LAKE CITY, S.C. (WMBF) - It was an overcast June 13 at the beach, but the closer you got to Lake City that morning, the more the sky cleared.
The hundreds of people who showed up for Ra’Shaud Graham Day were greeted with blue skies. The day was proclaimed in 2016, his name representing the good work and mentorship he provided to the hundreds of kids who inspired him.
Together, they showed up on a Saturday morning for him. This was the first year he wasn’t there.
Graham was killed in a kayaking accident in Berkeley County on April 28. A 2017 Citadel graduate and Lake City native, Graham returned to The Citadel to lead the Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter and serve as the chaplain for the football team. He ran track himself at The Citadel and was part of the track, wrestling and football teams as a student at Lake City High School.
Lake City was everything to him, according to Graham’s fiancé.
“We always thought it’d be in the future like one day when we’re stable and ready we’d do something this, but this would’ve been exactly what he wanted,” Alysse Dowdy said that morning on the Village Green.
Dowdy and Graham were set to be married this July. The two met through an FCA retreat years ago, over s’mores.
Although without Graham, the people who showed up from Charleston to Greenville that morning were on a mission.
They were cleaning up areas of the city in Graham’s name. They were also remembering a special friend and brother whose life was cut short.
At 26, Graham was successful. A son, brother, fiancé, friend and pastor, his friend said he returned to Lake City several times a week to see them and be around the kids.
“If I could design my own son, if I was able to give God a wish list, it would’ve been Ra’Shaud Graham. Hard worker, dedicated, loyal, a man of faith, just so full of energy,” Graham’s friend Matt Apicella, said.
Apicella met Graham when he was five years old, on the side of the Lake City High football field. He has been a father-figure to Graham since.
“You know energetic young cat. He was always thinking about someone else and from there that was the way I thought. And we formed a big brother, little brother relationship. We talked every day,” friend Stand Adams added.
Adams is the new head coach of the boy’s basketball team and he’s dedicating the season in Graham’s honor.
“My last memory I’ll say this. This was before I got hired as a basketball coach. You know I started to have some self-doubt and I talk to him and he didn’t tell me he was coming down so he just popped up. This was the day before he passed away. He was just like, ‘You got it, you got it, go ahead and speak it into existence,' and he just kept saying that and saying that,” Adams said.
Part of Graham’s legacy is his love of watching kids succeed and helping them get there.
“The first words out of his mouth were always about the kids at Lake City High School and the Lake City community. You know, what more could we do? Thoughts he had written down the night before. What more could we do to help guide these kids?” Apicella said of Graham. “If Ra’shaud hit the lottery he would be broke within a week. So many kids, you know a kid needed a haircut, a kid needed track spikes, and Ra’Shaud didn’t have any money himself to start with. He was just starting out as the FCA chaplain and salaries based on the fundraising.”
Apicella and Adams describe Graham as a bridge to others. Especially in the times we live in now, Graham always wanted unity among the people he loved. Known to fill up the churches he guest spoke at, his goal was to have a church of his own.
“Ra’Shaud’s goal was to have his own church. He was on his way to that but he didn’t want to have a white church and he didn’t want to have a black church, he just wanted a church. He wanted people to feel comfortable to come in there because he preached at multiple churches and if somebody needed a speaker in Lake City, Ra’Shaud was always at the top of the list,” Apicella said.
There’s no doubt Ra’Shaud Graham was smiling down at his friends and family that June 13. They plan to continue celebrating Graham’s favorite day in his favorite city every year on June 14 with community service.
Graham’s friends and family are creating a fund in his honor to help the kids of Lake City continue their education. You can help donate to the fund and learn more about it here.