In memoriam: Sonja Renee Townsend, March 6, 2021

On Monday, I was honored to sit in the Willie A. Watkins Historic West End Chapel to celebrate the life of Ms. Sonja Renee Townsend, mother to my friend, Preston Townsend. Ms. Townsend was only 54 and Covid-19 took her too soon. The chapel filled with her friends and family, who told stories, laughed, and wept through stories of Ms. Townsend’s days in the Bass High School band, her transformative spirit, her life of serving others, including people who were seeking to end food addictions, her classy style, and her deep faith.

“Put your hand on your chest,” she once told her husband Bishaarah Mustafaa, “everything on the inside of your hand you can change, and everything on the outside of your hand you cannot.” Mr. Mustafaa spoke of his enormous loss and the deep bond they had shared. He was overcome with grief, and yet Chaplain Tolbert and the chapel filled with family and friends encouraged him.

Ms. Townsend’s niece DeeDee (Ms. Andiedra Townsend) read a poem, Ms. Sandra Harris prayed, Ms. Shelia Tolbert sang, and Reverend Charles Tolbert gave the eulogy. The service was planned by Preston, who has been caring for his mom, dad, and brother throughout their illnesses from Covid-19.

I was sitting by myself in the chapel when a stunningly beautiful woman named Ms. Karen Robert sat down and joined me. I was the only white person in the chapel, feeling as if I may be missing social cues, and perhaps underdressed,  so I appreciated her joining me and immediately engaging me in conversation about our shared teaching lives. When it was Ms. Robert’s time to speak to the audience, she had everyone laughing and nodding about Ms. Townsend’s astonishing spirit, from her empowering personality to her dancing. “Let me tell you one thing about Sonja,” said Ms. Robert, “that girl lived.” 

Those words pierced my heart. They have run through my mind continually since the funeral — simultaneously inspiring and convicting me. I went to the memorial to honor my friend Preston, but it was I who was honored.

that girl lived

Rest in power, Ms. Townsend. Your life mattered. Trust that we will hold up your family on your behalf.