As Eshine Wright recalls it, Tianna Valentine-Eatman was talking excitedly June 29 while driving to PJP Marketplace in the Northeast.
The topic was her fifth annual back-to-school book bag giveaway, and she wanted it to be bigger than ever, to have it in Vernon Park, not far from her Salon Style & Grace at 6336 Germantown Ave. in Germantown, and to coincide with the shop’s fifth anniversary.
“Instead of having a celebration of herself, she wanted to make it a giveback,” said Wright, her close friend and decorator.
The giveaway will go off as planned. But, sadly, Valentine-Eatman won’t be there.
The day after that car ride, the 23-year-old entrepreneur known for motivating others to follow their dreams was fatally wounded in the wee hours in the 3000 block of West Clearfield Street in North Philadelphia, police said. She was pronounced dead at the scene. A 36-year-old man was shot in the chest, neck, and a shoulder. His name was not released. No arrests have been made.
It was a horrific end to what those who knew her said had been a life well lived. But instead of only focusing on the way she died, her loved ones also are putting their energy into the giveaway she had been planning.
“She was so excited about this back-to-school drive,” her mother, Tamika Valentine, 46, of Montgomery County, told me this week. “She wanted every kid to go to school … feeling good and feeling confident about themselves. If they started off with a good start, maybe they would have a good year.”
Valentine-Eatman, who was only 4-feet-10, lived in a loft apartment in East Falls. She grew up in Germantown, and by all accounts cared deeply for that neighborhood and its children. The day before she was killed, she had been on her way to buy water ice to fill a deep freezer she’d just installed in her shop, her mother said. She’d hoped neighborhood kids would buy from her instead of venturing into more dangerous areas for treats.
Her mother thinks she may have been especially caring because of her own sometimes challenging childhood. Valentine-Eatman was 10 when her father was slain in 2005.
“I believe that it made her a lot more sensitive, because she was able to identify with a lot of kids who didn’t have a father,” her mother told me.
Based on social-media reaction that I saw, news of a woman’s early morning homicide stunned a city that’s not easily stunned.
“It shows you a level of violence that we don’t normally see," said Bilal Quayyum, an anti-violence activist. “It really requires us to do more to reduce shootings and violence in our community.”
Valentine is keeping busy, managing Style & Grace, caring for her daughter’s 3-month-old Yorkie, Lila J., and making plans for the giveaway from 1 to 4 p.m. Aug. 24.
It’s an event worthy of support.
Organizers need practically everything — backpacks, school supplies, lightly used uniforms, personal care items such as soap and deodorant, cases of water, and snacks. Donations will be accepted Thursdays through Saturdays at the salon. Items will be placed on tables to allow parents to select what they need. The giveaway will be at Vernon Park, just as Valentine-Eatman had wanted.
“I have to keep her name relevant,” Tamika Valentine said of her daughter. “Her community was everything to her. Her family was everything to her. She always wanted to give back, and she always wanted people to know that they were important.”
When I stopped by the salon with the robin’s-egg blue walls that Valentine-Eatman opened when she was 18, it was quiet. None of the music she loved — New Edition, Keith Sweat, Regina Bell, Aaliyah, Jill Scott — was playing. The black and chrome styling chairs were empty. But the lights were on as if waiting for the next customer to sit down to have her hair highlighted.
The large, heart-shape white floral arrangement that had hung on the door since her death was on the floor, dried up and faded brown, the roses withered and curling. Her mother hasn’t been able to toss it into the trash.
She’ll get to it, but there are other things to be done first.