If 16-year-old Bronx, New York high school football player Delano Cowan did not know God, his death would have been tragic and meaningless says his pastor, the Rev. Devon D. Dawson, and oh, what a waste that would have been.
Young Cowan, who was a member of the Cardinal Hayes High School varsity football team however, knew God intimately says Dawson, and that made all the difference.
On the night he died, according to his eulogy delivered at a celebration of his life on Friday night, Cowan called his sister Sasha-Lee Kidd and left her a voicemail message.
It was the complete lyrics to singer and songwriter Sam Cooke’s “Jesus Be A Fence.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what rendition of the song Cowan left in the voicemail but in a classic rendition of the song delivered by Cooke and his gospel group The Soul Stirrers, he explains that even in death, when someone dies in the Christian faith, there is no reason to worry.
“Oh sometimes it will hurt you to your heart, to see loved ones, loved ones to depart, but oh children death, death is no stranger to anyone. But just as long as you stay in the fold you never have to worry when death knocks on your door. Just ask Jesus to be a fence around you and you never have to worry no more,” crooned Cooke.
So despite his early departure, Cowan’s friends and family packed the All Nations Apostolic Tabernacle church in Jamaica, Queens on Friday night for a dignified and spirited celebration of his life knowing he had that hope in Jesus.
Cowan was a junior at Cardinal Hayes High School and played defensive tackle for the school’s football team. On the night of Nov. 7 2015, “several hours” after the team beat Holy Cross to advance in the CHSFL playoffs he died.
Police said they received a call just after 9 p.m. that day, a Saturday, about someone who had fallen off a building. Cowan was later found unconscious outside a building on E. 152nd St. in the Bronx. He died at Lincoln Hospital and many people mourned.
In his eulogy delivered by his church sister Karen Jones however, she explained how Cowan, who had always strived to be a good Christian, had endeavored to make his relationship with God even deeper still in his final week of life.
“On the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Delano’s final week, our church had embarked on a 1 meal in 24 hours, three day fast. His mother reports that for the first time, Delano did the entire three days. His mother told him to let her know if he messed up. The first day, he did well. The second day, he said he had a candy and she told him that was okay,” said Jones.
“They read the Bible and prayed each morning and one morning he didn’t pray long enough, and so his mother asked him if he had given that amount of time in practice if the coach would allow him to play. He responded, ‘no’ and went back down in prayers,” she continued.
She explained that Delano had no school on the Friday of that week and he discussed colleges he wanted to attend with his mother before attending a prayer meeting later that day.
“That same afternoon he had practice and his mother told him to come straight home because it was the first night of the Resilience Singles’ Conference and she wanted to be early. At his final service, he worshipped in a manner unlike any other time before and at the altar service that night Pastor Stewart prayed with him,” she said.
“After service that night, he went to the barber, a testament to the fact that he was always nattily attired and his hair always kept. On Saturday morning he woke up early and participated in “game day” of his Explorer program and had lunch with his mentor, Officer Gonzalez,” she continued.
“He also had a football game at his school in the afternoon. After the game, he spoke to his mom at 7:50 p.m. and encouraged her to come to his next game. At 7:57 p.m., he called his sister Sasha and left an entire song on her voicemail titled “Jesus Be a Fence All Around Me,” said Jones. He was dead shortly after that.
In his message to the gathering, Pastor Devon Dawson preached from Ecclesiastes 12, urging the congregants to remember God while they had life because no one knows how long it will last.
See the complete text of Ecclesiastes 12 and Delano’s eulogy below:
12 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
2 While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:
3 In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,
4 And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;
5 Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
6 Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
8 Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.
9 And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.
10 The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.
11 The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.
12 And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
Complete Text of Eulogy for Delano Cowan
It is said that a person who is named Delano is usually proud, witty and kind. Another characteristic trait is that they have a way with words and are deep thinkers. They are able to do great if they do not let themselves get in the way. They are also artistic, creative and full of energy, passion and life. They usually make the best of friends. Be their biggest fan and watch them do great things.
All of this and more sums up our friend, protégée, cousin, nephew, grandson, brother and son Delano Sylvester Cowan.
He was so named because his grandmother had named her son Delano and his mother loved her brother so much that she decided when she had her son he would be her brother’s namesake.
From the moment Delano was born he was full of life. He came bouncing into this world on Friday, June 11, 1999, at two in the afternoon in the afternoon in Brooklyn, New York. His parents Fitzgerald Sylvester Cowan (now deceased) and Judith Lewis were delighted at this spark of sunshine that lit up their lives. He was the source of much laughter and play.
During his early years when others were watching cartoons, Delano would be watching the Discovery, Animal Planet and National Geographic channels.
His dream was to become a veterinarian. He wanted a dog for a pet so badly. But his mother was not interested because in her words, ‘where we’re from, we don’t live with dogs.’
When he was five he wanted to be baptized but his mother thought he was too young. However, he was baptized at seven, received the Holy Ghost soon after, and preached his first message at eight.
Delano moved with a quiet strength. He was often unassuming yet a very talented young man who took it upon himself to be very involved in the daughter work at Rosedale, ministering on the drums every Sunday for the last two years. He was focused, a trait that was not only evident here at church but also in his academic career.
From Pre-K to the eighth grade, Delano was enrolled at the Immaculate Conception School in the Bronx where he excelled. While there, he sat the entrance test and got accepted into Cardinal Hayes High School, where he continued to be on a trajectory of success. He had always been on the honor roll, whether second or third and was striving to get to first class. His mother was very proud when he recently began his honors class in trigonometry. Delano’s most recent report card is a testament of his excellence. His lowest grade was an 80% and for that his teacher’s comment was that he was not working to his potential. Other comments include: ‘He works hard in school,’ ‘excellent work!’ ‘A pleasure to have in class,’ and ‘his work habits are good.’ Delano’s GPA for this first marking period was 87.026. He was never late for school and was never absent.
Delano was also involved in sports at school. He was a member of both the basketball and football teams, but he was only allowed to play sports if he became a member of the ANAT Bible Quizzing Team.
And that he did and excelled there as well. He was very competitive. The first year he prophesied that the following year he was going to be in the top six. And sure enough, the following year Delano was awarded a place in this prestigious category. In addition, he was a top quizzer and represented the New York Metro District (NYMD) at the national level in St. Louis, Missouri in 2008, and in 2010 he was champion quizzer for the NYMD.
As a quizzer, he was a type of child who would study 20 Bible verses in a week. All of his hard work eventually paid off allowing him to bypass the Intermediate level, jumping from the Junior Team to the Experienced Team.
Four years ago, he was enrolled in the NYPD Explorer Mentoring Program. This program teaches discipline, the laws and facilitates community service. In 2012, Officer Gonzalez, his mentor, encouraged Delano to write an essay on the topic: “Being The Commissioner For A Day.” This competition had entries from all the Explorer programs from every precinct in the five boroughs. Delano’s entry was among the top ten earning him the Chief of Detective Award.
On the Monday Tuesday and Wednesday of Delano’s final week, our church had embarked on a 1 meal in 24 hours, three day fast. His mother reports that for the first time, Delano did the entire three days. His mother told him to let her know if he messed up. The first day, he did well. The second day, he said he had a candy and she told him that was okay.
They read the Bible and prayed each morning and one morning he didn’t pray long enough, and so his mother asked him if he had given that amount of time in practice if the coach would allow him to play. He responded, “no” and went back down in prayers.
The Friday of that week, Delano had no school. Later that day he presented to his mom the three colleges he was aspiring to: Syracuse, St. John’s and another which fades from memory at the moment. He picked Syracuse, but she encouraged him to select St. John’s because this way he could still be home and thereby be able to attend church.
That same afternoon he had practice and his mother told him to come straight home because it was the first night of the Resilience Singles’ Conference and she wanted to be early. At his final service, he worshipped in a manner unlike any other time before and at the altar service that night Pastor Stewart prayed with him.
After service that night, he went to the barber, a testament to the fact that he was always nattily attired and his hair always kept. On Saturday morning he woke up early and participated in “game day” of his Explorer program and had lunch with his mentor, Officer Gonzalez. He also had a football game at his school in the afternoon. After the game, he spoke to his mom at 7:50 p.m. and encouraged her to come to his next game. At 7:57 p.m., he called his sister Sasha and left an entire song on her voicemail titled “Jesus Be a Fence All Around Me.”
Delano is survived by his mother Judith Lewis, his sisters Sasha-Lee Kidd, Telena, Wannequa, and Mahlaney Cowan, brother, Christopher Cowan, his grandfather Mervin Lewis, his grandmother Gladys Steele, his uncles, aunts, nieces, cousins and grand-uncle.