Ahmonta Harris could always draw a crowd. Famous for the firework wars he orchestrated for many summers, Harris was a beacon for his community, and people gravitated to him.
To celebrate his life, Harris’ friends and family filled the Frederick Douglass High School parking lot on Thursday and raised their fists, candles and posters to the sky, next to the park where he spent much of his youth.
“He would have loved it,” Shauntel Franklin, Harris’ partner of almost 11 years, said. “Ahmonta would have done the same thing for everyone here. Ask anyone — everyone has a story and a picture with Ahmonta.”
He was a mentor, a friend and a father. People called him a “hood politician.” He called himself “Monnie Man.” But to all, Ahmonta was Ahmonta.
He was shot and killed Nov. 24 at the age of 26.
Harris never kept it a secret that he grew up rough, Franklin said.
“He loved his childhood growing up in the projects or ‘hood,’” Franklin said. “He loved to hang out with some of his cousins and close friends; he always said that they were all over town and always were getting into things.”
Franklin met Harris in third grade at Parkade Elementary School when he asked her best friend to introduce them. Harris had a crush on Franklin and wrote her a love letter.
“Ahmonta was the same kid as he was an adult, very caring, hilarious, and loving and a protector of his friends and family,” Franklin said.
Once, when the two were teenagers, they were driving in the rain in his ‘94 Ford Explorer and pulled over for a man he saw on the sidewalk.
“I remember looking at him and saying ‘What are you doing? We don’t know him. You better not give that man a ride,’” Franklin said. “He replied back ‘Shauntel. That has been me before and no one stopped to pick me up. I can’t just ride past him.’”
The man got in the car and that was just the beginning of years of picking up strangers and giving random people money, Franklin said.
A few years earlier, Harris was one of the first people Tamica Briscoe met when she moved from Chicago.
“Ahmonta was a little rough around the edges but not too much. And when I say a little rough, I mean every now and then you would hear about a fight that he was involved in,” Briscoe said. “But Ahmonta was never a disrespectful person. I believe then Ahmonta was already starting to grow into a man.”
That was evident to Phil Overeem, former English teacher at Hickman High School, when he had Harris as a student. Overeem clearly remembers the first essay Harris wrote for the class.
“In his essay, Ahmonta chronicled a kind of odyssey,” Overeem said. “Harrowing episode by harrowing episode, he candidly revealed his transformation from roughneck follower to a self-aware leader-in-progress.”
Self-improvement was Harris’ goal, Overeem said. He started to realize he had charisma, which he could put to good or bad use.
“He’d seen others do the latter and decided he wanted to do the former,” Overeem said. “He had experienced legitimate physical danger he decided not to court anymore — which makes his fate even sadder.”
A family man
A few years after he graduated high school, Harris began making music under the name, “Monnie Man.”
He’d always loved old-school rhythm and blues and rap and even opera, which Franklin said annoyed her at times.
Overeem, who owns a copy of Harris’ mixtape, said his sophisticated and empathetic songs go beyond what Overeem was able to teach in the classroom. One, entitled “Columbia Love,” is all about Harris’ favorite things to do in his hometown, Franklin said.
Harris was scheduled to perform at Rose Music Hall’s Lyrics & Liquor event Thursday. Instead, the concert was played in his memory.
Even more than his music, Harris loved his family, Franklin said.
“After we had our first child his purpose in life changed for the better,” Franklin said. “He now had something so precious to live for, and he knew that he had to be the best man and father he could be.”
He left the car that he loved and that he was fixing constantly — his Chevy Caprice — to Deuce, his 3 year old son, Franklin wrote in a Facebook post.
An ally to many
Glenn Cobbins, a neighborhood outreach specialist with the city of Columbia, said very few people knew Harris like he did.
Cobbins said he realized what Harris meant to the community and began mentoring him on peace and justice issues about two-and-a-half years ago.
“We told him that his age group, they looked up to him and he was someone that they called on,” Cobbins said. “He had an impact on so many people, young and old. He would be the one that they would listen to.”
Harris bought into the city’s vision of improving opportunities for minorities, particularly African-Americans, Cobbins said.
“He was a doer, and that’s more than I can say about anyone else out here,” Cobbins said. “He was the Malcolm X type.”
Harris created a $500 scholarship for a Hickman student from his mixtape sales, Franklin said. He created a kickball tournament hosted at Douglass Park. He took part in a school supply and backpack giveaway last summer.
To the young people he impacted, like Daylon McLaurin, a senior at Battle High School, Harris was more than just a helping hand.
“He was a mentor, a best friend, a loving guy,” McLaurin said. “He wasn’t my dad but he was always there like he was.”
The message that Harris tried to instill in the young people he mentored was that certain choices could put them in jail or kill them, McLaurin said. Harris always pushed them to stay in school and truly wanted them to have better lives.
It was Harris’ own experience with violence growing up in Columbia that drove him, said Pastor Melvin Stapleton of Restoration Outreach Christian Center.
“I think it compelled him to want to lead people down the path of positivity,” he said.
Harris became “an ambassador for peace” as a rapper to help steer young people in a positive direction, said Stapleton, who led a prayer walk in Harris’ honor on Saturday.
Stapleton said the community will miss Harris’ colorful personality and his realness the most. Still, Harris wasn’t finished evolving, Overeem said.
“His potential as a positive force in this town was tremendous, and we’ll never see it realized,” Overeem said. “He was no saint, none of us are, but he was also no thief. He knew Columbia with all its blemishes and loved it. And to a great extent it loved him back.”
What he loved was being a “hood politician” for his city, Overeem said.
“He had the reach to be great at it — he was not the kind to forget where he came from, ever, but he was the kind to be open and interested in everybody,” Overeem said. “He could have been a great city councilman. We’ll never know.”
Harris was the community’s voice and now the community will need to be his, Briscoe said. To be that voice, he had to live up to his word — which is perhaps what Franklin loved most about him.
“He believed that giving your word was law and you had to live up to it,” Franklin said. “I loved the way he loved me and our son, the way he loved his family and especially the way he loved Columbia. Ahmonta was so proud to be born and raised in Columbia.”
Supervising editor is Tynan Stewart.