January 08 2017

Elegy for Ashley Gammon

Naeesa Aziz

I first met Ashley Gammon sometime around 1989 at Storman-Stufflin, an all-Black elementary school off of Chambers Rd. in St. Louis. We were both students in Mrs. Turnage’s kindergarten class, and although we weren’t yet friends, I can still clearly remember Ashley’s pretty dresses and kind girl ways.

Later on, as a high school junior eager to pad my pre-college resume and hungry for more Black friends, I signed up for Inroads — a college and career prep program for minority teens. The program lumped students into groups based on our strengths and career interests and I found myself meeting Ashley again since we were both writers. This time, our friendship was instant.

During that summer, a bond was born and although there were many we befriended, just three would remain friends beyond that summer: me, Ashley, and our friend Tracey. And because every good crew has a name, we called ourselves The Mocha Girls.

We spent our senior year riding up and down St. Louis’ highway corridors in our first little cars, eating unseemly amounts of White Castle, and barely making it home by curfew.

After high school, Ashley went on to Mizzou, I to Howard, and Tracey to SLU. Ashley majored in journalism, and while I sneered at her choice to stay in-state and miss out on HBCU life, Ashley quietly and confidently remarked that she’d chosen the best journalism school in the country. Besides, she’d say, she would be moving to D.C. someday in the future anyway. So there was no rush to get there now.

She kept her word. After working as a Press Assistant for the Obama Campaign in Florida, Ashley did, in fact, move to D.C. where we shared my one bedroom apartment for several months while she pounded the pavement looking for jobs and I started law school. For two only children, we were as close as I imagine any sisters could be. We shared clothes, makeup, and groceries; looked over each other’s resumes, and sized up any guys who came knocking at the door for each other.

During her time in DC, Ashley would go on to nab positions at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as Communications Director for Congresswoman Karen Bass, and at PR powerhouse Edelman, in addition to amassing an amazing personal network of new friends and associates. I was often overwhelmed by the numbers of new people she had met over those years and joked that she was a “Washington Insider,” and my personal Olivia Pope.

But she would always shrug it off like it was nothing. “Girl, please. I don’t know nobody, forreal,” she’d say, switching into her St. Louis accent.

That was Ashley. Quietly and understatedly decisive and determined. She never flailed her arms and yelled about anything. Her progress or her pain.

When I visited her for the last time in St. Louis, I entered her new apartment and my eyes welled up with tears. The beautiful space was something she’d planned calmly and patiently, like everything else she’d accomplished in her life. And there is was.

I gave her a hug and told her I was proud of her. I’m glad I got to do that.

I was headed to New Orleans after my visit to St. Louis and over sushi, Ashley gushed about how much she loved New Orleans and that she wanted to relocate there someday.

“You do?” I asked, surprised.

“Yup. I’m going to live in the Garden District,” she said in that confident, Ashley way. “I’ve already picked out my house.”

She described it to me and after I’d arrived in New Orleans I found myself in the Garden District. I spotted the house that seemed to match her description and I rode past it thinking, “I’m sure Ashley will pull that one off too.”

Ashley passed away on January 8, 2016, at the age of 30.

I hope there is a Garden District wherever she is now. For, I’d hate to think that she never got to move into that beautiful house.


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Asena Lillywater Tui'one

Beautiful Naessa

sarrona clardy

Beautiful piece Naeesa! I know you too were very close...sending prayers your way friend. Such a loss.

Teairra Green

So sweet. I miss her everyday.

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