Yolanda Curry, who created the Olde English D earrings, dies

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It was an overcast Tuesday morning on the first day of November 2022. The sun had not yet come up, but the sky above was awake and beginning to call one of their own home.

Yolanda Nichelle Curry moaned slightly this morning as she lay on her hospice bed in her living room. She was given a dose of the liquid morphine medication she was prescribed to keep her comfortable while awaiting death at home.

It calmed her pain just enough, said her mother, Peggy Curry. Enough for Curry to breathe her last a little over an hour later, just before dawn.

“I told her, ‘Go to the light and don’t look back,'” her mother told the Detroit Free Press. “‘Put down your shield, you fought a good fight,’ were my last words to her.”

Curry, 45, a Detroit artist known for her one-letter word, an Olde English D, signature earrings, breathed her last breath a day after the month set aside for breast cancer awareness. Once a survivor after a 2016 diagnosis, the cancer resurfaced in August 2021. But this time it was different than the first time, her mother said, and a lot more aggressive.

“It ended up in her bone marrow. It was in her liver. It was in her spine. It was in her pelvis (area). It was in her lungs. It was in her brain. It was everywhere,” said Peggy Curry.

Curry had even worn an eyepatch over her right eye because of the lesion that had developed behind her eye that was causing her to have double vision.

“Since that last diagnosis, I could see a digression, but I was far from prepared for that,” her mother said.

To the Detroit community and to the ears of those around the world who hung on Curry’s D earrings, she was an artist, a creator, an innovator. But for Peggy Curry, curry was a gift. Her gift from God, she said.

Yolanda Nichelle Curry with her signature earrings.

“No mother wants to bury her child. No mother!” Peggy Curry, a mother of four, said. “But I know she was a gift to me. … Not for as long as I would have liked, but she gave me so much in that short time given.”

Among the gifts Peggy Curry received from her daughter were two grandchildren, 15-year-old Michaela Jenkins and 11-year-old Miguel Jenkins. “They were her pride,” Peggy Curry said of Curry’s love for her children.

According to her mother, Yolanda — or Yo, as Peggy Curry often called her second son — was still a loving mother despite everything she faced every day, including swallowing the “apothecary of medicines” prescribed for her.

Ahead of the 2022-23 school year, Curry’s mother said her daughter would still homeschool her son, Miguel.

Peggy Curry said her daughter was determined her children would not miss a beat because she was ill.

She drove as long as she could, taking the children’s seats. When she couldn’t drive anymore, her mother says, she became her daughter’s “instant Uber driver.”

“She was still helping with the homework. There was no time for a pity party,” said Peggy Curry.

Peggy Curry said that before Curry, a UM graduate, fell ill, she and her daughter often traveled as a family. But when cancer returned last summer – combined with the pandemic – travel took a back seat.

In August of this year, a year after she was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, Curry took her final vacation with her mother and family.

“We took the kids and their sister on a trip to (Washington) DC,” said Peggy Curry.

Admittedly, Peggy Curry said she feels a bit selfish for asking her daughter to go to DC, and she says she told her daughter up until boarding the plane that if she did, she would want to stay home.

“The worst case scenario, I told her, is that we would just lose money, and what’s money, you know?” says Peggy Curry.

Nonetheless, Curry boarded the plane to Washington after being wheeled to the gate.

“By that point, it (the cancer) was everywhere,” Peggy Curry said. “But she persevered.”

Curry used her walker to get around on the trip, just like she would at home in Detroit. The tourist group stopped at the Spy Museum, restaurants, The Wharf and other places they wanted to see while touring the nation’s capital, stopping frequently for curry along the way.

On the last day of the trip, Curry’s health began to take its toll. She was tired for most of the day, her mom said, but she still gave her family one last reminder of DC as she changed into her swimsuit and got into the pool and hot tub with them.

Detroit artist Sydney G. James poses with her mural on Thursday, January 28, 2021

“I just wanted to create these memories that we made without thinking about the end being near,” Peggy Curry said.

The family returned home and, according to Peggy Curry, everything happened very quickly after that.

On October 17, Curry was taken to the hospital by ambulance. She stayed there until the Saturday when she was discharged into the hospice and remained there until her death. Her father, two brothers, a younger sister and close family friends joined Curry in these last few days. Her mother says she laughed and talked as much as she could and ate little bites with a friend while they reminisced about the old days.

When she spent her last time with her children, her son Miguel wanted to spend time with his mother along with the other family members. But her daughter Michaela asked for some alone time with her mother.

“We gave her that,” said Peggy Curry. “I’ve been talking to them all the time … and I’ve told them I’m not a doctor, but we don’t know how much time your mother has.

“So I said every time, every time you enter the house, every time you leave the house, always come in, wash your hands and then greet your mother. Give her a hug and a kiss and tell her how your day went. Never say nothing happened. Actually tell her something that happened and have that discussion with her.”

Peggy Curry says she wanted to make sure everyone, especially Curry’s kids, could just reassure her “that we know she loves us and that we love her.”

In Curry’s final days before her death, her mother said she knew the end was coming.

“That Saturday, before she died, I looked at her and I saw … I saw the change,” her mother said.

She says Curry has stopped eating and drinking. Curry began to sweat frequently between her brows due to her pain. And next Saturday, Curry would sleep most of the day.

“I knew she was trying to change,” her mother said through tears.

Shanise Tucker met Curry through a mutual friend over a decade ago, she said. The connection was instant and the two remained close until her death.

“She was more than just my girlfriend,” Tucker said. “She was my sister, my prayer partner, my adventure friend, my inspiration and now my angel.”

On social media, Tucker shared a video reel of her and Curry, or “Yogi” as many of her friends called her. The video flipped through many different photos of the two hanging out and enjoying life with some of their other friends. The Maze song “Golden Time of Day” featuring Frankie Beverly played in the background with a heartfelt tribute below the video.

Tucker, 47, says she has been by Curry’s side since the initial diagnosis.

“I remember the call,” she said. “I remember sitting by my pool and talking about what steps she would take.”

The day Curry died, many of her other friends found themselves unplanned on the Detroit River. Her friend Jessica Moore said that when she received the news that her friend had died, she had to go somewhere to meditate and pray. To her surprise, she said, over a dozen other women through Espy Thomas, 41 — known in the art community as Etta FLYY — and her group, Where Black Women Go to Mourn, were already on their way to the river for their routine group therapy session. So everyone could support each other in their grief.

“It was just beautiful,” said Moore, 50. “We didn’t know that happened in the group, but it was awesome and it was awesome.”

“I think she has that normal ‘why me?’ in the beginning,” said Peggy Curry. “She was healthy. She ate healthy. She wasn’t vegan, but she did eat organic. She didn’t eat red meat. She didn’t eat pork. She rode her bike. She went and she worked out.”

Her mother said she told her daughter from the start that God had told her “he had her in his arms.”

“He carried her all the way,” said Peggy Curry. “And now he’s brought her home.”

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