Demarien Hawk: A City’s Reinvention
Demarien Hawk is a lifelong resident of Havana, growing up in the community of Hampton Heights. Though he began his career as a behavioral counselor in the Gadsden County school system, he currently works as a full-time mortician. Since becoming a licensed funeral director six years ago, he has assisted with many funerals throughout the county. Demarien feels fortunate to work in his profession and enjoys providing dignity and comfort to the families of the deceased.
Demarien describes how the residents of Havana have powerful traditions when deciding funerary services. Oftentimes funeral homes and services are determined by family legacy, with one funeral home providing the funerals and burials for all deceased individuals in a family. Havana residents strongly believe a person should be buried in the same plot as their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. It is also common for a person to receive the same funeral service their family historically has. Because of these legacies, funerary services are more meaningful to Mr. Hawk, who bears the responsibility of maintaining cultural traditions. Since Demarien often provides services to multiple deceased individuals in a family, he gets to know that family on a deeper level, something that he feels is important to providing the best care.
“As a child growing up… we knew all our neighbors. Our parents knew each other, the community knew each other.”Demarien Hawk
Demarien also recognizes that this sense of legacy and tradition impacts other decisions that families in Havana make. Often schools and churches are selected based on whether other family members have historically attended. He worries that this adherence to tradition can sometimes be stifling, and notes that often residents only feel freed from their cultural obligations when a business or institution closes its doors for good. In the wake of COVID-19, many businesses that were once cultural institutions in Havana have now permanently closed their doors.
To Demarien, it is important that the county’s oral history gets recorded as some of these businesses close their doors for the last time. He does not want the personal stories and histories amassed over these past generations to be lost forever. Though he worries that tradition might be lost, Demarien is also hopeful that new businesses opening up allows for a reinvention of sorts, and that new opportunities could lead to a new image of the county.
The COVID-19 pandemic had serious effects on the community of Havana. Demarien feels that the lack of healthcare and financial resources in Havana inhibited access to proper services for struggling residents. Still today Demarien is haunted by some of the darkest moments of the pandemic, recalling past students of his that lost parents and guardians to the illness. Despite these devastating losses, Mr. Hawk believes the community’s cohesion allowed residents to weather the worst of the pandemic. Losses in each home were felt by the whole community, but they always came together to support those who needed it most. Rallying together, the community provided meals for struggling families, temporary housing to those financially affected, or even just an ear to those needing to vent.
As Gadsden County emerges from the pandemic, Demarien is looking toward the future. He has recently been working to start two businesses, a consulting firm named “DJ Hawk Enterprises” that provides guidance and support to other businesses, and a funeral home. This funeral home would be the only Black-owned funeral home in Havana, something that Damerien has been working towards for several years. He hopes to be able to provide the Black residents of Havana with funerary services rooted in local tradition. As he works towards these endeavors, Demarien will continue to serve his community as a funeral director and director of the local non-profit Distinguished Young Gentleman of America chapter, which aims to provide leadership opportunities to youth by engaging them in service opportunities in their community.