Things That Matter

That Grandma Who Accidentally Invited A Teen Stranger To Thanksgiving Hosted Him Again This Year Despite The Loss Of Her Husband To COVID-19

Four years ago, the feel-good story of how a grandmother accidentally texted a stranger an invite to Thanksgiving dinner went viral. In the years since Wanda Dench (the grandmother) and Jamal Hinton (the teen stranger) have celebrated each Thanksgiving together.

This year has, despite the pandemic and terrible heartaches, been no exception.

For a fifth year, Wanda and Jamal gathered around a table for a bittersweet Thanksgiving this past Friday in Mesa, Arizona.

For their fifth Thanksgiving together, Wanda and Jamal sat down at the dinner table, this time without Wanda’s husband. Lonnie Dench, who Wanda had been married to for 43 years, passed away in April from complications induced by Covid-19. According to Wanda, he suffered from double pneumonia brought on by the virus.

“I didn’t believe I would have to go home without him,” Wanda revealed to CNN. “Even when he was in the hospital, I thought he would get better and come back to me. He was my soul mate. He was my biggest cheerleader.”

“I wasn’t looking forward to it at first because Lonnie wasn’t going to be there. The past seven months have been so difficult, but this was really important to me,” Wanda explained. “I can’t even explain how much joy I had, having good food with my favorite company. We laughed, we had a great time, we reminisced about the past. It was so good for all of us.”

Dench, her daughter, and grandson gathered together with Jamal and his girlfriend a little earlier this year. They decided on a Friday Thanksgiving celebration so that they could all receive coronavirus tests before sitting down with their own families. They wanted to avoid spreading the virus.

“At first it was sad. We had a photo of Lonnie at the table with a candlelit, and we were all shaky in the beginning but it lasted five minutes before we were back to ourselves,” Jamal told CNN. “We just told jokes and stories and shared our memories of Lonnie, so it was amazing.”

Four years ago, a misfired text brought Jamal and Wanda together.

Twitter

In 2016, Wanda who is the grandmother to six children meant to text her grandson an invite to her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, she accidentally sent a message to Jamal, who was 17 at the time. Confused that someone claiming to be his grandmother had texted him, Jamal asked for proof. Wanda replied with a selfie of herself at work. And even though she wasn’t his grandmother, Jamal asked if he could still have a plate. “Of course you can,” Wanda replied. “That’s what grandmas do … feed everyone!”

Jamal kept Wanda to her word, showed up at the family thanksgiving and the two became fast friens.

According to Jamal he and his girlfriend went on regular double dates with Wanda and Lonnie.

“It all has to do with this feeling. There’s just this connection. It feels like we’ve known each other in past lives,” Wanda explained. “There’s absolutely no generational gap between us. The conversation just flows, we never run out of things to talk about.”

Jamal explained to CNN the obvious concern of having an awkward encounter with Wanda and her family at their first Thanksgiving. The opposite was true. “Whenever we met, we would spend four or five hours, just talking and talking. It was never awkward, Wanda and Lonnie became two close best friends to me,” he said.”There’s nothing about her that is mean, or uncaring. It feels like I have told her my whole life story, and she always listens and shares her own story. She’s just the most loving person. She’s pretty much perfect.”

Their gatherings have become so important that Wanda and Jamal say they hope to never stop their tradition. Even with Lonnie gone.

“Lonnie was missing this year, and he was a big part of the Thanksgiving story and a big part of our lives, but that’s one thing Wanda and I know for sure. Lonnie would have been very angry if we didn’t have Thanksgiving together,” Jamal explained “Lonnie was never the quiet guy. Right when I walked in the door the first time I met him, he didn’t even reach out for a handshake. He just immediately pulled me in for a hug… He was the kind of guy to always bring your hopes up whenever you felt down. Losing him was losing a best friend.”

While still mourning their great loss, Wanda wants people to continue to have hope. “Just have patience,” she told CNN. “I know it isn’t easy, and everyone is frustrated and just wants to get back to normal. But we need to have hope and always care about other people.”

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Amanda Gorman’s Mom Helping Her Do Her Hair For Her Vogue Cover Is The Sweetest Thing Ever

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Amanda Gorman’s Mom Helping Her Do Her Hair For Her Vogue Cover Is The Sweetest Thing Ever

Pool / Getty

After captivating the world with her performance at the 2021 presidential inauguration, Amanda Gorman has continue to be praised. She was featured in Time Magazines’s Black Renaissance issue, named one of People’s Women Changing the World, and her outfit was copied by a little boy.

Now, she’s gracing the cover of Vogue.

In a series shot by Annie Leibovitz, Gorman wore shoulder-length Senegalese twists.

In a post shared to her Instagram page, Gorman celebrated the new cover by thanking her Vogue beauty team, which included her own mom. “Special thanks to my mom who helped with hair on-set,” she said in her caption.

There’s no denying that the poet Amanda Gorman is a trendsetter. As the nation’s first-ever youth poet laureate, she stunned the world with her words, grace, poise, and style during the inauguration. Amongst the millions watching her, one little boy, in particular, was paying attention.

Jeremy Rowan, 7, had a chance to dress as his idol for his school’s Spirit Day and picked Gorman as his inspiration.

In an interview with TODAY Parents, Jeremy’s mom, Kimberly Rowan explained that “He really looks up to Amanda — she is such a strong youth leader and role model.” Kimberly shared the image of her son to Twitter with a caption that explained “This little guy chose to dress as Amanda Gorman for “Dress as Your Idol” day at (remote) school. Thank you @TheAmandaGorman for inspiring all of our children to change the world!”

“He said he was dressing as Amanda since he was really enjoying reading her biography and writing a report about her life and poetry,” Kimberly Rowan explained to TODAY Parents. “And when it came to finding the outfit, he knew right where to look: in his closet, the costume box and beyond. He had a blast coming up with the costume.”

Jeremy wore a red microfiber cloth pinned to his hair to copy Gorman’s red headband. He also wore a puffy yellow jacket and wrote about Gorman for his writing class’s biography project. For the assignment, he researched Gorman and wrote his own version of her life story.

His tribute ultimately caught the eye of Gorman.

According to Jeremy’s mother Amanda “replied, writing that she wanted to dress as him for her idol… I was floored.” Gorman also reached out to Jeremy’s mother and asked if she could post the story and photo on social media in honor of World Poetry Day on March 21.

“We were honored, and are still stunned really, by this reaction,” Rowan went onto share. “Then she sent us a beautiful video telling Jeremy how great his photo was. It is really such a special moment for him and I know it will shape who he becomes… The love from Amanda and the world has reaffirmed his choice in dressing as her. I believe this will allow him to continue to make bold choices in the future without the fear that others may react negatively.”

Speaking about Jeremy, Rowan shared that what he liked the most about Amanda Gorman was her use of hands.

“He has said she recites her poetry like it’s a song and uses her hands like she is translating it into sign language,” Rowan explained. “In the conclusion of his biography he wrote, ‘I learned that Amanda Gorman is incredible because she knows that poetry is like using your words (to express your feelings and emotions).'”

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Family Finds Peace After Body Of Pregnant Latina Teenager Missing Since 1976 Is Identified

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Family Finds Peace After Body Of Pregnant Latina Teenager Missing Since 1976 Is Identified

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

In 2017, Congressional Black Caucus lawmakers approached then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey with a letter asking them to “devote the resources necessary to determine whether these developments are an anomaly, or whether they are indicative of an underlying trend that must be addressed.” Their letter noted that often times when children of color go missing, authorities often jump to the conclusion that they are runaways instead of potential victims of abduction.

Fortunately, despite the lack of attention towards finding and recovering victims of color, namely black and Latina girls, the family of Evelyn Colon is finding some peace.

Evelyn Colon was living in Jersey City, New Jersey when she went missing in 1976 at the age of fifteen.

At the time of her disappearance, Colon was living with her family of five and had become pregnant by her 19-year-old boyfriend, Luis Sierra.

“Back then, things were a little different,” Miriam Colon-Veltman, Evelyn’s niece explained in a recent interview with CNN. “It was a different culture, a different time, in the 70s. You get your girlfriend pregnant, you move out, and that’s how it is.”

According to Colon-Veltman Evelyn and her boyfriend moved into an apartment together. Colon’s mother would stay in touch with the two, checking in to make sure that they were okay until one day when she went to the apartment to visit. After knocking on the door she quickly realized no one was going to answer the door.

“She just left,” Colon-Veltman explained. “People around the neighborhood, they said, ‘Oh, they moved away.’ So that’s the story that we grew up learning.”

According to family members of Evelyn, they eventually received a letter from Sierra later. He explained that while things were fine, Evelyn didn’t want to be in contact with her family.

“They always felt she left with him to start her new life with him and she just wanted to stay away,” Evelyn’s nephew, Luis Colon Jr. explained before revealing that the family never heard from her again.

The family didn’t know that Evelyn was dead. Pennsylvania State Police found her body in 1976 but had not identified it until 45 years later.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the circumstanes of her death were brutal. Her dismembered body was discovered in three separate suitcases on the banks of the Lehigh River tossed beneath a bridge of Interstate 80 in Carbon County, Pennsylvania. The discovery happened on December 20, 1976.

At the time, Evelyn was in her third trimester of pregnancy. Her fetus, a girl, was removed from her body and discovered in one of the suitcases.

Colon was given the name “Beth Doe.” They did not know her name until this week.

In a statement to CNN, “Pennsylvania State Police said that it had both confirmed the identity of the remains as Evelyn Colon and her fetus, and arrested a suspect: Luis Sierra, Colon’s boyfriend.” According to CNN, Sierra, now 63, was arrested and “charged with one count of criminal homicide in Ozone Park, New York on March 31, where he is awaiting extradition, the statement said. No other details were released.”

Colon Jr. and Colon-Veltman, who are brother and sister, told CNN that Evelyn’s family never considered something terrible could have happened to their aunt.

The Colon’s been under the belief that Evelyn was taking care of her family throughout the years. Still, they worked hard to find her. Colon Jr. said that his father searched for her often. With the rise of Facebook, he hoped to find her. “I would see my grandmother, she would walk around Jersey City and look for her,” he explained. “‘Hey, did you see Evelyn?’ She would think she saw her and tell my other grandmother, ‘Hey, I think I saw Evelyn!’ She would say, ‘I don’t know why, I can’t find her.'”

“I was looking up these people on Facebook, and I went and messaged all these people,” Colon-Veltman told CNN. “I feel like an idiot now, doing that and (I might have been) scared I could’ve tipped somebody off, but even I was looking for her.”

Colon Jr.’s decision to submit his DNA to several genealogy sites and track down his aunt is what ultimately worked.

“About four years ago, I heard about the DNA stuff and I wanted to see hey, this would be an awesome tool if I could connect with family and specifically, connect with my cousin, because I knew she had a kid, or cousins, multiple children, or her,” he explained. “So I got the kits, purchased one for me, for my wife, ordered another one from another website because I felt the more sites I’m on, the more chance that something would come about from that.”

In March Colon Jr. got a match that put the entire puzzle together.

“I get notified that ‘Hey, your DNA was matched to a victim of a homicide,'” Colon Jr. explained. “So we got in touch and they asked me, ‘Do you know anyone in your family?’ and I immediately, once they reached out to me, I knew it was her.”

After 45 years, Pennsylvania State Police identified Beth Doe as Evelyn Colon.

“It was obvious, there was no other person in my family who was missing,” Colon Jr. said. “And that’s when the ball started rolling.”

Colon’s body was buried in White Haven, Pennsylvania, and the community has been tending to her grave ever since.

“We’re so thankful for that community, that Carbon County community, that they loved her, that they cared for her,” Colon-Veltman said. “They treated her like their own, these random people for all these years.”

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