Speeches and music filled the air in around the Pentacrest on Friday night, as more than 100 people gathered to mourn Makeda Scott. Organized by Scott’s mother, Simmone Spencer-VanGorp, and the Iowa Freedom Riders (IFR), the memorial aimed to celebrate Scott’s life, and reinforce calls for justice.
“I’m mad at her for leaving me, and I’m mad at the world for taking her from me,” said Scott’s younger sister Ajene Scott. “I feel like a part of me is gone.”
Scott, a recent University of Iowa graduate, died on June 7. The 21-year-old was at Lake Macbride kayaking with a co-worker when she fell into the water and drowned. Scott’s family and friends have been concerned that the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office classified the death as accidental too quickly, and had failed to carefully examine all the evidence. IFR took up the call for a thorough investigation of the case, not just for the sake of Scott and her family, but also to call attention to how law enforcement often fails people of color.
On Sept. 18, the sheriff’s office released its report on the case, documenting why Scott’s death had been determined to be accidental.
Many who knew Scott spoke or sang in her honor during the memorial service. IFR organizers distributed flowers to people attending, who then laid them on a memorial in front of the Old Capitol following the speeches.
When Simmone Spencer-Vangorp spoke, she highlighted her daughter’s impact on her own life.
“From the day she was born, she showed me how to love unconditionally,” she said.
Speaking to Makeda herself, Spencer-Vangorp continued, “Even when you could not find the light, you became the light … I will always love you, and you will remain in my heart for eternity.”
UI assistant professor Lina-Maria Murillo, who taught Scott, recalled the contributions she made in a gender, women’s and sexuality studies course. Murillo said Scott had an uncanny ability to ask thoughtful and penetrating questions.
“I cannot underscore that this is the greatest nightmare that any mother would have to live through,” Murillo told the crowd. “I mourn Makeda today as the incredible mind and radical thinker she was and she had … all she was going to do, all the things she was going to change just by being herself.”
Scott’s friends and roommates emphasized her ability to help them see the beauty within themselves and said she was someone they could always count on.
“To those of us who knew and loved Makeda, she changed our lives for the better,” said her former roommate Kirsten Stage. “I wish I could reverse time so I could tell her just how much I love her and how much she meant to me.”
Many reiterated the need to ensure Scott receives the justice she is due. Spencer-Vangorp specifically decried UI’s ignorance of racism on its campus, saying that Scott often “wasn’t given the time of day because of the color of her skin.”
“This is not about politics, this is not about Black Lives Matter,” Spencer-Vangorp said. “This is about a human being not being able to afford the same privileges as everyone else in a university that did not keep their promise to me when I went to an orientation about diversity.”
As the event came to a close, IFR organizers encouraged attendees to continue reaching out to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office to demand justice and led the crowd in final chants.
“Scream her name,” they called, to answering shouts of, “Makeda Scott.”