In July of 2017, an atrocity took place on the idyllic Greek island of Zakynthos, when a young American fashion designer who had traveled there to shoot photos for his clothing line was brutally murdered in the street.
Beaten by a gang of Serbian thugs for the supposed infraction of posing for a selfie with a Serbian girl, young Bakari Henderson, who had overcome dyslexia to graduate from college just months prior, was fulfilling his lifelong dream when his life was snuffed out on the streets of Zakynthos.
He died alone, on a cobblestone street, thousands of miles from those who loved him. The attack was caught on a video surveillance camera filming from inside a nightclub, showing the mob which set themselves on Bakari.
The gruesome and almost unimaginable crime was the last thing Bakari’s family, back in Austin, Texas, could have foreseen for their adventurous and hardworking young son. The young American’s parents spoke to Greek Reporter recently in an exclusive interview.
Having overcome dyslexia at an early age, Bakari had gone on to receive a full academic scholarship to the University of Arizona, where he graduated with a degree in Business Finance and Entrepreneurship from the Eller College of Management, less than two months prior to the tragedy.
“A Quiet Storm”
His parents describe the ambitious young man as having “a singular focus: to build a business empire and demonstrate what it means to live fully and fearlessly.”
Bakari left his parents, and siblings P.J. and Jory, in July of 2017 to set out for Greece and shoot photos for his new clothing line, Bakari Luxury Sportswear, which he had designed himself. On his second trip to the country, he already was a world traveler, having already visited China, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, England, Monaco, and Colombia — using money he had saved from his various business ventures.
His parents say that Bakari lived by the motto, “Plan B is for those who are not confident in their Plan A.” They add that “He was confident about his plan in life, inquisitive about all things financial and global and relentless in achieving his goals as an entrepreneur.
“Bakari was a quiet storm who shared his love and compassion with family and friends, by sharing thoughtful sentiments and encouraging words.”
On the night of his death, Bakari had been a patron at a Zakynthos bar, where he struck up a conversation with a female Serbian bartender. After asking her if she would pose for a selfie with him, Bakari was accosted by another Serbian who was at the bar, who questioned the bartender why she was speaking to a black man.
A fight ensued, which spilled out onto the street; authorities later said that Bakari died of his wounds within 30 seconds of being attacked.
The nine men initially accused in the crime included a British citizen of Serbian descent, seven Serbian men and a Greek bartender at the club.
However, none of the defendants were found guilty of murder at the first trial, which took place in November of 2018.
Six of the men, all Serbs who had been at the bar where the altercation began, and who had been convicted of lesser charges, were scheduled to be retried for murder in January of 2020, giving prosecutors a second chance — which in the United States would be impossible due to double jeopardy laws which preclude a defendant from being tried twice for the same crime.
Three other men, including two Serbians and the Greek bartender, were acquitted of any crimes and will not be tried again.
The British citizen was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for intentional bodily harm resulting in death, and five of the Serbian suspects received terms of five to ten years for causing grievous bodily harm. One of the men, who had been sentenced to five years, was recently released from jail after serving just two years.
“Hopeful but Not Optimistic”
Back in January, Jill Henderson had told local Austin reporters that she was “hopeful but not optimistic,” regarding the upcoming trial, explaining that “We were almost certain the outcome would be in our favor and they would be (convicted of) intentional murder.”
However, “The positive thing,” she added, “is they granted a retrial, and from what we’ve heard, retrials aren’t that common.”
The January trial was continued, however, and has now been rescheduled for November 24th, 2020. The appeals court, consisting of three judges and four jurors, must decide whether or not to affirm the decision from the lower court or reverse it and find some or all of the defendants guilty of murder.
American Offer to Help in Investigation Rebuffed
“We believe the American authorities offered to assist with the initial investigation but the offer was declined,” the Hendersons told Greek Reporter. However, Jill added that “the American Embassy does receive occasional updates during the normal course of business with Greek authorities.”
Asked what the family’s expectations were for the upcoming trial, and whether or not it will be fair, Jill replied “We are trying to be optimistic and hopeful that justice will be served, but truthfully we are keeping our expectations low.
“We try to live by the motto: ‘Don’t get too high and don’t get too low,’ because if you swing too far either direction, life will catch you by surprise. Whether or not we believe the trial will be fair is hard to say, because our first experience with the judicial system didn’t feel fair even though we were told that the case was a “no brainer” because the murder was captured on video,” she explains.
“Fortunately,” Henderson states with conviction, “we know God controls the true outcome, and vengeance is his.”
Greek Reporter asked the Hendersons what the family’s experience had been with the Greek people during the times that they had visited the country for the trial and other legal proceedings having to do with Bakari’s killing.
“We have built valued friendships with a few people in Greece which we are so grateful for,” Jill replies. “Our experience with the Greek people overall has been fine. People either approach us to offer their condolences or have a neutral demeanor toward us.”
Explaining that no one other than Bakari in the Henderson family had been to Greece prior to her son’s death, Jill describes his love for the country, saying “Bakari loved the food and the natural beauty of Greece and said it was amazing, which we believe is why he chose Greece to take photos for his clothing line.”
The family has decided to fulfill his ultimate lifelong dream to establish his own clothing line, and their company, called Bakari Luxury Sportswear, donates 10% of its profits to the foundation the family established in their son’s memory.
“What Would Your Expectations Be?”
Greek Reporter asked the Hendersons if there was any particular message they would like to send to the Greek people before the upcoming trial. “We’d like the Greek people to know that Bakari was a young, compassionate, intelligent man with a lot of promise,” they replied.
“His life mattered, as every other human’s does, and we would like everyone to take several minutes to reflect internally on how you’d feel if you had a son, brother, grandson, nephew or even a friend brutally murdered by a vicious mob and left in the street to die like a dog… what would your expectations be?”
Son Lives on Through The Bakari Foundation
However, the family, which has maintained their strong Christian beliefs despite their heartbreak, states “Through this devastating tragedy emerges our opportunity to turn our pain into purpose by helping families heal. It has been a journey full of trials and triumphs and our family would like to thank all of our corporate sponsors, donors, partners, friends, and volunteers for helping us help others.
“His passion and love for people of all cultures,” they said, “is honored through the mission of the Bakari Foundation.”
Asked how the Foundation has fulfilled its stated mission of bringing new, transformative experiences to people who have suffered these types of terrible losses, the Hendersons say that now, during Covid times, the charity “supports families of essential workers who lost their lives due to COVID-19 by sending them care packages and offering free counseling.
“In addition,” they note, “during this time of social unrest we are hosting “Conversations for a Cause” panel discussions to uplift families and spread love. We also support underrepresented elementary schools in the Austin area. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic we had to postpone the transformative travel experiences we had planned but look forward to hosting them in 2021.”
Their selfless mission to help others also came to the fore recently, when Jill Henderson wrote a beautiful letter to the family of Suzanne Eaton, the researcher who was brutally murdered on the island of Crete in the summer of 2019.
When Greek Reporter asked the Hendersons what they thought Bakari would say to them today if he saw the work of the Foundation named after him, Jill replied “We think Bakari would be proud of the work we’re doing because he never met a stranger, he enjoyed helping others and he loved people.”