Legacy of teens lost too soon lives on in Salvation Army building, scholarship

Legacy of teens lost too soon lives on in Salvation Army building, scholarship

BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - A beacon to the community. That is the legacy of three young men whose lives were cut tragically short last summer. They were swimming in the Biloxi River, and when one got in trouble the others went in to save him.

A mural honoring those young men was dedicated Friday at The Bridge, a community engagement building across Division Street from the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Biloxi.

Lt. Sonya Smith is the director of The Bridge. She was their pastor, their mentor and their friend.

“We know what they did for one another. They laid down their life to save one another, and that just exemplifies what we need to be doing,” she said before the dedication ceremony.

Javante Johnson, Eric Smith Jr. and Travis Roberson will continue to contribute to the East Biloxi Community they were a part of, even after their deaths.

“Their legacy is living on,” Smith said. “Their deaths were not in vain, and someone will benefit from their story. And every time someone is the recipient of that scholarship, they’re going to know the story of Travis, and they’re going to know the story of Javante, and they’re going to know the story of Eric and what they did. It just won’t be a scholarship. It will be something meaningful. A legacy.”

The former Mary’s Drive-In building was donated to the Salvation Army after Hurricane Katrina. Several previous projects did not meet expectations, but under Lt. Sonya Smith’s vision, good things are going to happen.

“The vision of The Bridge is just to welcome the community into this building,” said Leslie Kelley, chair of the Salvation Army advisory board. “They can attend classes here, hold groups, really just an area for them to come in.”

“Anybody off the street can come into this building and feel welcomed, to feel loved, to feel there is something here for them,” Smith explained.

Before cutting the ribbon in front of the mural, Maj. Bradley Caldwell said, “For the community, For connections, For hope.”

Each time he was answered by the crowd with “Amen.”

That beacon is now shining, and Kelley invited everyone to shine the light.

“So yes, please do, tell your friends, tell your family. Great things are about to happen in this building," Kelley said.

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