My dear friend and brother, Clay York, is no longer with us. I don’t know the circumstances surrounding his death or why God allowed such a rare gem to leave this earth so soon. In the midst of so many questions, I could only think to celebrate his life in the only way that I know how.
When I first met Clay, I thought that he was far too nice and chivalrous to be genuine. Every year at the annual Magic Johnson Foundation TMSP Leadership Conference, he won some type of award: Rookie of the Year, Scholar of the Year, you name it. I was jealous of him our freshman year because of his ability to meet and connect with everyone—and I mean everyone—on such a meaningful level. It wasn’t until I got to know Clay that I realized how sincere he really was.
Clay was a true gentleman. He held doors open not only for women, but for the entire group of 150+ scholars whenever we left a venue. If we were walking back from an event, I didn’t have to say that I was cold. When he saw that I didn’t have a jacket, he would dig into his backpack and pull out the extra TCU sweatshirt he had packed just incase a young lady forgot hers. When I felt like getting my grove on, he was my go-to dance partner. Whether or not music was playing, he was down to dougie or waltz in the hallway. Clay was a beautiful dancer. As a Black male, he got a lot of crap for knowing how to turn on his tippy toes and do the splits, but the snarky comments and bullying never stopped him from pursuing his dreams. After graduating from Texas Christian University and being named Mr. TCU in 2012, he moved to New York to dance at the Ailey School.
Clay was my hype man. We couldn’t walk anywhere without him beat boxing and urging me to freestyle. I gave in every time and before we knew it, our rap sessions started turning into dance battles. He was “that guy” who wasn’t afraid to dance in the middle of the circle or pull a young woman from the crowd and do the salsa.
After the conference this summer, Magic Johnson put all of the graduates up in the JW Marriott. Before my roommate and I could check-in, Clay shouted out his room number and told us to stop by after we got settled in. “Text me your room number,” he said as he rolled his suitcase to the elevator.
I was changing clothes in my room when Clay arrived. The door was propped open and my roommate, not knowing that my shirt wasn’t all the way on, invited him in. He was halfway through the door by the time I realized what was happening and I screamed, “wait!” He immediately turned around and ran out the room. After I was fully clothed, he came back in and apologized for fifteen minutes. He knew how much I valued modesty and wanted to assure me that he hadn’t seen anything. Even if he had, the most he would’ve seen was my back. His genuine remorse over a situation that I wasn’t even offended by simply confirmed what I had already known to be true about him.
We sat near the window and talked about how blessed we were to be educated and free. He admitted his anxieties about moving to New York to dance. He didn’t know where he was going to live or how he was going to eat on such a low salary, but he was determined to make it happen. He followed his dreams no matter how far-fetched they seemed to everyone else. In a Facebook chat in September, he told me that he was working on a graphic novel. I don’t doubt for a second that he would’ve got it published.
When I received the news of his passing, I was on my way to do some last minute Christmas shopping. I drove around in circles for 30 minutes, finally pulling into a parking lot just to sit there for two hours. I still can’t believe that he’s gone. It doesn’t make sense to me but I know that, at the very least, his death has inspired me and countless others to start living life as freely as he did.
As a young Christian who likes to think that I’m in God’s will, I tend to take life for granted. Before today, I subconsciously believed that tomorrow is indeed promised because of all the work that’s left for me to do. But if anyone had work to do, it was Clay. In just 21 years, he shattered stereotypes, changed thousands of lives, and was on his way to liberate even more minds. Like Clay, I am not exempt from an “early death”—and neither are you.
Today has been nothing short of a wake up call. I urge everyone reading this to seriously evaluate your relationship with God. If you were to die tonight, are you 100% sure that you would spend eternity with Jesus? Contrary to popular belief, no amount of good deeds can earn you a spot in Heaven. The good news is that so long as you are still breathing, it’s not too late to get to know Him.
I didn’t want to turn this post into an altar call, but if Clay’s death taught me anything, it’s that life is too short to be stingy with the Gospel. From this day forward, I hope to never not know the status of a friend’s salvation.
Clay will be severely missed. At multiple times today, I’ve wanted to pick up my phone and call him. Unfortunately, I can’t do that. I can only look through our conversations and reminisce on all the good times we had. I found the following Facebook conversation to be bizarrely fitting and entertaining.
Me: Have u been eating?!
Clay: Yes. I promise. The struggle is still real but, with my godparents in town, it is diluted.
Me: that’s good to hear! Don’t die on me lol starvation is real!!
Clay: haha. I won’t…not yet.
Me: hahaha u better not!
Clay: Queen Green on the scene
She’s looking so serene
But don’t disrespect because she will get mean
On the blog with her words
So do not act absurd
Because she’ll prove that she’s the sh… and you are just a turd
Rest in Peace, Clay.