The mall — that’s where Rudy Milton and her son used to walk.
Lenox Square in Atlanta. St. Johns Town Center in Jacksonville, Fla. Oglethorpe Mall in Savannah, a little closer to home.
She and her son, the late Dominique Williams, would “close down a mall,” she said Saturday morning as she walked down South Forest Beach Drive on Hilton Head Island. They’d shop until store owners switched off their lights and security guards locked the doors.
Her son was all around her Saturday: His face was on the T-shirts and buttons worn by the roughly 150 walkers who showed up at Coligny Beach Park for an 8 a.m. stroll in his — “Dom’s” — honor. It was the first fundraising event held by Walk For Dom. The organization was founded after Williams was shot and killed at Coligny Beach Park last July.
He was 17.
The accused gunman was 15.
Williams was a drummer, like his father. And so Milton started a music scholarship in her son’s honor. Saturday’s Dominique Williams Scholarship Walk — coupled with donations that have been coming in since late April — raised about $10,000, according to Walk For Dom volunteers.
Leroy Williams bought his son his first drum set for Christmas, he said. He was assembling it when a 6-year-old Dominique caught him in the act. Soon thereafter he taught his son how to play.
He had drum sets all along from then. Plenty of days going to bed, waking up to beating drums. ... Beating drums on the table. Beating drums in the car. ... I mean, sticks everywhere.
Rudy Milton, mother of the late Dominique Williams
“He had drum sets all along from then,” Milton said, catching her breath between words and she walked along the path Saturday. “Plenty of days going to bed, waking up to beating drums. Come home to beating drums. Beating drums on the table. Beating drums in the car. Beating drums. I mean, sticks everywhere.”
The elder Williams started his son on the drums so he’d have an “outlet,” he said. The music was in him, part of his culture, Williams said. The young man started playing in bands at church, and he fit smoothly into jam sessions.
Joseph Jacques, Dominique’s grandfather, a tall man who on Saturday wore a short-brimmed fedora and offered a gentle handshake despite his calloused hands, remembered when his young grandson got his first guitar. A band was playing at church that day, and Dominique hung around the musicians to learn some tips. Soon, he was jamming with them.
“And he went to wailing on that thing like he’d been playing his whole life,” Jacques said. “It was the first time, to my knowledge, he’d ever picked up a guitar.”
Before Dominique died last summer, his father had taken him out on the road with him for work. They’d traveled to Nashville, Leroy Williams said. He joked that he son “ate up all the sandwiches.” He talked to Dominique about sunsets and sunrises, and how you aren’t really living if you’re not watching the sun come up.
As Williams recounted the Nashville trip, his wife, Olga Williams, and his daughter, Lindsay Williams stood nearby.
Lindsay, 6, a first-grader, wore glasses and had braids in her hair. Dominique had walked her to class on her first day of kindergarten, she said. Her mother had captured the moment on her cellphone, and she played it Saturday morning as the scholarship walk neared its end.
The idea for the walk came about because of Lily Jacques, Dominique’s grandmother. She enjoys cooking: baked chicken and turkey, lima beans, candied yams, and macaroni and cheese were her grandson’s favorite. And she’s a fitness junkie — a walker.
She and her grandson used to walk three miles to the store and back when he’d come to visit her in Tarboro. And they’d stroll through Keller’s Flea Market in Savannah.
“ ‘Mama’ — he called me Mama — ‘slow down!’ ” she said, mimicking her grandson.
“I just wish he was out here,” she said, “instead of a walk in his honor.”
She wiped away a tear beneath her sunglasses.