Story originally published for The Chicago Defender May 6, 2022 by Arika Linton
Carmen Bolden Day, mother of Jelani Day shares thoughts on the first Mother’s Day without her son as the search to find answers continue to unfold with #WhatHappenedToJelaniDay.
Mother’s Day for many is a time to reflect, revitalize and renew. It is a time to recognize the amazing efforts women have put into raising successful, intelligent, and kind human beings. For Carmen Bolden Day, this recognition also serves as a reminder of the first Mother’s Day without her son, Jelani Day. Carmen Bolden Day, mother to five boasts about how proud she is of each of her children, their ability to show up for one another, and the uncompromising bond that they share.
The Bolden Day family has always been a tight-knit bunch. Ms. Bolden Day credits her parenting style and attentiveness to being afforded the opportunity of being a stay-at-home mom. “I parented each child differently because each of them were indeed different yet shared similarities to me, their dad, and each other. Looking back I reflect on how overprotective I was, I kept them so guarded.” As Bolden Day continued to reflect on her motherhood journey she stated, “Motherhood has taught me that I can no longer think of only myself but these humans that I have created are my first priority.”
Unbeknownst to Ms. Bolden Day, August 24, 2021, would be the last day her youngest son Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day was last seen on camera. Reports state that on September 4, 2021 (after several failed attempts to find Day) – another search would finally recover his remains floating in the Illinois River.
Bolden Day describes her son, future doctor Jelani Day, as motivated and determined to crush any goal set before him. A vibrant and creative spirit, HBCU graduate of Alabama A&M University, member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, and excellent dancer as a former member of the popular group House Arrest. “In our house, I had standards for my children. Jelani was very hard on himself and was his own worst critic. He always wanted to do his best. A’s were the standard and Jelani knew he could excel at the standard and continued to live up to every goal he set for himself.”
There’s something to be said about a mother determined to find truth and answers when it comes to her children. “I do not have any peace when I think of my son”, Bolden Day states. The Bolden-Day family continues to work tirelessly to continue to bring light to Jelani’s case as well as how it has been mishandled. “While I do not want to hurt the integrity of the investigation, there are things in the investigation that were overlooked. Such as YMCA footage of where Jelani’s car was found. I provided them with a jump drive of footage from the YMCA that they stated was not able to be provided. Both Peru and Bloomington Police Departments were provided this information and did not go back to recover the video until January 3, 2022. So that alone shows and amplifies their lack of diligence with what happened to Jelani thus birthing the hashtag #WhatHappenedToJelaniDay.”
As a mother yearning to ensure her son’s murder does not go an unsolved mystery, Carmen Bolden Day is committed to keeping the pressure on all of the police departments involved in the investigation and to making sure that they all accept the responsibility for the things they didn’t do to find her son, Jelani. “There is no way you ever get me to believe this black young man, athletic, in his sound mind, turned off his phone, disabled his locations, threw his phone on the side of the road, took his license plates off his car, hid the car in an area he that would never have known about (because he’s never been to this place), got out of his car and walked through this predominantly white town, walked 3 miles to a river, undress himself and commit suicide?”
Bolden Day describes her son as one who loved himself, his life, and his family. “His dream, goal, and focus was to become Dr. Jelani Day. When I think about all the things that have not been done regarding this case when I reported him missing on August 25, 2021, I get so angry because it’s hurtful and disrespectful how they dishonored my son’s life.”
Lastly, as Bolden Day reflects on the memory of her son Jelani Day her focus now is to bring to light what the police departments didn’t do. “Jelani’s life will not be in vain. He will be the face and represent missing black people. I am focused on creating the Jelani Day Foundation and through this foundation, our goal is to provide help and support through resources and connections to families that may walk my similar path.”