Justice for Jelani Day

“Jelani was supposed to be somebody great physically in this life. And he was. When I think about everything my son has accomplished and done in his 25 years of life… He did a lot. And I’m grateful that even in his absence, he’s gonna do more.” -Carmen Bolden-Day


I am happy for the mother and family of Jelani Day for receiving some future-changing outcome for his death. The last time the aspiring doctor was heard from was August 23, 2021. At the end of that September, he was identified from remains found in the Illinois River earlier that month. Today, his family has been behind a bill to insure other families don’t have to suffer under limited resources and even apathetic local authorities for justice for their missing loved ones.

These are situations and stories one would think has some preventative insulation in the areas of the world I’m from. For a young black man in central Illinois plains to just go missing from his university didn’t even make sense and almost didn’t make any national noise. His mother changed that. Carmen Bolden-Day continued to question the lack of media coverage for her son compared to other missing person’s cases in America that summer. It was a stark contrast.

Jelani Day was a graduate student at Illinois State University in Bloomington, Illinois, not far from where I was born. A young black male missing is not necessarily popular in American media, more focused on them dying at police or each other’s hands. His mother’s ascent to national, social media and TV news put pressure on detectives to at least take his missing person’s case seriously, consider the found remains his and track down answers on his death.

The club of black mothers who grieve publicly to insure authorities act for their child is expanding, not shrinking. It’s heartbreaking, angering and scary at once. I was especially moved when Bolden-Day appeared on Tamron Hall Show. It was a broadcast heart-to-heart between two black women who’ve known unimaginable violence and loss close to home.

It’s unfair to have to any of us to have to share ourselves with the world at that kind of time or for that kind of reason, but it’s what these mothers must do for the children. Carmen expressed the agony of knowing nothing about her son’s existence on Earth and seeing the whole world revolve around just a few equally sad but privileged cases. I heard her that day and thankfully the Illinois Senate has heard her too. Now it’s time for the House to hear it and pass Illinois State Senate Bill 3932, also known as The Missing Person’s Identification Act (Learn more about Illinois bill 3932 at LegiScan).

This bill for Jelani Day will insure some FBI attention goes to human remains unidentified still 72 hours after discovery. The medical examiner or coroner is obligated to alert the FBI of the remains and failure to identify them. This guarantees priceless time will not be lost when experts are involved in the case. It’s a small step to more national legislation in honor of Day and so many more like him. I’m proud of my state for stepping up to make this very necessary gesture. Let’s hope it catches fire nationally.


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