The ground-floor portion of the sanctuary at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church-Westwood swelled to capacity, yielding the overflow to ascending rows of seats. Such was the turnout for the homegoing of The New Tri-State Defender’s publisher, Bernal E. Smith II.
Mr. Bernal Elery Smith II died at his home on Oct. 20. A week later, many in varied parts of the community still were seeking balance after his passing at age 45 knocked them for a loop.
The Rev. Melvin D. Watkins, co-pastor of Mt. Vernon, delivered a balance-finding eulogy. He talked about the “Paradox of Praise.”
In his own manner, Watkins gave all present a starting point for getting his point, referencing the essence of the word paradox, which by definition is a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.”
The statement or proposition on this day was for Mr. Smith’s immediate family – seated on the front row – as well as for all those hurting elsewhere in the sanctuary.
It was, said Watkins, OK to cry, following up with the admonition to consciously give God praise amid the pain.
Earlier, Pastor Keith Norman of First Baptist Church-Broad had opened a lane for Watkins’ message, telling the crowd to release themselves from trying to make sense of Mr. Smith’s sudden death at 45 because such an assessment is worked out on a spiritual plane at the heavenly level.
Praise for Mr. Smith flowed from childhood friends, state lawmakers, ministers he associated with in multiple capacities, fraternity brothers, members of the 100 Black Men of Memphis, national newspaper publishers association publishers and executives from coast to coast and more.
The musical performances could easily have been a soundtrack on a live album, with perhaps no segment of musical moments more moving than those that capsuled Will Graves’ rendition of “Going Up Yonder.”
Humor was interspersed throughout the service, which was officiated by Dr. James L. Netters, senior pastor of Mt. Vernon, Mr. Smith’s home church.
And while the reflections varied with the nature of each speaker’s relation with Mr. Smith, the composite was of a God-fearing family man affected early by the importance of community service; a man who pursued a course he desired to lead to a higher quality of life for Greater Memphis and African Americans in particular.
Before, during and after there was talk – general and specific – of building upon Mr. Smith’s commitment to information, inspiration and elevation.
The family has asked that any donations be made to the Bernal E. Smith II Memorial Fund in care of The 100 Black Men of Memphis.