Memorial focuses on a life well-lived

Professor says NCCU will never forget slain graduate student for the 'beautiful example' she set

Staff WriterJanuary 17, 2007 

— The campus memorial service for a slain N.C. Central University student, Denita Monique Smith, was about finding peace without answers.

Though an arrest was made last week -- Shannon Elizabeth Crawley, 27, stands accused of murder -- Smith's friends and family are left wondering why anyone would want to kill Smith.

Police haven't disclosed a suspected motive.

Smith, 25, who died Jan. 4 after being shot outside her apartment, has been praised as a hard worker with an ever-present smile.

Her service featured gospel songs, poetry and a theme: Smith's life should outshine her brutal death.

'Toward ... healing'

"Murder breeds confusion," said Brandon Winford, president of the NCCU Graduate Student Association. "Trying to make sense of it, even if you find out all the intimate details, it still leads you into despair. Remembering the goodness is a step toward the healing process."

Arlene Clift-Pellow, a professor of English, advised Smith during her undergraduate and graduate work. Smith was a semester away from obtaining her master's degree.

Clift-Pellow said Smith's thesis topic showed how caring and clever she was.

She was concerned about the troubles of young black men in America. Her thesis took an unconventional route to finding causes of and solutions for those problems: analyzing the works of "Native Son" author Richard Wright and rapper Tupac Shakur.

Smith was enthusiastic about the project, just as she was about all her pursuits, Clift-Pellow said.

Speaking to Smith's family members, who attended the service but declined to speak to reporters, Clift-Pellow said, "I assure you we will never forget the beautiful example Denita set, of living every day happily and productively."

Smith was a productive member of the Campus Echo staff, writing stories and shooting photos for the student newspaper. Editor Romy Camille said the paper will name its newsroom for Smith.

Camille said his colleagues have hashed over theories about what caused Smith's death.

So have many other NCCU students, said several students interviewed.

"I'm just trying to leave it to God," said Felicia Winborne, 24, an NCCU graduate student and one of Smith's sorority sisters. "Figuring it out is not going to make her come back."

Staff writer Matt Dees can be reached at 956-2433 or

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