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David McAtee's Funeral Highlights His Community Spirit

David McAtee in 2014
Volunteers of America
David McAtee in 2014

Family, friends and supporters gathered to celebrate the life of barbecue chef David McAtee at a funeral service Saturday.

Outside the Canaan Christian Church on Hikes Lane, families embraced while young girls giggled and played with dolls. Most of them came wearing masks, though organizers had a wide array available inside for those without their own.

McAtee's service drew even those who didn't know him personally.

"I just saw it on the news, so I wanted to come to show my support," said Louisville resident Sherrice Bond. "His death could have been prevented."

McAtee was killed by a National Guard member after midnight on June 1 inside his restaurant, Yaya's Barbecue. National Guard and Louisville Metro Police had arrived at the nearby intersection, 26th and Broadway, shortly before. They came to break up a large gathering that was in violation of the citywide curfew.

Bond blamed Mayor Fischer and Gov. Andy Beshear for using the National Guard to control the protests in Louisville demanding justice after the killing of Breonna Taylor, who was shot by police during a raid in March.

McAtee’s restaurant was popular when he was alive. Now, in death, it has inspired other Louisvillians, including chef Edward Lee, who spoke directly to McAtee at his funeral.

"Though I can’t say that I knew you well, what I can say is that I knew your spirit. You were a chef. You loved your community. You were a kind soul. You fed people who needed it, again and again and again," Lee said.

This week, Lee announced he was closing one of his Louisville restaurants to turn it into a community kitchen named for McAtee. The goal is to offer meals, supplies and groceries to families in underserved neighborhoods.

Charles Jewell, who said he owns the building that houses the barbecue shop, described McAtee as "a good man. He was (the) type of man that was sincere about his business and enjoyed doing what he loved doing — being a cook and trying to serve the community."

McAtee was known for giving away his food for free, including to police officers.

His death once again highlighted concerns that police treat certain neighborhoods and people differently than others. Reverend Darryl Watkins spoke about the fight of Black Americans against inequality during his eulogy for McAtee.

"There's some corruption and bitterness, there's injustice in our nation. There is poverty, lack of education. How come we can't have proper education?" he said.

Watkins spoke directly to McAtee's mother, Odessa Riley, encouraging her to fight for justice, while at the same time committing to fight as well.

McAtee was buried at Green Meadows Cemetery in southwest Louisville.

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.

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