Tony A. Cole II was laid to rest Feb. 13, two weeks after he was shot to death during an argument with another man at a pool hall in Strong.
For Cole’s mother, Sharon Davis, the day before Valentine’s Day is not only etched in her memory as her son’s homegoing celebration — a graveside service that was held in Friendship Cemetery in Lisbon, Louisiana, — but it also marks the date she made a life-changing decision.
It was on that date in 2006 that Davis packed up with her then 14-year-old Cole and relocated to West Africa.
The move proved to be transformative for mother and son, providing them with an intimate connection them to their ancestral homeland and instilling a stronger sense of pride in both sides of their African American heritage and culture.
The experience was also therapeutic for Cole.
As he entered his formative years, the boy had begun acting out and getting into trouble that imprinted his name and face in the juvenile court system.
Davis said she believes her son’s behavioral problems and deep-seated anger issues manifested from a devastating loss that came just six months before he was born.
“My son was, unfortunately, raised in a single-parent household because his father got killed in a car accident we were both in when I was pregnant. We got hit by an 18-wheeler. His father was 28 years old,” Davis recalled.
In a desperate bid to set Cole on the right path and prevent him from becoming a statistic in the school-to-prison nexus, Davis charted a course that would avail her son to social and cultural enrichment opportunities that were not available to him in the American south.
Cole spent six years in Ghana, where he learned invaluable life lessons, work skills and ethic that he put to use as entered adulthood, Davis said.
Regrettably, his life was cut short 10 years after returning to the states.
“Take care of our son”
Davis met Tony Cole Sr. at a local softball game, several months after graduating from El Dorado High School as a member of the Class of 1988.
Perhaps because of shyness, Tony Sr., a Wesson community transplant who was seven years her senior, did not initially approach her.
“He asked my aunt about me and, eventually, he asked me out,” Davis recalled with a giggle.
It did not take long after that initial date for the pair to fall in love. They had been a couple for less than a year when tragedy struck.
A big rig slammed into the couple as they drove along on U.S. 167 near Hampton.
Tony Sr. succumbed to his injuries. He was 28.
Davis was pregnant with Tony II at the time.
She was rushed to the former Warner Brown hospital in El Dorado and while still unconscious, she had an extrasensory encounter that revealed two pieces of information that would have a bittersweet impact on her life.
“I knew his father had died because when they got me out of the ambulance at the hospital, (Tony Sr.) came to me in a dream,” she said.
“He was telling me to take care of our son. He said he wasn’t going to be there with me but he knew I was going to be a wonderful mother. That’s how I knew we had a son,” Davis continued through tears. “I slowly realized that I had to be strong.”
Davis credits her mother and sister for helping her through her grief and taking care of her during her pregnancy.
On May 4, 1991, she gave birth to Tony II.
Davis moved to Memphis four years later and after some time, she linked up with an initiative that encouraged Black people in America and other African descendants across the diaspora to learn more about their heritage by visiting, relocating to and investing in Ghana, which sits along the Atlantic Coast.
The country was a major port in the transatlantic slave trade and its coastline is dotted with remnants of forts and castles that served as the point of no return for millions of enslaved Africans who were mainly from the western and central parts of the continent.
Since the early 1980s, Ghana has grown into a destination for cultural heritage tourism, which has helped to boost the country’s economy.
Many African Americans traveled to Ghana in 2019 for the Year of Return, which marked 400 years since the first group of enslaved Africans landed on American shores in Jamestown, Virginia.
Ghanian officials have toured the world over the years to spread the word about the initiative.
A delegation stopped in Memphis when Davis lived there in the 90s and 00s and she heard them speak about the growing economy of cultural heritage tourism in Ghana.
As a result, Davis took a tour of the west African nation in 2005 and was impressed by economic and revitalization projects that were underway.
“I was in love,” she said, adding that during her visit, she bonded with a host family who embraced her as one of their own.
She was also moved by visits to old fortresses that once served as slave trading posts, describing the experience with similar terms that have been used by others who claim to have felt the spirits of their ancestors during trips there.
“It just seemed like it was telling me to return back,” she recalled, hearkening back to the tradition of Sankofa — a derivative of three words in the Ghanian languages of Akan Twi and Fante that is loosely translated “to go back and retrieve.”
When Tony II began exhibiting behavioral problems that led to repeat visits to juvenile court, Davis said she remembered the warm welcome she had received in Ghana and thought the Motherland would be the perfect environment in which to help her son.
“They wanted me to bring him to a juvenile detention center and I wasn’t having that since I had lost his father and I asked (the Ghanian family) if we could stay with them and they said yes,” Davis said.
Within a year, she went from being a tourist to a resident of Ghana, where she would remain for the next five years, living in the capital city of Accra and in Goaso, a major city in the country’s Ahafo Region.
There, Tony II thrived, learning and obtaining certificates in a host of trades, including carpentry, sewing and tailoring. He especially took to farming, Davis recollected.
“He loved to farm. He planted plantains, he did yams, corn and he did cocoa. We could get the cocoa beans so that we could get chocolate,” Davis said.
Tony II was also drawn to Ghana’s vibrant arts and entertainment scene, even performing with local rappers.
“He went from being an angry young man until he calmed down all the way. That experience in Africa was the best thing that ever happened to him,” his mother said.
Davis said that for her, her son’s turnaround confirmed that she had made the right decision in 2006.
“One, I wanted to show him that he could be proud to be African American and two, that we don’t always have to be so angry and aggressive,” Davis said.
Their acceptance into the local community was solidified when they were honored with African names.
Tony II’s first name was NaNa Kwamii and his last name was Buor, meaning “solid as a stone.”
Hers is Afriyie Afia Buor.
Davis explained that during naming ceremonies, the second part of one’s first name is bestowed first and reflects the day the person was born, noting, “They give you that name until they give your ‘real’ name.”
Kwamii is one of several names for a male who is born on Saturday.
“I was born on Friday. Afia is Friday. Translated, my first name means ‘blessed child who comes at the right time on a Friday,’” Davis said.
Back to the U.S.
Davis moved back to the states in 2010 when her mother, who was staying in Ghana with her at the time, became ill and asked to return home for medical treatment.
Tony II stayed on for another year before moving back to El Dorado, where he worked as a barber and a tattoo artist and pursued other entrepreneurial opportunities.
He also spent time helping his grandfather, Robert Cunningham, with do-it-yourself projects, Davis said.
“He also met the love of his life, his wife, Sharmane Walker-Cole, and they got married May 3, 2012,” she added. The couple had four children, T’Shar, T’Shon, Shariahna and Travez.
Davis settled in Little Rock and just before the shooting on Jan. 30, she had come to El Dorado for an extended stay while Tony II underwent surgery to remove a tumor.
“I was with him every day. I was with him that morning. He went to El Dorado to pick up his friends. They went to Strong and they stayed in the car while he went into the pool hall,” she recounted.
Sometime before 9 p.m., an argument broke out between Tony II and 33-year-old Markeith J. Mitchell, an acquaintance whom Davis had known for only six months, Davis said.
From information gathered by Union County Sheriff’s Office investigators and unconfirmed statements from witnesses, Davis said she learned Tony II and Mitchell exchanged words and Tony II briefly left the pool hall to use a restroom nearby.
When he returned, he resumed the argument with Mitchell and Mitchell responded by pulling a gun and shooting Tony II multiple times.
Capt. Jeff Stinson, of the UCSO, said investigators received word that Cole was pronounced dead en route to a helicopter that was waiting at Medical Center of South Arkansas to transfer him to a hospital in Little Rock.
Stinson about 40 people were inside the pool hall at the time of shooting and with statements from the few witnesses who remained on and near the scene, it did not take investigators long to identify Mitchell as a suspect.
He said the cause of the argument has not been determined.
Davis said she received the call about the shooting at 9 p.m.
Mitchell turned himself in nearly three hours after the shooting. He is being held in the Union County jail in lieu of a $500,000 bond on charges of first-degree murder and failure to appear.
“A beautiful story that ended in heartbreak”
In a sad irony, Tony II was born and laid to rest on Kwamii (Saturday), his African namesake. He was buried next his father.
His mother had moved him to Ghana to save his life and lost him under tragic circumstances more than a decade later.
“I can’t explain how I feel. I feel like he became a better man having the experience to go to Africa. For him to be killed, I wished he would have stayed in Ghana,” she said.
She said she was looking forward to celebrating his 30th birthday on May 4 for a couple of reasons, which include memories of Tony Sr.
“I was so glad when he turned 29 because I was scared since his dad died at 28. I thought I may lose him too. It was a beautiful story that ended in heartbreak and I feel like I’m repeating it all over again,” she said, her voice quivering with emotion. “My son wasn’t perfect but he was loved. I tried to take care of him like his father asked me to.”
(Davis said she doesn’t believe either Tony Cole or Tony Cole II are related to Huttig Mayor Tony Cole.)
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