Leilani Gennings wants to honor her late son, Wesley, by walking in what would have been his graduation from Decatur High School in June.
Federal Way Public Schools officials have said that because Wesley Gennings was only a sophomore when he died, and did not have the needed credits to graduate, his mother cannot walk for him.
Wesley Gennings, 16, was found with a fatal gunshot wound to the back of his head Feb. 13, 2016, in the parking lot of a Taco Bell on 21st Avenue South. Two teens, Diante Pellum and Michael Rogers, have been charged as adults in the case and are awaiting trial.
“I just never thought I would see myself in that situation and here I am. It is just really, really important to me to be able to do this. It means the world to me,” Leilani Gennings said of walking for her son. “I took (Wesley) to a graduation when he was younger and I showed him all the things he could accomplish, where he could go, what he could be, what he could do and the sky is the limit. He looked forward to this, and so did I with him. To have somebody take that rug out from under me and tell me no, that is not in my vocabulary.”
Superintendent Tammy Campbell said if the district allows Wesley Gennings’ mother to walk for him, it would have to allow others to do the same in the future.
“From a technical standpoint, Wesley did not meet the graduation requirements,” Campbell told the Mirror.
The district will allow one of Wesley Gennings’ friends to carry his picture during the Decatur graduation ceremony. The district also offered to let Leilani Gennings hold a ceremony for her son at the school on a Saturday, Campbell said.
Leilani Gennings has also been granted permission to install a bench in her son’s memory on the Decatur campus.
“As a mom, my heart breaks for her, but this has bigger implications,” Campbell said, adding that she spent several hours with the Gennings family on the day Wesley was killed.
Leilani Gennings said she wants to be able to walk with her son’s friends and classmates.
“I would like to see them offer me an honorary diploma, where it didn’t matter how many credits he has, because he deserves that, he earned that,” she said. “I want to be able to walk with his class. I have talked to so many kids at the school. … They are looking forward to me walking with them and honoring Wesley.”
Wesley Gennings was an only child.
“He was my special baby,” Leilani Gennings said. “I have had quiet a few illnesses. I am a cancer survivor twice. They told me I would never have any kids. When I got pregnant with my son, it was a blessing.”
Leilani Gennings started the Wesley’s Heart Foundation to honor her son by helping the youth of Federal Way better themselves.
“He was a great kid on the field, off the field,” she said. “There wasn’t a sport that he didn’t excel in. There wasn’t a person he didn’t touch that he didn’t make some sort of change for the good in their life.”
The foundation provides tutoring and helps students with the college application process. Leilani Gennings also hopes to start a program to help students who can’t afford a cap and gown to be able to get one.
“I am usually up until 2 or 3 in the morning with teenagers calling me,” she said. “They also know my door is always open. … I have always been that way even with my son here, so I have continued to be that way.”
Honoring her son is what keeps Leilani Gennings going.
“My struggle is real. My depression is very, very real,” she said. “I fight every day, but I also know my son is behind me saying ‘keep going, Mom. Keep going.’ Because that is what he would want me to do.”