An elderly man in a gray suit stepped to the microphone and introduced himself as Chaplain Robert Grayson. He said he ran an urban ministry in Baltimore.
On Friday night, he brought his message to Churchville, in Harford County, and Helping Hands Ministries, the Apostolic church where Jacquelyn Smith had worshiped and where friends remembered her wide smile, kind spirit and her last act — helping a panhandler on a rainy night in East Baltimore.
Seconds after that act of kindness, Smith was fatally stabbed. Her death made headlines across the country and marked a profoundly dreary moment in Baltimore’s struggles with a surge of violence, nearly four years running.
Grayson spoke directly to Smith’s husband, Keith Smith, who was seated in the front row of the church, washed in bright lights. “Try not to be bitter,” Grayson implored. “Do not let the spirit of anger and hate grip this family…. I walk those streets in Baltimore. I told my wife, what happened is going to change Baltimore.”
The mourners applauded the senior preacher’s message — that Smith’s death had greater meaning, or that somehow Smith’s death will jar the city and its leaders into bolder action to slow the pace of violence. Others expressed hope — the belief, really — that Smith’s death carried a powerful Christian message about charity and faith, about never surrendering to fear or hatred.
“She tried to help somebody,” said Lida Henson, one of the church ministers. “God is saying, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
“She was doing a kind deed,” said Derick Maull, a co-worker of Smith’s from Aberdeen Proving Ground. “That is her legacy, one of kindness and care and concern. People die. Legacies do not die.”
“Jacqui’s tragic death has shaken this community,” said Bishop Roger L. Tatuem, senior pastor of Helping Hands. “Not just this community, but the entire world… People were touched who didn’t even know Jacqui. We have received phone calls after phone calls, people wanting to know: ‘What can we do? How can we help?’
“We are believers. We don’t stop giving. Don’t allow the spirit of fear to overtake you,” he said.
But Tatuem, addressing the issue of panhandling, said giving had to be done with wisdom and caution, and he advised those gathered for the service to make their donations through established charities.
The evening service was filled with spirit, song and warm and humorous reflections on Smith’s life, and passionate expressions of Christian faith. Speaker after speaker praised God, and several expressed belief that something good would come of Smith’s tragic death.
“Jacqui was lending a helping hand,” Tatuem said. “When she left that body she entered directly into the presence of the Lord.”
“The last thing sister Jacqui was doing was helping someone in need,” Dina Hughes said. “We miss her, our hearts are heavy. But she did what God wanted her to do.”
Several speakers — co-workers and friends — spoke of Smith’s warmth and bright personality. They embraced and hugged Keith Smith who, at the end of the service, rose to thank everyone for their support, and to speak of his wife.
They met on Oct. 5, 2013, at a birthday party of a mutual friend. He was nervous about asking her to dance. But it was love at first sight. “I like to say we danced our way to the altar,” Smith said. He proposed that Christmas Eve.
“Me and my wife, we became one,” he said. “We became one in everything. That’s what happens when you find your soulmate. That was my everything. One day I’ll find peace within myself. Right now, I’m just healing…. Still, I’m going to honor my wife’s memory, and make sure my wife did not die in vain.”