Sidney Brodie holds his iPhone to his mouth. “What is 103 times 8 minus 1?,” he asks.
“823,” Siri answers.
Brodie and helpers have sewn 823 cloth squares onto his Durham Homicide and Victims of Violent Death Memorial Quilt. Each name, written in puffy paint, belongs to a person killed in Durham since 1994.
The Durham native and artist keeps track of the location of each name in a digital catalog. When asked for a number, he multiplies quilt columns by rows, subtracting any empty spots.
“What is six times eight minus three?” he asks. “45,” the phone replies.
Brodie pauses for a moment, sighs and locks his phone. So far this year he added 45 new names to the quilt.
On Saturday Brodie’s quilt will appear at an unlikely place: the Durham Holiday Parade.
It was not his plan to join a festive event celebrating civic groups, marching bands and Santa Claus.
But Brenda Young, whose son Edward was shot in 2017, asked for this. And Brodie could not say no.
“It’s strictly about the families with me here for the parade,” he said. “I know this quilt means a lot to them.”
Edward’s full name, Edward Young III, is painted onto a green square. His mother knows exactly where to look for it.
Young said she was inspired to include the quilt at the polular event to remind families harmed by gun violence that others remember their loved ones.
“My son is on the quilt. And it’s Christmas time. And I know everybody is in their feelings. I just wanted to give back to the community for the ones that lost their family to gun violence,” she said.
Displaying the quilt publicly is recent for Brodie. His stitching began as a personal project after Shaquana Atwater, a toddler, was shot in 1994. Brodie learned she was struck in crossfire while playing outside her home while he was employed as a 911 operator in Durham.
For each victim, he adds a square to the eclectic colorful display, now more than 60 feet long. The quilt’s mix of colors and fabrics is intentionally random.
“I feel like each square is as unique and imperfect and as we are as people,” Brodie said during an interview in his small Durham studio.
With simple details, Brodie tells a powerful narrative. Black buttons are visible on some squares. Each one marks the name of a child younger than 12. Included is 9-year-old Z’yon Person who was killed in August while riding in a car with his family.
In one row, two black and white squares are nearly identical. They are a tribute to 10-month-old Ruia Reams and her mother Zhytila Wilkins who were killed in their home in January. “Baby” and “Mama” are painted alongside their names.
“Quilts are tangible and functionally a quilt is a comforter. It’s doing that. It’s bringing comfort to these families,” Brodie said.
In a year when lethal gun violence is increasing in Durham, Young invited other family members of people named on the quilt to help carry it Saturday. She recruited members of the Southern High School football team, emerging anti-violence activists in town, too.
Edward Young played in the marching band at Southern High School, so when she asked them to help at the parade, it was a way to honor Edward’s legacy, she said.
Young has been busy collecting donations and saving parts of her paycheck to purchase holiday-themed gloves, scarves and hats for the helpers.
Bringing the quilt to a parade is a first, but Brodie’s designed it to tell multiple stories. White squares with black and white checkered ribbon, for instance, represent names listed out of chronological sequence. Brodie cut shirt cuffs and sewed buttoned pieces on top of the squares.
“The dates that I missed these people are all various dates throughout the years. They were at times in my life when I was going through personal things,” he said. “I chose cuffs to symbolize that these people slipped through my hands.”
Brodie first displayed his quilt in 2017, after Kamari Munerlyn, age 7, was shot and killed on a drive home from a swimming pool. A vigil was held days later on the side of the road a police officer had tried to revive the child with CPR.
Brodie stitched a yellow square with the boy’s name in blue and green onto the quilt during the vigil, while Munerlyn’s mother, father and grandmother watched. He got through it by wearing sunglasses on to hide his sorrow, he said.
Young intends to lead the quilt procession Saturday, with Edward feeling nearby. As always, she’ll wear a heart-shaped necklace carrying Edward’s name inside.
“I’m ready. I’m so ready. This is something on my heart and that I want to,” she said.
After the parade, Brodie will wrap his quilt in shrink wrap and take it back to his studio. These days he brings the quilt to vigils against gun violence elsewhere in North Carolina and out of state.
Back in Durham, he is always prepared, regrettably, to add more names.
At top: Some of the more than 800 names on the Durham Homicide and Victims of Violent Death Memorial Quilt. Photo by Cameron Beach