Lashonda Hunt Washington and Tara Shelton, sorority sisters of Maleka Jackson from Tennessee State University, mourn during a vigil held for her in Atlanta. Jackson was killed in the Bahamas on June 30 in a boat accident. (Ernie Suggs)
Photo: Ernie Suggs
Photo: Ernie Suggs

Sorority holds vigil for Maleka Jackson, Atlanta woman killed in Bahamas boat accident

Alpha Kappa Alpha honors Jackson, whom husband called his “Queen”

It is no secret how important the phrase, “’08” is to the members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. 

The world’s oldest black sorority was founded on a cold January day in 1908 on the campus of Howard University. 

So “’08” serves as a convenient greeting and in many cases, a mark of time.

Maleka Jackson, left, of Cherokee County was killed in a tour-boat accident in the Bahamas.
Photo: GoFundMe/3PFLpfR+rg2Dqs0f5ioZ46lukDYUg49XlqtseE5p1t8EIG8w4MVQxJtOVfHCR2yRSEOf8rlL/UbtzjxifogRNA==

»GALLERY: The Ladies of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

That is why Maleka Jackson’s sorority sisters gathered Sunday on the 8th day of July at eight minutes past 7 p.m. (19:08 in military time), to pay tribute and honor a life cut short by a freak vacation accident. 

“Maleka is with us right now. I am sure you can feel her,” said Khaalisha Ajala, who pledged the sorority with Jackson in the fall of 1999 at Tennessee State University. 

Jackson was slated to be Ajala’s matron of honor at her upcoming October wedding. “It is amazing how one person can touch so many lives. No matter what, she was there for you. I still don’t know how she did it.”

Aja Mann and Khaalisha Ajala, bathed in pink and green ballons -- the colors of the sorority -- at Maleka Jackson’s vigil in Atlanta.
Photo: Ernie Suggs

»RELATED: Original story on Bahamas boating accident

Jackson was killed on June 30 while vacationing with her husband Tiran in the Bahamas. The couple was celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary on a tour boat when it exploded, killing Maleka and seriously injuring Tiran and nine others on the boat. 

Video filmed from a nearby boat showed tourists jumping into the water to rescue passengers in the burning boat. The footage also showed thick, black smoke pouring into the sky and large flames shooting from the boat. 

Last week, government officials in the Bahamas announced that the tour company, Four C’s Adventures, has been ordered to discontinue operations until a complete investigation is completed. 

Friends of Tiran Jackson, who was badly burned in the explosion and had a leg amputated, said he is improving daily. 

He spoke for the first time Sunday through a long Facebook message where he acknowledged the prospect of his long recovery, while asking for prayers for the couple’s son, Cameron.

Tiran Jackson concluded: “Rest in Heaven my queen.”

Vonetta Grimes, a cousin of Maleka Jackson, said funeral arrangements have not been finalized yet.

gofundme account for the Jackson family has raised $133,000.

“Last Saturday was the worst thing, but not the last thing,” said Pastor Jason Caine of the Buckhead Church. “Life will continue, and everyday they get up, something new will happen.”

More than 150 people, mainly graduates of Tennessee State University, attended the vigil for Maleka Jackson
Photo: Ernie Suggs

»RELATED: Bahamas officials issue cease order on tour company

Along with Sunday night’s gathering at Briar Vista Elementary School in Atlanta, concurrent vigils were held for Jackson in Nashville, Memphis, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston and Milan, Italy. 

In Atlanta, Jackson’s sorority sisters -- including her linesisters, “Y2Kute” -- wore white in her honor. Most of the other 150 or so people wore TSU’s blue. 

Throughout the service, sister after sister came to the microphone to say how Jackson influenced them. But so did her co-workers. So did members of other sororities. People who knew her on campus. People who barely knew her. 

They talked about her love for Beyoncé. The random text messages to check on someone. The trips back to TSU where she would visit the freshman dorms and hand out money. 

“A lot of times, people romanticize a person’s life,” said Jada Wright Nichols, a sorority sister, who was also a mentor at TSU to Jackson. “But this was no fairy tale. This is exactly who Maleka was. This was a celebration worthy of someone who lived a good life.”

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