ENGLEWOOD — Sunshine briefly parted the clouds Friday evening as family and friends gathered to celebrate the love and life of Aaliyah Newell, who was killed in Englewood earlier this week.
Clad in hues of their Greek colors, dozens of members of the National Pan-Hellenic Council of Chicago, the umbrella group of the nine historically Black Greek Lettered Organizations, raised burning pink candles as they shared stories about Newell. Newell was an Alpha Kappa Alpha, symbolized by salmon pink and apple green.
Newell, 47, was found beaten to death Wednesday evening inside her home in the 7200 block of South Vincennes Avenue, police said. Newell had blunt force trauma to her head and was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
No one is in custody. Detectives are investigating.
Friends and family have been reeling from the loss.
Newell worked as a human resources recruiter and college adjunct professor, loved ones told ABC7 Chicago. Friends said they last saw Newell on Sunday after grabbing drinks. Newell told them she had a date later that evening.
Friends told NBC Chicago they’d been making plans for the following weekend and were trying to get in touch with her to finalize how many people would be included, but Newell wasn’t responding. Officers found Newell after doing a well being check.
Robina King, a fellow AKA, said Newell was vibrant and joyous. She loved Strolling, a traditional dance practiced by Black Greek organizations. You could always catch her “whipping her hair,” King said.
“She was was very energetic,” King said. “You knew her presence when she came into the room. If nothing else, she strolled into the room, and she made sure that you knew she was an AKA. She was graceful and just a loving person.”
Debra McKinley said she and Newell were AKA line sisters, which are members who pledged together. Those who knew Newell are struggling to fathom what happened, McKinley said.
“She’s just a person that was always bubbly. She was the life of the party,” McKinley said. “We don’t know how to move through this.”
Cynthia Newell, Aaliyah Newell’s mother, said she “wants people to come together” to remember her daughter’s life, but something needs to be done in the city to prevent this kind of violence.
“We have got to stop just talking about it. Somebody’s got to fix it. I’m not sure what to tell the city to do, but they need to fix it,” Cynthia Newell said.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), whose ward includes where Newell was killed, told Block Club her life was “taken too soon.”
“My heart goes out to her family,” Sawyer said. “We want to make sure we find the people that are responsible.”
King said the city “needs to get a grip on what’s happening to Black women in the community.”
South and West siders long have pushed city leaders to devote more resources and effort toward investigating violence against Black women and girls. Community organizers again urged city leaders to take action this week after a 15-year-old was nearly kidnapped in South Shore, an 18-year-old woman was fatally shot in Chatham and a 33-year-old Black trans woman was found beaten to death in Chatham in recent weeks.
“Just the cameras aren’t enough,” King said. “[The city] needs to bring in some tactical teams. They need a strategy. And as Black women, we need to be a bit more aware of our surroundings and utilize our wisdom.”
Holding each other close, members of the sorority cried as they belted the lyrics to the Alpha Kappa Alpha national hymn.
King said Newell loved her family, AKA and her sorority sisters.
“That there’s nothing like sisterhood, and she presented sisterhood in such a manner that it stood out,” King said.
McKinley said the sorority will do everything it can to honor Newell’s legacy.
“Anytime it’s her birthday or her anniversary, we’ll be thinking about Aaliyah,” McKinley said. “We’ll be doing whatever it is and whatever it takes to remember and honor her life.