Newly minted University of Arizona graduate Bakari Henderson, traveled to Greece in 2017 to launch his clothing line Bakari Luxury Sportswear. Instead, he was the victim of a fatal beating that left his heartbroken family with questions and about could have happened.
Reports and case files say that Henderson, an Austin, Texas native who was in Laganas on the Greek island of Zakynthos, with a friend, took a picture with a woman at a bar that attracted the ire of a group of Serbian nationals in the same bar. They were angry that the woman chose to take a pic with Henderson and a confrontation, caught on surveillance tape, spilled out of the bar. Henderson was beaten by a group of men and died of his injuries. He was 22.
Earlier this year, nine men, seven of them Serbian, went on trial in Greece. Six of them were indicted on murder charges, the other three on lesser charges. Greek law prohibits them from being publicly identified. On Thanksgiving Day, the men were sentenced on the lesser charge of deliberate bodily harm. Henderson’s parents, Jill and Phil Henderson, who traveled to Greece for the trial, were horrified. They were hoping for a verdict of murder.
Bur recently, the Hendersons had some hope restored when it was announced that the public prosecutor in Greece had asked for retrial with “more experienced judges” KVUE.com reported. Seven of the nine men will face murder charges this time, but not all the men will face life sentences.
In an exclusive interview with Blackamericaweb.com, the Hendersons reflect on their son and his life and how this tragedy has tried their faith.
It must have been incredibly difficult to sit through testimony and look at the people who harmed your son as well as seeing his murder repeatedly on video. How did you handle that?
Since the Greek system is so different from our, we only attended 4 court sessions even though we were in Greece over 20 days. The trial dates don’t run consecutively so that was a big surprise to us. Another variance is the defendants don’t have to appear in court unless they want to, so on 3 days only 4 defendants attended and on 1 day 8 attended.
The most difficult part was trying to understand the proceedings since they are conducted in Greek. Even though we had a translator it was hard to keep up, so we basically had an overview of the discussions and testimonies.
Since we didn’t hear every specific detail it wasn’t as difficult as it could have been to hear their testimonies but yes it was frustrating to hear the excuses they stated. The defendants never looked at us and we didn’t focus on them either. The video was played in court once we returned to the U.S., so fortunately we didn’t have to witness that since it took about 4 hours for them to dissect the footage.
Do you believe, now that you have heard the trial testimony, that racism played a role in this?
We still aren’t positive that racism played a role and are viewing this as a lack of respect for human life. We didn’t notice a significant Black presence in most cities except for Athens, so it could be a lack of understanding and/or disregard for someone who looked different.
And if so, have you learned anything about how Black people should protect themselves when traveling overseas?
We would say to enjoy yourself but not let your guard down because where ever you go people will notice your outer appearance first and most will develop a perception based on their personal experience and knowledge of Black people in general. Some will take time to get to know you, but the majority will be indifferent or have an opinion which will most like be based on a stereotype. Unfortunately, this is human behavior and too common.
Is there anything that you think that your son should have done differently that could help someone else?
The only thing that may be helpful for other travelers is to know if America has a good relationship with the country and region your traveling to and how Blacks are viewed there as well. Also know as much history about the region you’re traveling to as possible and be sure to check the US Department of state travel advisories.
Has the young lady involved ever reached out to you or is she testifying in the trial (the one who asked for the picture)?
No, she hasn’t reached out to us and as far as we know she is not testifying.
Are you disappointed that Bakari’s friend is not testifying in the case and can you talk about who was with him and how you feel about their response to the tragic circumstances?
We were disappointed, but everyone has free will to make their own decisions which they have to live with in the end. The other two college friends did testify, and we are very grateful to them and their families for their commitment to helping us seek justice for Bakari.
From what we understand, Bakari was with two friends when the altercation took place and a third friend was going to meet up with them a little later. One of the two friends ran a different direction from Bakari and the other friend didn’t have time or know how to respond because everything happened fast.
There are many, many parents who have lost a child in tragic ways. What have you learned about grieving and what can you share with others that might help them as they attempt to navigate it?
We’ve learned that grieving is an ongoing process, and everyone grieves differently in their own way and in their own time. Grief doesn’t just impact the parents, it impacts the entire family no matter how small or big, along with friends and even acquaintances. Grief should not be taken lightly or overlooked because you can’t go around it, you have to go through it to heal. We strongly recommend that anyone (not just the immediate family) impacted by the loss go to counseling to help navigate the process.
Also and this is obviously a superficial take, but you seem like an upscale, educated African-American family. No one is immune from tragedy but was there any feeling of ‘We’ve done all the right things how could this happen to us?”
Definitely, we were devastated because we really felt like we’d given our children a tremendous foundation built on faith, family, education and compassion for people, so we were excited to see what life had in store for them. I personally asked God why me?
He responded immediately by saying “why not you, I gave my only son”. It wasn’t the response I wanted to hear but I am learning to come to grips with it and we do know that God’s plan is always perfect even when it makes no sense to us.
What do you want the world to know about your son and is there anything you are doing going forward in his memory that people can support?
We want the world to know that Bakari was an intelligent, joyful, compassionate young man with big dreams. He loved God, his family, his friends and never met a stranger. His life was full of so much potential, but he also left a long-lasting legacy of love which we get glimpses of from the people whose lives he touched in his short journey on earth.
Bakari lost his life while pursuing one of his dreams to launch his clothing line, Bakari Luxury Sportswear, so we have vowed to make this dream a reality once we locate a reputable manufacturer to partner with us. We also started The Bakari Foundation this year which will provide transformative international travel experiences for families who have lost loved ones at the hands of another.
Our application process will open soon, and we plan to award this all-inclusive healing experience to one or more families on April 13, 2019, Bakari’s birthday.