South Carolina

‘A little piece of heaven’: SC town mourns girl who loved church, wanted to serve

When Raniya Wright was 5, a deacon at her church asked the young girl what positions she wanted to serve in. Did she want to be a praise dancer? Or sing in the choir?

An usher, Raniya told the deacon, Helen Gantt.

While other kids wanted the glory of the choir or the eyes that a praise dancer gets, Raniya wanted to hold the door for people, help members get seated and pass out brochures at Aimwell Presbyterian Church.

“She was not afraid of work,” Gantt said. “She was willing to work for Christ.”

Gantt told that story Wednesday during funeral services for 10-year-old Raniya, who died last week after being involved in a fight at a Colleton County elementary school. Authorities have released few details about the fight, saying it remains under investigation.

At about noon Wednesday, nearly 300 people came together at a “celebration of life” for Raniya in Walterboro.

Before the service, a carriage drawn by two white horses brought the casket to the church. Pallbearers released a purple and silver bouquet of balloons that drifted over the steeple and into the sky.

During the service, family, friends and the church’s pastor spoke about the girl known as ‘Niya who, despite her age, was a leader, a dutiful big sister and who, more than anything, loved her church.

“She lived a life more than some 50-year-olds,” said Pastor Perry D. Griffin of Aimwell Presbyterian, where Raniya and her family attended.

An usher

A member of Aimwell Presbyterian, Rossetta Kirkland, remembered Raniya as the girl who hugged her at every church service. When the girl took up being an usher, Kirland said, “my heart rejoiced watching her march with other adults.”

A horse-drawn caisson arrives outside Saints Center Ministries in Walterboro for a celebration of 10-year-old Raniya Wright’s life. 4/3/19 Tracy Glantz

“Raniya was a little piece of heaven” whose purpose was to touch people’s hearts, Kirkland said.

Raniya looked after her friends and others in school too, a former teacher recalled.

“She brought laughter into my classroom every day,” said Debi Price, Raniya’s fourth-grade teacher. “What I’ll remember most about Raniya is how she took care of people.”

Price spoke about Raniya going to her class asking if she could stay even though she graduated to fifth grade. Price told her she wasn’t a fourth grader anymore. Raniya thought she still had a place with the younger kids.

“’Maybe I can help them with something,’” she told her former teacher.

A sister in the family and the church

When Raniya’s brother was born, Gantt remembered how the little girl carried her even smaller brother around in church.

“She could barely carry him,” Gantt said. “She made sure everyone saw him and everyone knew that was her brother.”

Raniya “had an older spirit,” said Leslie Holmes, another member of Aimwell Presbyterian — a spirit that made her a loving sister.

“I saw her at her happiest when she was a big sister,” Holmes said. “You would think that baby belonged to ‘Niya. She rocked him, she fed him and she took special care of him.”

Jermaine Van Dyke, second from right, is helped out of Saints Center Ministries after the funeral for his daughter, Raniya Wright. 4/3/19 Tracy Glantz

Beyond her brother, Raniya was a sister to others in her family. Cousins and other friends told the audience how they thought of ‘Niya.

“She was like a sister to me,” said one cousin, about Raniya’s age, who talked playing sports with Raniya.

“She was my favorite cousin,” said another.

During his eulogy, Griffin said, “It was her duty to be a good big sister and she fulfilled her duty.”

“A door keeper”

Raniya might not have been able to drive, but she knew her way to church, Griffin said.

Her great grandmother, Margaret Sweat, said she was washing dishes when Raniyah was about four years old. The girl began singing, “I love the lord.”

Her grandmother asked her where she learned the song, and ‘Niya told her from the church choir.

People gather outside Saints Center Ministries in Walterboro for a celebration of 10-year-old Raniya Wright’s life. 4/3/19 Tracy Glantz

“I want to say right now, ‘Niya is our child,” Sweat said, garnering “amens” from the gathering. “The Aimwell Presbyterian Church, she’s our child.”

Raniya was a child of the church, Griffin expressed during his eulogy.

As he came to an end, he said he found a Bible scripture for ‘Niya.

The scripture said, in part, “I would rather be a door keeper at the house of my lord...”

“She said she wanted to be an usher,” Griffin said. “She knew her call. ... She allowed herself to serve. She was about service and serving and a reference to us all.”

Related stories from Myrtle Beach Sun News

David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.