The death of Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old who was shot dead by a police officer, reverberated from the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, to the White House, igniting two weeks of protests and stirring a national discussion on race and policing in America.
Thousands are expected to pay their respects to Brown on Monday at a Baptist church in St. Louis, with the assemblage anticipated to include everyone from Trayvon Martin's parents and Martin Luther King Jr.'s son and daughter to Snoop Dogg and Sean "P Diddy" Combs.
For his parents, the service at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church will be both very public and intensely personal — their chance to say goodbye to a son whose death made him household name.
In an interview with NBC's Craig Melvin, which aired Monday on TODAY, grieving mother Lesley McSpadden said the hardest moment will be the end.
"Walking away from that casket," she said.
Both parents visited the funeral home Sunday afternoon for a private moment with the teen.
"I looked at him. I talked to him. I touched him," McSpadden said.
"All the way up to this time, it was like a dream," said his father, Michael Brown Sr. "Seeing him in a casket today made it reality."
Brown's family has requested there be no demonstrations on the day of the funeral. "We need a moment of silence on our son," Brown Sr. said. "We need peace on his going-away."
"All the way up to this time, it was like a dream. Seeing him in a casket today made it reality."
Over two weeks of Protests — some that turned violent at times — and a military-response by police catapulted the story of Brown's death into the national consciousness, spawning the rallying cry "Hands up! Don't shoot!" and bringing Attorney General Eric Holder to Ferguson.
The White House is sending three representatives to the funeral: Broderick Johnson, who heads the Brother’s Keepers Task Force, and Marlon Marshall and Heather Foster of the Office of Public Engagement. Marshall is a St. Louis native who attended high school with Brown’s mother.
President of the National Action Network Rev. Al Sharpton, who is also a host on MSNBC, is expected to speak, and California Congresswoman Maxine Waters returned to her hometown this weekend so she could be there.
"I am particularly sympathetic to the parents and relatives of Michael Brown for their loss, and am unsettled over the circumstances of his death," Waters said, drawing parallels between Brown's shooting and the 1991 police beating of Rodney King.
The sanctuary of Friendly Temple, which has deep roots in St. Louis' black community, holds 2,500 people, but spokeswoman Diane Mackey told NBC News that another 2,600 can be accommodated in other spaces. There may also be a crowd outside.
Many of those who visited a shrine on Canfield Dr., where Brown was killed during the Aug. 9 confrontation with Wilson, said Sunday that they planned to attend the service even though they didn't know the teen personally.
"For moral support," explained Katrina Allen, 42, of Dellwood, Missouri. "Just to stand as one. And to show his mother she's not alone."
Kevin Ephron, 40, a chef from Florissant, Missouri, said he hoped his presence would send a message: "Let everyone know we're a community and can unite."
The eulogy will be delivered by Brown's great uncle, Pastor Charles Ewing. In an interview with the Associated Press, he recalled a prophetic conversation he had with his nephew, who was about to start college and wanted to become a rapper.
"He said, 'One day the whole world is going to know my name,'" Ewing said.
"Isn't that something? Not knowing that this was going to happen, and that's what touched me — 'the whole world will know my name.'"
First published August 25 2014, 1:59 AM