Deshaun Hill, Harvard Stephens Honored in Service
Published on October 20, 1997
By Abby Fung
Michael A. Cohen '98 had never met Deshaun or Harvard, but wishes he had.
At 1 p.m. on Friday, he walked up the steps of Memorial Church with more than 400 solemn, black-clad mourners to remember Deshaun R. Hill '99 and Harvard C. Nabrit Stephens '99.
For Cohen, just the idea of being a student at the same university as Hill and Stephens was reason enough for him to attend the service for them.
"I mean, it's hard to imagine that one minute someone could be just a regular Harvard student, and then, they're just gone," he said. "It's really horrible."
Two Promising Youths
The sense of loss was particularly great for the two students' friends and families, who recalled their lives with songs and remembrances at the memorial.
Nia C. Stephens '01, Harvard's younger sister, became choked up with emotion when she recalled a letter she had written to Harvard during the summer.
Stephens said she was just about to mail the letter when she received news of her brother's death.
"On the day of his death, it was lying on my desk, and it is lying there still," she said. "Perhaps one day, I'll have a son named Harvard, and I will give it to him."
Keith E. Bernard '99, who was a blockmate of Hill and Stephens in Claverly Hall, delivered a eulogy for Stephens.
"We thought we were going to be brothers for life," Bernard said. "Sometimes at night, I wonder whether he's disappointed and dismayed because we didn't make it."
Bernard, who is vice-president of the Black Men's Forum (BMF), was in BMF and the Spee final club along with Stephens.
Ian C. Hunt '99, who first met Hill when the two were first-year roommates in Massachusetts Hall and who also roomed with Hill in Claverly Hall last year, said he cannot believe he will never again see his friend.
"His life and my life were intertwined, and that's what caused me to see how much he meant in my life," Hunt said. "Most of the friends I have here, I met through Deshaun."
Taj J. Clayton '99, another blockmate of the duo, said that despite the sadness, he is able to derive joy from his memories of the good times they had together.
"Instead of mourning, I thank God for the two years we had together, and we'll see each other in the end," he said. "God deserves the best, and the best was Harvard and Deshaun. If the good die young, the great must die younger."
Hunt added, "Ironically, I'm not sad. I know that anyone who touched that many people's lives cannot die. I'm happy that God brought our paths together because now I know eternal friendship and eternal love."
Eric M. Silberstein '98 and Senior Class Marshal Andwele J. Lewis '98 said Hill and Stephens gave them not only friendship and love, but also provided inspiration for their lives.
Lewis, an engineering sciences concentrator who knew the two students through various science classes, praised them for their "brilliance, confidence and selflessness."
Silberstein added, "[Stephens] taught me what it means to be a great teacher, and he showed me what it means to be a great human being."
"Perhaps all we can do in life is to inspire others, and Harvard did that," said Silberstein, who worked with Stephens in the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) Fresh Pond Youth Enrichment Program and at Microsoft Corp.
In Their Memories
Hill and Stephens live on in the memories of numerous Harvard undergraduates, but if close friends of the duo have their way, they will also live on through scholarship funds and a rap album to be released later this year.
P. Alexus "Alex" Kellogg '99 organized a poetry reading in Pforzheimer House two Fridays ago on behalf of scholarship funds set up in Hill's and Stephens' names.
Kellogg said the event, which raised nearly $500, attracted more than 250 people. Many performers read poems they had written about the deaths, he said.
Kellogg said he organized the event because "I thought it was important to do my little part."
Aaron S. Montgomery '00, who met the two students in BMF and the Black Students Association (BSA), said he and his Dunster roommate--BSA Treasurer McComma Grayson '00--are also planning to contribute to the scholarship funds.
They plan to donate $1,000 from Grayson-Montgomery Enterprises--a network marketing company the two co-founded earlier this year--to the fund.
According to Montgomery, who is now the BMF treasurer, Grayson-Montgomery Enterprises receives a commission for each new subscriber it signs up on behalf of PointCast, an Internet news service located at www.pointcast.com. Montgomery said that the more students who subscribe to the news service, the more money they will be able to donate.
A musical tribute to the duo will also come out later this year if A. Ryan Leslie '98, Bernard and Clayton have their way.
"In the black community, there are so many who are doing wrong, and these two people who were doing well, doing right, the best our nation had to offer, black, white, Asian or Hispanic, were struck down at a critical moment in their lives, and it hurts," said Clayton, who wrote and performed songs for the album.
Bernard, who also wrote and performed songs for the album, said one song titled "You Went Away Too Soon" focuses specifically on the loss of Harvard and Deshaun.
Another track titled "Mama's Crying" discusses the impact which the deaths of young African-American men have on their families, Bernard said.
Bernard and Clayton said the album will hopefully be out in record stores next month, and all proceeds will go toward the scholarship funds.
The album, which is being produced by Leslie, was a collaborative effort by many Harvard undergraduates who were close friends of the duo, they said.
"Music expresses the soul, and we thought this was the best way to articulate what we felt," he said. "Harv and Deshaun were music fans."
"Growing up I had no brother, but we became family, we were so tight," Bernard added. "This is a token of our affection for these two guys."
Bernard also said that the BMF may dedicate a talent show this spring to Harvard and Deshaun.
Dionne A. Fraser '99, vice-president of BSA, said efforts are under way to erect a plaque in memory of the two at Hollis Hall--where Stephens lived during his first year--or at Adams House.
Friends of the duo say that they have been devastated by the passage of Hill and Stephens because it signified the deaths of two Harvard undergraduates and also the loss of two bright hopes for the African-American community.
Kellogg said Hill and Stephens "were some of the few African-American males doing well and doing a lot for themselves and [who] had bright futures."
Montgomery added: "It's just a bummer because you have a handful of black kids in this school as a whole, and to have two of them gone.... It's such a loss because they had such bright futures."
Other friends added that the tremendous outpouring of support for Hill and Stephens was indicative of how many people's lives they had touched.
Candace L. Hoyes '99, who co-organized the memorial, said Harvard exuded "great generosity of spirit."
"He wanted to bring computers to underprivileged and under-financed areas, particularly black communities," she said.
About Deshaun, Hoyes said, "He was extremely focused and a straight-A student, but he never talked about how much work he had to do. When you were with him, he was with you because he focused on nothing else. He was my academic inspiration as well as my brother."
Clayton said that although Hill and Stephens are no longer partying or just hanging out, some things will never change.
"Harvard Stephens and Deshaun Hill were my boys, my brothers," Clayton said in his eulogy. "We came to college as kids, and although we're now men, we'll always be boys."
--Sadie H. Sanchez contributed to the reporting of this article