, came from behind and hugged him as the music went on.
Many of those in attendance stood up and raised their hands.
Soon, Bryan Rankin draped himself over the casket as if hugging his dead son.
His son, Bryan Rankin, was killed Saturday, April 7. He had been returning to a party when witnesses say 15 to 20 teens surrounded his car. One of them shot Bryan Rankin in the stomach.
His death is the second killing of a 17-year-old in recent months. In March, DeAudre Johnson was the unintended victim of a shooting near Douglass Park.
Nearly all of the 287 seats in Urban Empowerment’s sanctuary were filled during the visitation and funeral. Friends wore a variety of T-shirt designs that had a picture of Bryan Rankin.
Pastors from St. Luke United Methodist Church and Second Missionary Baptist Church sent letters that were read during the service for the family. Bryan Rankin’s parents, Bryan and Laura Rankin, wrote statements that were read as well.
“We had 17 years with him,” his mother’s statement said. “We wanted him longer, but God called him home.”
Bishop Lester Woods Jr. of Urban Empowerment gave the eulogy. He said he wanted to speak boldly about what this means to the community as well as to comfort the family.
“Phatman’s death has moved people toward coming together,” Woods said. “They have a desire to do something to create a change. So as your pastor, Phatman, I want to say thank you because for sure, your life and your death will not be in vain.”
Part of that coming together is the planning of an event called “Silence the Violence,” which includes a march, forum and booth fair of youth resources in Columbia sponsored by Urban Empowerment Ministries.
Woods cited the story of the Good Samaritan in the Bible when imploring those in attendance to have compassion for the youth of Columbia instead of only pointing out the problems. The parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10 is the story of a man who helps a stranger when others would not.
“We have the gall and the audacity to look down our noses at kids, at those people,” Woods said. “But in the midst of looking down our nose at people who seem like they are less than us, we’re still sick.”
He then spoke directly to the teenagers in the room and said they don’t have to listen to people who have low expectations of them.
“Just because you’re going through some ups and downs don’t mean God has counted you out,” Woods said. “As a matter of fact, God’s going to make your haters your elevators.”
Amid his grief, Bryan Rankin's father encouraged parents to not take their children for granted.
“When you wake up in the morning, when you see your babies, you embrace them. You hold them. You kiss them on their faces. Tell them how much you love them,” he said.
His voice cracked and he paused to cry. People in the sanctuary called out to him, "That’s alright, take your time."
Woods said the community’s next step is to look after children to prevent another death.
“When you quote a problem, care enough to provide a solution.”