Honoring memory of Aidan Ellison: ‘His spirit cries out to us — remember’
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news
On the second anniversary of the killing of Aidan Ellison, Ashlanders gathered for a candlelight vigil on South Mountain Avenue Wednesday evening to honor his life and memory.
In front of the mural of Ellison painted by Ashland High School graduate Isa Martinez, more than 100 people gathered to pay tribute to Ellison’s memory, with some well-wishers leaving flowers and candles, illuminating Martinez’s portrait of the slain Black teen.
“As we stand here tonight, I want to remember Aidan’s life,” said Gina DuQuenne, an Ashland city councilor, who helped organize the gathering. “I want to remember how he lived and the light that he was.”
On Nov. 23, 2020, Ellison was shot once in the chest in the parking lot of the Stratford Inn on Siskiyou Boulevard, according to a previous Ashland.news story. A 49-year-old white man, Robert Paul Keegan, is charged with second-degree murder, with his case scheduled to go on trial starting Feb. 27, 2023.
Keegan claims he killed Ellison in self-defense and told police that Ellison struck him several times in the face. Law enforcement observed no injuries to Keegan’s face supporting the accusation, and no corresponding injuries were found on Ellison’s hands during an autopsy, according to police reports.
Keegan remains in Jackson County Jail without bail.
A statement from Ellison’s family shared on Peace House’s website on Dec. 19, 2020, referencing a GoFundMe page for Ellison, reads, in part: “Aidan often said there were two rules for living in Ashland: 1) Have a big smile; 2) Be white.
“He was hyper aware of this community’s denial of his experience in a Black, male body, and this country’s denial of how it targets people like him.
“The culture of white supremacy is entrenched in this valley and as we have seen following Aidan’s tragic death it is ingrained in policing and reporting here. By victim-blaming Aidan in the headlines, we can already see the rough road ahead to ensure justice for Aidan. We insist that this community be forever changed by what happened to Aidan. We are calling for an end to this violence and oppressive white supremacy in Oregon now.
“We hold Jackson County to the task of prosecuting this crime to the fullest extent. A clear and firm message must be sent, that this violence and aggression towards Black bodies will not be tolerated under any circumstances. We call on the community to support us and hold the justice system accountable.
“We feel that everything happens for a reason and we know God has Aidan’s spirit now.”
DuQuenne said Ellison’s 19 years of life were taken before they had a chance to begin.
“It was a life that we’ll never know … it was taken away. And we will never ever, ever forget and that’s part of why we are here tonight, because we’re not going to forget.”
As candles flickered and cellphone lights shined brightly, DuQuenne wove anecdotes into her message drawn from what Aidan’s mother, Andrea Wofford, shared with her about her son.
“Aidan’s mom told me that she fell in love with her son the first time she saw him when she gave birth to him,” DuQuenne said. “She said she looked into his beautiful hazel eyes and fell in love with her middle child.”
“Aidan’s mom is full of love and full of forgiveness. I don’t know how she can do that,” she added. “I pray that none of us are ever in that position.”
The Rev. Terrlyn Curry Avery, a pastor at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Massachusetts, was asked by DuQuenne to speak at the event. The creator of Pastology, which “focuses on the synergy between pastoring and psychology,” is visiting Ashland from Connecticut.
“We’ll never forget you, Aidan, in your living or in your dying,” Curry Avery said. “We gather in this place for the people who came before us, the people who died unfairly and unjustly.”
Curry Avery encouraged those in attendance to remember to “stand for the spirit of Aidan Ellison, who cries out to us.”
“He was just a young man, like any other young man who wanted to play (his) music, who wanted to enjoy life, perhaps who wanted to escape from the ills of life,” she said.
She posed a call to action for those in attendance to continue to work towards a more equitable world for all.
“Every day, we must say, ‘what can I do to make this world a better place?” she said.
“There’s a call to action. How will we remember — not just the pain, the anguish and the degradation — but how will we remember those who fought for us, their courage, their strength and their commitment.”
DuQuenne also emphasized a need to address systemic racism across the nation, including in Ashland.
“There is systemic racism and it’s real and it’s alive all over the world and today, tonight, I’m hoping we can work on systemic kindness,” DuQuenne said “We can do this. I have faith in Ashland. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here. And I have faith in you.”
She emphasized that allies are needed to help end systemic racism.
“What are we going to do, because if Black folks could’ve stopped racism, we would’ve … centuries ago,” she said.
DuQuenne lauded Ashland High’s Truth to Power Club advisor Shane Abrams, who led a group of students in creating a mural project that includes Ellison’s portrait on the side of the high school facing South Mountain Avenue. DuQuenne asked Abrams and students to come to the front to be acknowledged, including Martinez, who now attends Portland State University.
“These are the beautiful young people who made this happen,” DuQuenne said. “And guess what ya’ll, they’re white.”
“These students came together because they saw that a life was taken and they put their efforts together … so I know that, Ashland, we can do this.”
Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at email@example.com.