Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” resonated through a gymnasium at East High School Saturday as hundreds of people filed out of the room, some in tears and others in embrace.
For the past three hours the Madison community had gathered to pay their respects to Tony Robinson, a 19-year-old Madison resident who was shot and killed by a Madison police officer only a week ago.
Cooke’s lyrics, and the time old anthem for the civil rights movement, seemed particularly poignant.
The day Robinson was killed his family was not allowed to immediately see his body – it had been classified as evidence.
But on Saturday, March 14, his body rest in an open casket. His embalmed face looked more like a mask compared to photos in a slideshow playing at the front of the room. Robinson was shot multiple times in the head, torso and right upper extremity, according to preliminary autopsy.
He rest no longer an object under investigation, but for his friends and family as an emblem for change to come.
“Tony isn’t over there,” Robinson’s grandmother, Sharon Irwin said as she pointed to his casket. “He is rocking the universe.”
“When you feel the wind touch the tip of your ear, that’s Tony speaking to you. When you hear that song and you think of him, that’s Tony speaking to you,” Irwin said.
Saturday, Irwin’s song was Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” It had played on the radio at a time she yearned to speak to him.
As Irwin stepped away from the microphone, Collins’ song played and the hundreds of attendees put their fists into the air.
They were the same fists that had been suspended over the crowds of protesters marching in Robinson’s name the week before; the fists of those who had spent a week chanting, “If you’re with us, put your fist up.”
The sounds of the demonstrations echoed through the room throughout the funeral.
Friends and family finished their speeches at the ceremony in call and response.
“What’s his name?” they said just as they had done at the corner of Few and Williamson Street on the night Robinson was killed and the days after.
“Tony Robinson,” the attendees responded in unison.
Irwin, who had joined protesters from the night of the shooting, expressed her gratitude for the peacefulness of protests “in respect for Tony.”
Robinson’s aunt read a poem calling her nephew a “martyr for change” not a “victim.”
Custom-made shirts read Robinson had gone too soon, reverberated through friend Jordan King, who said Robinson had just “become a man” and was making strides in his life.
His friends spoke of Robinson’s aspirations to attend Madison Area Technical College to study business.
His friend Jack Spaulding, who has been vocal in protests since Robinson’s death, said he and his friends were dreaming of opening a restaurant one day. Now, Spaulding said if he ever opens a restaurant, he will call it “Tony’s.”
Others spoke of Robinson’s selflessness. His aunt Lorien Carter mentioned he started helping around his house more after his mother was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
His uncle, Turin Carter said Robinson idolized him as a child. At times, Carter said he felt as though he may not have deserved so much of Robinson’s adoration. But Saturday he said he was determined to earn it in his honor.
He said he will make it his life goal to personally expose anyone who stands in the way of justice.
The afternoon was filled with music and the music reflected the message.
“Glory,” a John Legend and Common song from the movie Selma, a Jennifer Hudson version of “Let It Be” and a somber cover of “Hallelujah” played on a loop over speakers in the auditorium before the procession began.
His friends and family said Robinson was vocal about the change he wanted to make in the world.
On his memorial card his family wrote a quote that Robinson had said:
“You ever have the feeling you’re going to live forever? I mean like you’re never going to die? I’m going to be great, I don’t know how I know but I do. Just watch. I’m going to change the world.”
Below the quote read a message from his family.
“And change the world you have sweetheart.”
They said they want the world to remember his name, and to push for the change that will come because of it.
Tony Robinson’s death: a portrait of a life ended, a life halted, a community unitedSaturday morning, a team of three Madison police officers stood outside the house at 1125 Williamson Street on the Near Read…