TEMPLE HILLS -- Three thousand people packed a suburban Washington church yesterday for the funeral of 20-year-old James Stanley "Jay" Bias III.
The stage was filled, and so was the auditorium and balcony. In a nearby room, more than 1,000 mourners -- unable to find space with the rest of the congregation -- watched the service on television monitors.
Those who came to the Full Gospel A.M.E. Zion Church on Norcross Road to pay their last respects to the younger brother of the late University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias met with a great challenge and small comfort.
The Rev. John A. Cherry declared that if African-Americans want their young people to stop killing each other, they must seize their own history.
The answers to how and why Jay Bias was shot to death Tuesday -- on the parking lot of a local shopping mall, after an argument inside a jewelry store -- neither start nor end with the man who shot him, said Mr.Cherry.
"In order to really find out who killed James, we have to get past who pulled the trigger," Mr. Cherry said to the congregation, which was packed with friends, relatives and well-wishers of the Bias family.
"If we want to get to the deeper situation," he said, "we have to forgive the man who pulled the trigger. . . . Our black boys are already dead in the womb."
Mr. Cherry also took aim at drugs, which took the life of Jay Bias' brother Len four years ago. The problems of drugs, violence, and values as cheap as the glitter on a gold chain, he said, are the result of a race of people who have let white America dictate their history and culture.
"Too long you have seen things from a narrow, Eurocentric view," he said. "You need some black eyes to see God. . . . When you let others interpret who God is to you, they leave your best interest out."
Mr. Cherry said America's current generation of young black males -- a group for whom homicide is the leading cause of death -- is the first to spring from a generation ofparents who have largely rejected God.
"Why are there so many thousands of black boys dying in the streets? We have allowed a generation of children to grow up whose parents did not know the Lord," he said.
"It's a dangerous thing whenchildren have no moral reference point.
"I'm tired of burying my black brothers, I'm tired of seeing black bodies going into black hearses," said Mr. Cherry.
"Bondage is greater than it ever was, but we can't see it. We're worse off than we ever were, but we can't see it.
"I'm going to start talking to these pastors who, Sunday after Sunday, preach sermons that don't [offend]the chairman of the trustee board because he happens to have a big wallet," he said.
"I'm going to tell you pastors that you have to make a choice: either you're going to be a preacher or a politician, because you can't be both. Young people cannot see a double standard . . . they won't come to the church because the church looks too much like the world.
"We're the ones killing the Jays," he said.
When Mr. Cherry invited those in the audience to come to the altar, turn their back on the ways of sin and accept God into their lives, several hundred people walked from their pews and from an adjoining building where at least 1,000 mourners were watching the service on monitors and made their way to the altar.
Mr. Cherry called James "Butch" Bias and Lonise Bias to the front of the church to see the crowd.
"I want you to see why your son died, why God brought your son home at 20 years of age. This is why Jay died," he told them, over and over.
"His death is reminding us that we need to get it together. I want you to paint a picture of this in your mind and remember it.
"This is why Jay died. . . ."