By Jody Callahan: Reporter for the Commercial Appeal
On Sunday afternoon, the ladies of the Tiara Tea Society honored the pretty young girl in the pink dress, who was wearing a pink bow in her hair and a pink bracelet circling her wrist. Ceniyah Dotson, now 3, stole the hearts of everyone in the Le Pavillon building in East Memphis.
“She is oblivious to what this is all about. That’s a wonderful thing,” said Circuit Court Judge Gina Higgins, who presented Ceniyah with her own tiara on Sunday.
She was just 2 months old when her uncle, Jessie Dotson, killed her parents, two brothers and two other people in what has become known as the Lester Street Massacre.
“She’s obviously a special child,” said Ray Lepone, who, along with fellow prosecutor Reggie Henderson, persuaded a jury to sentence Jessie Dotson to death. “She’s got such a great personality.”
The society, formed in 2006 to help at least one girl a year in dire need, hoped to raise at least $3,000 on Sunday to help with Ceniyah’s physical therapy as well as any work she may need with a child psychologist.
“We knew in our hearts it was the right thing,” said Eva Lynn Bishop, one of the society’s founders. “This is about helping a little child who’s trying to survive.”
Since she was so young when the attack happened, Ceniyah may never remember a thing about it.
At least, that was the fervent hope at Sunday’s tea party.
“Her older brothers, they can remember,” said her grandmother and guardian, Ida Anderson. “But she does not. This is a blessing.”
The women gathered Sunday watched her, fierce smiles on their faces, their protective instincts ignited. When one of the speakers mentioned what happened that day, Ceniyah’s aunt, Cassandra Adrine, kissed her softly on the cheek.
“She is oblivious to what this is all about. That’s a wonderful thing. She’s just a little girl,” said Circuit Court Judge Gina Higgins, who presented Ceniyah with her own tiara.
Sunday was all about celebrating the beautiful young girl who radiated such joy, even if she seemed slightly bewildered about the fuss everyone was making over her.
Clutching her teddy bear, Ceniyah smiled every couple of minutes, a grin that quickly swallowed her face. Then she’d scrunch up her eyes just so, a happy finish to that beautiful smile.
A stranger waved, Ceniyah waved back. Then came that grin. She sat patiently in her seat, shimmying in happiness every couple of minutes. Her grandma gave her a sip of tea and a funny-looking piece of food. She gingerly tried both. Then another grin.
“She’s a happy 3-year-old who loves to sing and dance, watch TV and terrorize her brothers,” her grandmother said. “Ceniyah’s a survivor.”
For more information on how to donate, visit the Tiara Tea Society, visit our donations page or call 901-210-3516.