Graduating to heaven: Family, friends remember teenager’s lasting impact at celebration of life

Published 7:58 am Tuesday, May 9, 2023

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor Shelby County Reporter

Pulling up to The Worship Center Christian Church on Thursday, May 4, you could feel love pouring out of the building. From the men directing traffic in their “I make a difference” T-shirts to the warm welcome by many as you entered the doors, the love of one person spread to many.

It was the love of Khalia Smith.

Just a week after Khalia’s family and friends found out she had tragically died in a car crash, sending shockwaves through Helena High School’s student body just weeks before she was set to graduate, family and friends gathered at the church to celebrate her life.

Surrounded by vibrant flowers and a room full affection, tears flowed, but it quickly became clear—Khalia’s impact was alive and well.

“I hate when people speak of those who have passed away in past tense,” Helena High School teacher Jacob Huggins said during the ceremony. “When someone like Khalia passes, their impact never ends. Their influence lasts forever. So, I won’t say Khalia was a rock. I will say, Khalia is a rock. A rock that was dropped in a pond, causing huge ripples that will continue to flow across the waters of this world until the end of time.”

Those words rang true in the days following her passing. Two days after, the football field at Helena High School was flooded by her ripple-effect, as students and others gathered at the stadium to honor her with special memories and a balloon release.

More importantly, 40-plus students committed their lives to Jesus Christ.

Those 40 will in turn go on to inspire others, thus the ripple effect that will continue to flow, carrying on her dream and her legacy.

“She lived out her purpose, and she wants us to remember to walk in freedom,” Khalia’s sister Nakyah Smith said.

Nakyah read a portion Khalia’s journal, saying she wanted to share her spiritual insights with the whole world.

“For years, I’ve let the devil get away. No more,” Nakyah read. “He will spit me out after tasting the goodness of God. The spirit is the highest most satisfying meal to the soul, healing all wounds and cuts. The armor of God is being placed on this family.”

Nakyah said she was so proud of her sister for being able to write down those words and for living out her purpose of changing lives through her impact.

“God knew just how special she was, that He called her home,” Nakyah said. “God gave her her heart’s desire on this earth and accelerated her purpose as a pastor. My sister has ministered and forever changed the lives of many.”

It’s that life she lived, those notes in her journal, that show just how full of a life Khalia lived in her 18 years from Jan. 28, 2005 until April 26, 2023. Those moments, which still carry on spiritually, are what Khalia’s mom LaQuita Perry held on to when people said her life was cut short.

“Khalia had a long, beautiful life of 18 years, full of life and full of joy,” she told pastor Michelle Evans. “She touched so many souls.”

That was no more evident than through the show of support on the football field two days later, the number of people who committed their name to the Lord because of her impact and the number of people filling the church on May 4 to celebrate everything she meant to them.

Because of those reasons, retired Homewood Middle School Principal Jimmie Pearson, who was the principal when Khalia was at HMS, said the high school senior has already graduated, despite being a few weeks away from Helena High School’s graduation when the tragic accident occurred.

“We all realize this is time for graduation,” Pearson said. “You might say it is going to be extra hard and sad because she is not here to celebrate this big day with you. But, I want you and her parents to know, she graduated the other day. You might ask, ‘How is that possible?’ Graduation is a transition from one important aspect of life to the next. She earned her BA—Born Again—diploma. She received it in a private ceremony. She actually graduated with honors. I truly believe, she would like for you to graduate with honors as well.”

Pearson said her classmates can graduate with honors and honor Khalia by being appreciative of parents, family and friends, like Khalia, who inspired them along the way.

“She has moved her tassel to the other side and has a fantastic smile of appreciation,” he added. “Keep smiling, comfort each other, build great relationships and do your best to walk a positive life. She will be deeply missed, but remember, she is waiting for us on the other side.”

Pearson urged everyone to learn from Khalia’s example, asking teachers to reach out to students to let them know how much they care, asking her parents and family to wrap their arms around one another and to think about the good times, and asking the students to spend quality time together in person and check on one another.

If each person does that, Khalia’s 18 years not only equal a lifetime, they span for generations.

That is the message pastor Sean Edwards built off of as he relayed his words to those hurting in a heartbreaking time.

“The death of a believer doesn’t seem as tragic to God as it does to us,” he said. “To us, it’s separation and it’s sorrow. To God, it’s a promotion. It’s a release from the burdens of this earth. It’s an instant transport to the celestial city known as heaven. We can rejoice in knowing where our sister Khalia is. Let’s celebrate the 18 years. One day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day with God. It doesn’t matter how long you live, it’s the impact you make.”

Edwards said that Khalia’s impact was so great in her 18 years that God welcomed her home.

“He didn’t take her, He welcomed her,” Edwards said.

With many detailing her infections smile that shined so bright it lit up a room, Khalia’s smile and infectious positivity will now shine even brighter and spread even further with her legacy lighting up lives for generations to come.