Twenty white balloons – representing the 20 years of life – were released into the sky above the eternal flame Tuesday night as hundreds of Florida A&M University students, faculty, staff and friends mourned the death of Nefertiti Nicole Williams.
A junior public relations student from Bradenton, Williams served as the news editor for the FAMU student newspaper, a member of FACES Modeling Troupe, Inc., a member of the FAMU Chapters of the Public Relations Student Society of America, a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and a member of Women Devoted to Change.
Leon County Sheriff’s Department officials said Williams was the victim of an apparent murder-suicide. Maj. Mike Wood said Williams’ friends found her body in her Killearn home Thanksgiving. Police ruled that Williams was shot and killed by high school friend and roommate Shundavian Brooks, who later shot and killed himself.
The Famuan staff placed a lit candle and angel figurine at Williams’ newsroom desk. Williams’ deputy news editor Nicole Bardo-Colon said the staff wants to keep Williams’ memory alive.
“We’re going to keep it burning as long as possible,” Bardo-Colon said. “And of course, she’s an angel.”
Bardo-Colon said Williams’ intense drive inspired the staff.
“You couldn’t help but feel driven around her,” Bardo-ColÃ³n said. “She brought other people up with her.”
The Famuan staff appreciated Williams’ sense of humor.
“She was always making everybody laugh,” Bardo-Colon said. “She made all of our lives better.”
The Famuan Editor in Chief Sidney Wright IV said he first noticed Williams after her article on copyright infringement during the spring elections.
“As a journalist, she was amazing,” Wright said. “She was an excellent writer. An excellent editor.”
As news editor, Williams covered the controversial FAMU Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. hazing case and the student protests of the boot camp death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson. During the memorial service, Student Body President Phillip Agnew said Williams was respected on campus as a journalist.
Agnew said: “She was grace. She was beauty. But most of all she was a hard-nosed reporter.”
Wright said the newspaper staff is striving to live up to her legacy.
“We owe it to her to keep going,” Wright said. “I think that philosophy alone has given us strength to honor her by being The Famuan that we’ve always been.”
Wright also said the staff appreciated Williams’ outspoken personality.
“She was refreshingly genuine, honest, an overall great person, and that was enough to make you fall in love with her,” Wright said.
The Famuan Lifestyles Editor Tauheedah Shukriyyah Asad said Williams worked hard in school to set a good example for her younger siblings.
“She knew that they were looking up to her,” Asad said. “She wanted to show them that if they had good grades they would be rewarded.”
Asad said Williams talked about her childhood friends from Bradenton with whom she lived.
“She spoke about her roommates a lot,” Asad said. “She loved them.”
Williams’ roommate and childhood friend Ashley Carnegie said Williams showed compassion for others, even those she did not know personally.
“Nef, she was just a caring person in general,” Carnegie said. “She would make friends with anyone, and she opened up to a lot of people.”
FAMU PRSSA President Kristin Taylor said Williams was instrumental to the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication.
“Her passion for journalism was very strong,” Taylor said. “She was a light that shined.”
Taylor and other Famuan staff members were with Williams Tuesday night before Thanksgiving for a holiday social at FAMU journalism professor Valerie White’s house.
“She kept saying that she couldn’t wait to eat Thanksgiving dinner with her family,” Taylor said.
Valerie White taught Williams in two classes and mentored her. White said she encouraged Williams to write for The Famuan in the spring. Williams’ work on several investigative pieces helped her earn the fall news editor position in record time. White said Williams’ commitment to excellence helped her excel quickly.
“She had become a real newswoman,” White said. “She could handle high-caliber work and she was a high-caliber student. If you put her to the challenge, she would rise to the occasion.”
White said students can learn from Williams’ professionalism.
“Her work ethic was uncompromised,” White said. “They [the students] can be as committed to learning as Nef was.”
White said Williams was applying for summer newspaper internships, but Williams eventually wanted to be an entertainment public relations professional.
Close friend, fellow public relations student and FACES member Benjamin Petrose said Williams was strong in her faith.
“She lived by what she believed in, especially her religious views,” Petrose said. “She was a God-fearing woman.”
Petrose also said Williams was a committed member in all of her organizations.
“Everything that she touched was successful,” Petrose said. “I never saw her fail at anything.”
FACES Modeling Troupe President Brandon Stewart said Williams was a dedicated member of FACES. The modeling troupe is dedicating its 10 year anniversary show in 2007 to Williams.
“Nef is one of the best models to come through Faces,” Stewart said. “Her walk and attitude made her the best.”
Stewart said Williams would not want anyone to grieve over her death.
“She lived her life to the fullest, and if she were here, she’d say ‘Y’all better toughen up. Don’t cry over me’,” Stewart said.
Third-year student Kei’Shae Howey and Williams were close friends since their freshman year. The two joined FACES together in spring 2005. Howey said Williams’ smile was unforgettable.
“I’ll always remember her smile,” Howey said. “She always said, ‘Never let ’em see you sweat.’ “
Howey also said Williams was never afraid to speak her mind.
“She would tell you what she felt no matter who you were,” Howey said.
On Nov. 21 at 10:50 p.m., more than a day before her death, Williams wrote a note titled “Thankful for YOU,” on her Facebook.com Web page.
Howey said she believes Williams wrote the note to her friends.
“I think God was telling her to write it,” Howey said.
Williams’ note, “Thankful for YOU,” reads:
“Lord knows I have had my share of problems in my life and it has been one of the roughest two years of my life, but through it all GOD above all, and YOU have made my life better in some way…whether it was just a quick call to see how I was doing or being there for me in my time of need. I am forever grateful and thankful to have you in my life. I thank you and I hope that I am as important to you as you are to me. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
Williams’ funeral service will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at St. James Methodist Church. It is located at 2049 Honore Ave. in Sarasota.
If Nefertiti Williams touched your life in some way, share your stories, or leave a message for fellow Rattlers and Nefertiti’s family on the The Famuan’s online message board.