By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Just walking into the Red Bank Middle School auditorium Friday night, you could learn a lot about Jonelle Melton. She had a great big smile, loved butterflies, her favorite color was purple and, perhaps above all else, she touched a lot of lives.
And this you could figure out before anybody said a word.
As students, teachers, friends and family entered the middle school for a memorial to Melton, who was killed in September, they were greeted by a placard with butterflies bordering a picture of Melton the same picture that was screened onto T-shirts that teachers and students inside the auditorium wore.
Those who didn’t wear the shirts chose to wear a purple band, Melton’s favorite color, on their left sleeve.
Visitors to Friday night’s memorial were greeted by a photograph of Melton. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)
There hasn’t been any new information on the investigation into Melton’s death, Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Peter Warshaw said last Thursday.
The night was intended to celebrate Melton’s life and all she accomplished in her time at the school. It was not, as teacher Julius Clark said in his opening remarks, to mourn. Yet the lighter tone set at the onset of the memorial, with singing and dancing that seemed to lift the audience, couldn’t mask the sadness that is obviously still deep and fresh.
The turning point came when fifth grader Jose Rojas, dressed in a black suit adorned with the purple band, stood at the microphone to recite a note he wrote for and about Melton. Then the sniffles started echoing and heads started bowing, setting off a reaction. Rojas, who courageously remained stoic for much of the reading, wound up leaving the stage covering his mouth to force back tears.
“Each time I feel myself smiling, I will think of her,” he said. “Ms. Melton, wherever you are, we will always be with you. We love you, we miss you and may God bless you always.”
Kadajyah Smith, now a high school student, said in her dramatic reading, “Phenomenal Teacher,” that aside from the every day lessons she taught, “you were able to teach us love. I love you.”
The memorial held added significance, because each February over the eight years Melton taught at RBMS, she organized many of the events and programs for Black History Month, said Mary Wyman, dean of students.
“Black History Month was really important to her, so this is really important to us,” Wyman said.
Melton had several great qualities, said John Colavita, an English teacher. She was funny, had an infectious smile and was an excellent listener, he said.
“She was engulfed in what you were saying,” Colavita said, then emulated a stare she gave when somebody would speak to her. “I’d think, ‘I did not know I was that interesting.’ And I’m not, but she made you feel that way.”
With at least 150 people in attendance, Colavita implored the crowd to remember Melton’s message of love in their daily lives.
He brought up how much Melton loved butterflies, then went on to explain the butterfly effect, a theory that the flap of a butterfly’s wings can set in motion a chain of events that can lead to an infinite amount of outcomes. And Melton, he said, was like a butterfly to everyone she met.
“Remember the change she made with one big, beautiful, bright smile,” he said.