This should be a time of unabashed jubilation for India Woods.
Tuesday night, she’s graduating as salutatorian from Southwest High School. Two days later, she’s getting a diploma from the Early College Academy, and in the fall she heads off to the University of Missouri.
On top of that, Southwest’s graduation ceremony is special: In a few weeks the school, which has a deep local history, is slated to be closed by Kansas City Public Schools.
Yet Woods has been struggling to find the right words for her speech. The honor had originally been promised to her best friend, Daizsa Laye Bausby.
But Daizsa won’t be there.
The 18-year-old Southwest High senior, who had $84,000 worth of college scholarships waiting for her and admission offers from 10 schools, was found dead March 21 in a south Kansas City motel room.
Ever since, Woods has carried a heavy heart.
The two teens were supposed to be together two weeks ago at the Penn Valley campus of Metropolitan Community College as Woods gave an end-of-the school-year farewell at a dinner honoring urban scholars in the Early College Academy.
And Daizsa wasn’t at prom last month.
Police haven’t released any details about how the 5-feet, 2-inches tall, vivacious teen ended up dead at the 4 Acre Motel. They’re still waiting for autopsy and toxicology reports, said Kansas City police Capt. Tye Grant.
Laetta Walker-Bausby, Daizsa’s mother, declined all interviews with The Star and also stopped family members from commenting.
In the meantime, Woods and other Southwest and Early College Academy graduates just want to know what happened to their friend, whom they have been honoring every chance they get, at awards dinners, on college decision day, at prom.
Woods noted that reports of Daizsa’s death didn’t appear in news coverage until a week after her body was found, and included that in a “Black Lives Matter” essay she wrote and recited to members of the Jackson County Bar Association. The essay won the regional Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major for Justice award.
At graduation Tuesday night, Woods and Southwest classmates will wear pink bows on their caps in her memory.
“I think it is only right to honor her at graduation,” Woods said. “We are the last graduating class for Southwest High School.
“Daizsa was Southwest,” Woods said. “She played every sport. She was in ROTC. Until this year, she was first in the class. She knew everybody, and everybody knew her. She helped Southwest shine.”
Woods sees a parallel. “Daizsa died, and Southwest will die.”
So many questions
“See ya Monday.”
Those were David Jones’ last words to his friend Daizsa.
The Friday before her death, she hung out after classes in the Penn Valley Campus Life and Leadership office where Jones worked part-time. It’s a regular spot for the Early College crew to pass the time between classes.
Jones, a Central High School senior, shared a gym and a math class with Daizsa at the academy. That last day, he said, they shared a candy bar and some laughs.
He’s frustrated by not knowing what happened, saying that he mumbles to himself nearly every day: “What was she even doing at that motel? How did she get there? Who else was there?”
Woods has the same questions and more.
“I wonder if when she went out that day she knew what she was getting herself into,” she said. “I wonder, what was the last thing she was thinking as she laid there dying?”
What little information friends have heard “just doesn’t work in my head,” Woods said. Daizsa was fourth in her class, a great cheerleader, a good friend and a reliable worker.
“She was no gang banger who you would expect something like this would happen to,” Woods said.
Daizsa was always in the right place at the right time, said Southwest Principal Earl Williams. And along with Woods, she was voted most likely to succeed.
Paula Schaaf, coordinator of the Early College Academy at Penn Valley, saw Daizsa as “an amazing and resilient young lady. I have no doubt that had she lived, we would have been hearing about great accomplishments and differences that she would have made in the lives of others.”
Woods said she has always known that Daizsa had endured tough times, living in and out of her mother’s home on Woodland Avenue, living sometimes with an aunt and at one point with a former boss.
“But Daizsa wasn’t one to have a pity party,” Woods said. “She wasn’t a soft person. She was crazy strong. She had three sisters and a brother, she was the oldest girl. She always said she was going to do it for the young’uns. I’m going to keep her story alive as long as I can.”
Woods met Daizsa her first day at Southwest during a 10th-grade English class. “I remember Daizsa said to me, ‘You have good hair.’ That night, she messaged me on Facebook.”
After that, Woods said, the two just stuck together “like glue” for three years.
One of the guys
It took weeks for Woods to accept that she would graduate without her best friend cheering her on.
“Even a week after she’d passed, I was still asking police detectives if they were sure it was her, are you sure she’s dead,” Woods said.
At Daizsa’s funeral, the chapel of the Linwood Boulevard Seventh-day Adventist church was filled to its 400-seat capacity. A slow procession made its way past the casket. Daizsa’s body was draped in a pink dress covered with bling. A tiara rested on her head.
Outside, Woods huddled in a corner crying uncontrollably against the brick building. She’d already been inside.
“I halfway thought I’d look in her casket and it wouldn’t be her,” Woods said nervously, picking at the chipped pink polish on her nails. “I wanted to touch her. ... I snatched my hand back. ... I thought going to the funeral I would get closure. But I don’t think that is ever going to happen.”
Days before prom, Woods forced herself to buy a new dress. The girls had talked weeks before about the dresses they wanted. “We were supposed to go shopping. But we never did,” Woods said.
Woods slipped into the white dress she settled on. “But my heels, my makeup, my jewelry, my nails were pink,” she recalled. “Pink is Daizsa’s favorite color.”
Now Woods wears something pink every day to honor her friend.
At prom, she had to remind herself to breathe as she watched classmates enjoying the moment. She and Daizsa had planned to go together and dance all night.
Daizsa was known for dancing. She and Woods even choreographed a few moves — throwing their hands in the air and exchanging a low-five, like football players doing an end zone victory dance. They did that whenever they’d meet in the school hallways.
“It had become part of my daily routine to see her every day,” Woods said. Walking through the halls with Daizsa meant acknowledging classmates. “What’s up li’l bro’?” was her senior quote. It’s how Daizsa greeted everyone, Woods said.
Daizsa was petite, but “she wasn’t so much of a girly girl,” Woods said. “She was loud. ... But she was pretty, so of course the boys liked her.”
It was common knowledge, too, that she could rap. She kept a notebook of rhymes she had made up. Sometimes she would break out a beat pounding on the desk in the computer lab or the bus seats, then add a rhyme. “When she was around the boys, she was just one of the guys,” Woods said.
At prom the rap song “Panda” by Desiigner blared from speakers and partygoers crowded the dance floor. “On the beat, everyone just started chanting ‘Dai-zsa, Dai-zsa,’ ” Woods said. “That’s when I danced. I danced for her.”
The end of a good year
Daizsa was having a fabulous final year of high school. She had admission offers from several schools but was leaning toward Grambling State University.
Woods hoped she’d choose something closer. “I was like a worried parent,” Woods said. “I didn’t want her to be out of my sight. I just wanted her to be OK.”
And she seemed so — carryover, perhaps, from the summer when she landed the job she wanted at Foot Locker.
Logan Zingre hired Daizsa. “I knew right away she was someone we wanted working here,” Zingre said.
Daizsa danced through the doors to work most days, he said. “She would even come in and help out if we called on her day off. She was dependable.”
That’s why Zingre knew something was wrong when Daizsa hadn’t come to work on March 22 and he couldn’t reach her.
Schaaf, the Early College Academy program coordinator, noticed her absence from school that Monday but really missed her when she wasn’t at school Tuesday.
“She never missed two days in a row,” Schaaf said. “I was going to call.”
March 22 was the day Daizsa and Woods had jokingly set to release a mix tape of raps. The day before the make-believe release, Woods sent a fun message to her friend reminding her. Daizsa never responded.
Woods had gone on a college visit to MU that Monday and didn’t know Daizsa wasn’t at school.
Woods didn’t sleep well Monday night and got to school late on Tuesday for a meeting as a member of the Federal Reserve Junior Board of Directors. When she got home, she sent Daizsa a message and fell asleep.
She awoke around 6 p.m. to the hum of her phone flooded with text messages from friends who wanted to know, “Is this real?” “Is Daizsa really dead?”
On Wednesday, students gathered inside the front doors of Southwest as Woods made her way through the metal detectors there.
“I thought people wouldn’t want to be around me,” Woods said. “That they would look at me and it would remind them that something really sad happened.” But there in the school lobby, “everyone just wrapped arms around me in a giant group hug.”
On April 23, Woods turned 18. “Daizsa was the main person I wanted to spend my birthday with,” she said. “I went to the cemetery and sat by her grave. I talked to her. ‘I wish you were here,’ I told her.”
In the days leading up to her graduation address, Woods was still struggling with what to say.
“I know I have to push through,” Woods said. “Daizsa struggled through a lot of things, and she still was at the top of the class. I was shy, and she helped me. I wouldn’t even be me if it wasn’t for Daizsa. This was going to be our moment, when we finally made it…”
She does know this: “When they call my name at graduation, I’m going to dance across that stage because Daizsa and I planned that. And I know that everything I do going forward, Daizsa will be there with me,” like an angel on her shoulder.
“The least I owe her is to make the future count,” Woods said. “Everything I do, I will do to the best of my ability. Not just for me, but for the two of us.”