Justin wrote this letter in 2004 when he was 8. He and his Dad always loved watching all things Star Wars.
So when Justin was 10, he decided he wanted to be Mace Windu—the fictional character in the Star Wars franchise, portrayed by actor Samuel L. Jackson.
He would not settle for the usual over the counter costume so he commissioned our dear friend Sherrie Brooks (who sews very well) to make his authentic costume- and that she did. He went with her to get the best fabric close enough to the outfit worn by his idol.
He was so happy with Sherri finished product. The last request he had was for his Dad to shave his head bald so he really could look just like Samuel L. Jackson!!!
Fast forward to February 5, 2013 (2 weeks before Justin died) He and his dear friend Arielle Winfield spearheaded the Harvard Westlake Black Leadership and Cultural Club (BLACC) Event with the surprise guest Samuel L. Jackson. The room buzzed with joy when Samuel took to the stage. His story was profound. He opened up his heart beyond the big screen. He shared that he was a swimmer. His mother made him be on the swim team to keep him out of trouble. He also wanted to be a marine biologist- just like Jacques-Yves Cousteau he said.Furthermore, he shared that he almost hit rock bottom with his drug consumption—it was from the unconditional love and support from his wife LaTanya that saved his life…
Justin was so happy of the outcome of the event. It was a huge success.
The night before Justin’s Celebration of his life I looked in my Spam folder. What a blessing I did because this letter was in it. It made me smile. It is truly a gift in this circle of life.
See the video of Justin introducing Samuel L. Jackson
I answered the phone. The chipper voice on the other end said:“Hi Sue, this is Nat are you coming to the 2017 Harvard-Westlake (H-W) graduation to see Lauren?” I paused hard. I then took a deep breath. I honestly told her that I was not sure at the time but I assured her that I would think about it. Justin was like Lauren’s big brother. She attended H-W because he strongly encouraged her. Justin attended H-W from the strong insistence of his big sister Taylor Vaughn Lasley and her mother Merle.
After I broached the subject with Darrell we totally agreed that we could do it. Besides, so many students who knew Justin were in that class, and many students from the school still support Justin’s “Dare to Dream” program and furthermore, we are still a part of the H-W community. The last time we were on that field was for Justin’s class graduation in 2014. It was unimaginable, to say the least, but he was celebrated posthumously in the highest regard. It will be a day I will never forget…
I entered from the track and was instantly spotted by my dear friend Nasreen. She was shocked to see me. She was speaking with a lady. She introduced me and I said my quick hello and goodbyes and wandered to find a seat. Darrell had already made a detour to sit in the shade near the bleachers.
As I waited for Merle, the same lady that I had just met with Nasreen walked over and sat behind me. Her name was Heather. We began chatting. I asked her did she have a child graduating and she said yes. Her son Collin. She then began telling me that her daughter Kassie — who was weeks away now from graduating from college—was on the swim team with Justin. She said she was hesitant to talk to me ( when she realized who I was) but something inside her was so strong that she had too. She recapped the indelible impact that Justin had on the whole school community and especially her daughter and his teammates. We could not really fight back the tears of remembrance.
I told her that my new mission in life was to help kids use their voice, seek their passion and for the world to change how we have been taught to deal with grief and loss. You see the reality about grief is that it is emotional and it shows up in many forms from the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a move, a divorce, an illness loss of safety, an election and lord knows what the aftermath of these hurricanes are going to do to those affected in so many ways.The hopes, dreams, and futures have been wiped away in a matter of seconds… That’s exactly happened to us. She mentioned that her husband was a pediatric cardiologist and that she too was a pediatrician. I said I sure wished we had met you guys before our unimaginable loss. She mentioned that in their medical field even though they save lives every day, many times people grieve their illness for many years.
She then said she wanted us to meet her husband Kevin and that we should come over to the camp her husband runs on Catalina Island. They run it for 3 weeks at the end of summer each year.
http://www.campdelcorazon.org. They are 23 years in the making now… Camp del Corazon is an organization that provides a medically supervised, residential summer camp for children ages 7-17 who are living with heart disease, as well as additional programs for these children and their families. I said Heather, don’t tell me is it at Catalina Island Camp? http://catalinaislandcamps.com
And she said: Yes it is. I almost gasped for a breath. I said are you’re kidding me? Then since I can’t make this stuff up, I told her that Justin and our family went to that camp every year for about 10 years because the owners of that camp– Tom and Maria Horner are our friends from Altadena and they are members of our church St. Marks.
Every year since Justin was in Kindergarten we would venture over there because they hosted our church members for “Family
Camp” during the Memorial Weekend. Justin loved that place!!We always shared the cabin with the Parr family and Justin’s surrogate brothers Miles and Sean. Lauren and her family went too. Justin learned to snorkel, kayak, rock climb, high ropes, archery etc. I, on the other hand, get seasick so I always wear my sea band and lay down on the trip over there. When I got there I enjoy the water and hiking and soaking in all of the beauty.
For the past 4.5 years, I have often thought to myself that I will NEVER go to Catalina Island again… A place where Justin went for years and loved. Like the graduation, I had to think about it. Her husband and his team started this camp for kids with heart disease. They provide this free opportunity for girls and boys age 7-17 to come and just be a kid for 5 days. Some are sicker than others, some don’t make it the next year because they may have died. But for the days that they are there, they LIVE to the fullest.
A few weeks after the graduation we had dinner with the Shannon’s. They are so loving and compassionate. Dr. Kevin Shannon was patient with my million questions about the “What ifs I had with Justin’s demise” He definitely had the BEST Bedside manners of ANY Dr. I have ever met. I asked him why he started the camp. He said over 20 years ago he took the risk and was able to save a 9-year-old boys life with a new heart surgery. Every time the kid came for his check up appointments he wore two t-shirts—he was hiding his scars from the surgery. He thought to himself, “ I just saved this kids life and he is embarrassed from his scars. This can’t happen… So that was how this camp was created. Kids from all walks of life could come experience camp and do all the activities where they can be successful. They meet their friends, they wear their scars proudly as they enjoy ALL things that this camp has to offer. THE BEST PARTS FOR THE KIDS THERE WERE NO HELICOPTER PARENTS ALLOWED.
The camp date was set for September 2, 2017. The night before I packed for the day trip. We had to be at San Pedro dock for 7 a.m. We left our house a little before 6 a.m. and as we got on the freeway the light went on in my car and the engine started smoking. OMG I thought, we can’t miss the boat. Darrell pulled over and started trying to figure out the problem. I already knew in my mind that we were going to ditch that car. I called Billy who lived just blocks away. He came we got on the road and we made it there by 7:05 am, Whoa!!
We were told that we would meet Gumpy and 10 others who were traveling over to the island with us. The group included Darrell and me, Gumpy and his daughter, Chris Waller (UCLA Gymnastics Coach and his wife) Laurel Travis and her son Jonathan (who started Safe Heart Testing http://www.safeheartscreening.com after seeing Justin’s story on television) and a couple with their son.
We arrived safely and I did not get sick. Before we got off the boat, Heather told the group that we could not use our real names at the camp and that we had to make up a camp name. Darrell was Rooney, Jonathon was Seagull, and Heather was Feather. I can’t remember the others names but for some reason, I decided upon “ Mama Bear.”
As I was getting off of the boat a familiar face sans a long beard greeted me. It was Wendel. He was Justin’s camp counselor at Justin went with the Youth Group when he was in the 6th grade. Wendel was in high school. He is now a handsome married man. He gave me that extra hug as if I knew that was for Justin.
I had some relief, no hesitation and I felt strong to go visit the camp and carry Justin with me every step of the way. Even though it was about 85 degrees that day, I did carry Justin’s Nike jacket with me for old times sake. He wore that Jacket on his last visit to Catalina in 2012.
We got our credentials on deck and we went on a guided tour with the “Big Kahuna” aka Dr. Shannon. It fit him well because he stands about 6’3″ tall. He is a gentle giant and he and Heather- oops I mean Feather have raised wonderful children. They were all there volunteering as counselors as they do every year.
I tried not to be too overbearing as if I was so familiar with the lay of the land because you know I had been there over 10 times before… I was patient. Darrell was happy about that. We looked at all the groups of kids donning specific scarfs around their neck or head with colors to suit each team. The littlest campers were the tugboats the oldest tsunamis. They were having so much fun. I noticed that some moved slower than others and I could see some of the vertical scars outside of their t-shirt line. I noticed a kid in a red wagon. Big Kahuna said that this kid had been a camper for 3 years and he had been in the hospital again just a day before he came to camp. His whole time in the hospital he said he wanted to go camping.
They told him he could come but it would be best for him to ride in the wagon between the activities so he would have all of the energy to participate in the various options. Gumpy who works with the kids in the water sports said that there was a camper who was on oxygen and they just strapped life jackets to the tanks and put them in the kayak so that he could go out into the water– just like the other kids.
As I watched the campers enjoying all of the adventures that camp had to offer, I could not help but place Justin’s image at the various activities because really he too was there from age 5 and his last trip to Catalina he was about 15…
We toured the cabins, they were just as we last left them. Big Kahuna pointed to the sign on the wall and he said on day one each cabin of campers have to come up with their own cabin rules. The rules on this sign caught everyone’s attention just to think that these boys were around 13 years old!!!!
He also said that each cabin gets rated every day for the cleanliness of their cabin. We went to the infirmary and commended the bay of Drs. and nurses who volunteer their vacation time to make a difference in these campers’ lives.
Lunchtime was next. The 130 boys and girls’ campers and over 80 plus volunteers and nurses who unassumingly administer hundreds of pills to the campers throughout the day sat on the benches under the roof. Since we were the VIP’s for the day they played some funky music and we danced our A__ off as we made our way on deck. They had us call out our name to the crowds. When it was my turn I roared:“ MY NAME IS MAMA BEAR!” and I know your special hand clap… I did it and to the surprise of the campers, they cheered in amazement. I then said: “ I HAVE BEEN HERE BEFORE” Let’s do it again. In sync, the sweet sound of our collective claps made some noise. They soon announced that we would each be seating with a table of campers. So the counselor then started to call out the various cabins for each VIP. Before she got to me, a long table of boys off in the distance started to pound on the tables and chant loudly: “WE WANT MAMA BEAR! WE WANT MAMA BEAR!… The head counselor then said: I guess that’s where you are going to sit Mama Bear!!! It was the Senior II table. I ran over and immediately asked each kid their name and where they were from. There was Billy from Visalia and Eddie from Escondido and Andrew from LA. Some of the campers had been coming from 3-9 years. This was their last year…
I then turned to my right and there was this movie star looking stud with a dark shadow of a beard “ Sorry Darrell” I said: What’s your name? With a deep voice he said his name was “Scruff” He was surely a stud muffin and I almost lost my train of thought… But I kept my composure and said: “How long have you been a counselor here?” He said: ” 3 years.” Then he proceeded to tell me that he had his first heart surgery when he was 2 years old. I guess that he was about 25 years old now. I was shocked. I told him that he was indeed blessed. About 30% of the counselors have heart disease and they were once campers at this camp too.
Then Mama Bear went to work asking a million questions to each camper. They were shocked that I remembered their names. One kid from Escondido told me that sometimes he looks bad on the outside when he is sick but he is still a good person. I told him to keep on enjoying your life and sharing your story and using your voice. Another camper Billy said he played the drums. I gave him some leads to drum core camps for the future. They asked me what I wanted to drink and they got water for me. I asked them why they wanted me to sit with them and they said: ” You are cool!”
Before we ate they announced: “We can’t eat until we say, Grace!” I thought to myself isn’t this a secular camp? Are they going to do really say a blessing? Not like that’s a bad thing at all…Before I could blink and eye Darrell and his table of the mightiest campers were lined up on the stage. This adorable boy who was about 8 years old was the leader. He had a head full of curly blond hair that was the size of the Jackson 5 afros. He went down the line asking each of his fellow cabin mates to say grace. The first one started off and said:
“ Jupe, jupe jupe jupe jupe! The leader said wrong!! The other campers got it wrong too. When he got to Darrell who was the second to the last Darrell said Jupe, jupeee jupeeee, jupe jupe with a little high improv pitch rhythm but to his chagrin, he was wrong too. The kids roared with laughter. The last kid finally belted out Jupe, jupe jupe jupe jupe… and the last thing he said was the name “ Grace’!! It was so funny and clever way of saying their version of ” Grace” too!!
My table of young men were gentlemen and polite. They let me go to the head of the line and I told them all to make sure that they filled their plates with colorful vegetables. By the way, the food at this camp is a 5 star for real!! So nothing had changed since the days when we came. A lot of other campers came up to me and said: “ Hi Mama Bear” I, in turn, said hello and asked them a question or two. It dawned on me that these campers were the same age as Justin was– the last time I saw him…
Boy, you don’t know what this camp did for me. I easily fell right back into being a Mom… I had not been called Mama in 4.5 years. Hearing this from these campers just did my mind and body good… As I was leaving the cafeteria a young man came up to me and said: “ Mama Bear are you coming to the talent show tonight?” I said:” What time, I think we are leaving in a few hours.” I told him maybe I can come back next year and see you.” He said: “ This is my last year. Can I at least have a hug? “ OMG I wanted to FALL OUT!!!!! I said: Of course you can!!! I gave this young camper the biggest bear hug ever. It was all too much. But greatly appreciated. I was beside myself. Before I could get emotional the counselors motioned us to come over to this cabin and pick out some costumes to quickly put on for the “ Parade of Lost and Found Items” We put on the crazy outfits, grabbed items from the Lost and Found Box and danced up and down the aisle searching for the campers to claim them. It worked all of the missing items were retrieved. Man, it had been a while since I danced and moved and smiled at the same time. It was so fun!!!
A few moments later at the corner of my eyes, I could see the UCLA coach walking on his hands towards the front of the room. After he landed on his feet he began to tell his story. He spoke about how he was little for his age, how he started doing gymnastics how he broke his hand and legs before and then how he responded when he was told he too had heart disease– diagnosed a few years before he was training for his biggest chance in his lifetime the Olympics. After his surgery, he was still able to compete… I could not believe that this muscular guy had his own personal story related to heart disease and he is a living testament that you can still have a viable life and do your own PERSONAL best despite the times when you think your world is coming to an end. It was powerful, and after I told him so…
We then said our goodbyes, I hugged Big Kahuna, Lisa Knight, the fabulous camp Director and the staff and said this is the best camp ever. He said actually these are the best 3 weeks of my year. You could see it on his face it was pure joy and satisfaction.
I can’t believe the army of volunteers that it takes to pull something off like this. You know you can never judge a book by its cover. Just like these fearless campers– who had the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and run and play with other campers who are still living with hopes and dreams despite that they are also living with heart disease.
I can’t make this up. I went to the H-W graduation, I had a chance meeting of Heather aka Feather – someone who found the words to approach at the H-W graduation, the connection to the Catalina Island Camp and our neighbors Maria & Tom, seeing Wendel—Justin’s counselor when he was in 6th grade, and feeling at home and not sad being on the island that Justin loved so much…
Before we knew it was time to leave. Darrell and I ventured over to the last cabin we stayed in as a family. It was “ Clipper.” I still have the tags on my luggage at home… Then I put on Justin’s jacket and walked to the ocean. I looked out and said to Justin… “Your Mama Bear did it! I survived a day of camp. I was not my usual Over the Top Olivia” (OTTO) Justin. This Bear will always be your Mama and you will always be my little cub!! Happy Birthday, my sweet love, I will love you forever and miss you always.”
But I must say that the biggest gift was being called “Mama.” I guess as the saying goes “Once a Mother—Always a Mother!” And as we know there are many women who may not have birthed a child but in their own right, they can sure be a “Mother from the Heart.!”
I’ll take that!! Any day!! Mama Bear enjoyed her special day at camp. I will honor you, Justin, I carry you with me each and every day. You are my co-destiny. Heavenly Birthday Honey.
Love your Mom, OTTO and Now Mama Bear I can only imagine what you would be like at 21 years old. God Bless you, honey.
This young man sent us a gift of peace. It goes well with todays theme for Justin’s 21st Birthday Art, Heart & Peace
The Prince of Peace N’Jhari
A Gift of Peace!!
I wanted to introduce this year JCWWP Scholarship Winner. Not just by his name but because of his words. He described himself, his dreams and what he thought Justin was all about- because he never had the opportunity to meet him. What struck me the most was his immediate reaction when he learned the news that he was selected… N’Jhari get’s the award for “Prince of Peace.”
Each year we award enhancement scholarships. This year we would like to introduce our winner N’Jhari. He is a Junior in high school. He never met Justin but he did his homework and submitted an application that was unanimously selected by the JCWWP Scholarship Committee. Darrell and I are not on the committee. After he got the announcement that he had won the scholarship, he sent us the message and attachment noted below. He said that we could share it. N’Jhari is truly an inspiration.
Here are a few things about him that were noted in his application:
“Donated AEDs to youth sports programs and one to my school
Help train and certify 62 adults, teachers, and scouts in First-Aid/CPR/AED
Made my J.O. (swimming) and participated in 2 J.O. Meets”
I know that Justin Carr has parents who love him very much wake every morning with a purpose to spread his legacy and to honor his spirit. I know that he was a SWIMMER like myself, which drew me closer to his legacy. I know his story has won an Emmy. I know he was kind, a respecter of persons, and excelled in the performing arts. I know that through his parents his spirit, the legacy will forever be upon us all still trying to figure out life and somehow help thy neighbor in the process. I know that his wish for those he left here on earth is for World Peace and has entrusted us to see come to pass.
What do you think was important to him? Do you think you can carry his message? If so, how would you do that?
In getting to know Justin Carr through his parents at the 2017 Parent Heart Watch Annual Meeting and through reading his story, World Peace and helping thy neighbor was important to Justin. I believe and have accepted the charge to bring peace throughout first my community, and then to the world. I believe if I can help unite and bring peace to my neighbors, community, then that can spread throughout a city, a state, a country, and the world; our world. Doing my part save young hearts is a pretty good start while helping to bring smiles to kids stuck in the hospital battling illnesses bigger than their bodies is a pretty good start, I’d say!
List five words that you believe best describe you as a person and set you apart from your classmates, and why.
I am a writer! I write what I feel, what I see, what I want to see. This is a poem I recently wrote and I think this describes the 5 words above that I chose to BEST describe me as a person and set me apart from my classmates.
“THEY SAY THAT I’M A DREAMER”
They say that I’m a dreamer, dreaming my future true; refusing to be blue just to satisfy you. Belief in me, believing all that I can be, knowing I achieve what I dream. No time to be mean, dreamers spend time owning their dream. No arrogance or conceit, rising from defeat; a dreamer plants both feet before they take that leap. Who’s going to let me be who I was wonderfully made to be, I worry not, daring to be stopped. Others dream to be creative; dreamer’s reality is being more creative than they can dream. Fo’ a dreamer embarks a dream and sets sail above the skyway up high. O’er oceans never afraid to dive deep to reap not the reward but all they dream.
They say that I’m a dreamer; I have hope for a future. Dreamers dream the reality of their future. Learning vastly, exploring widely, expressing creatively, O’ the confidence of dreaming boldly! Self-expression by thought, word, and deed a gift; never abandon choose your words wisely never random. We soar and listen to the wind roar as we explore dreaming ever more.
Dreamer I am! Not because I can but because I will climb that hill, donate a meal, help build not fo’ a dollar bill just helping thy neighbor it’s in His will. Greatness on the brain, putting nothing in my vein, nor dreaming in vain. My dream I claim! They say I’m the dreamer, right they are, Puttin” up high above the bar never subpar. I am a dreamer, that I am.
N’Jhari (NJ) Jackson
N’Jhari sent the Foundation this letter after he was awarded the scholarship. This was not a requirement. He felt compelled and these words came through him…
———- Forwarded message ———-
Date: Sun, Jun 4, 2017, at 12:10 PM
Subject: Re: Message from the Justin Carr WWP Foundation
Hi Mrs. Carr,
Thank you for contacting me. I must say when I got your email, it was bittersweet and that’s just being honest. It is truly the BEST letter I have ever received and it will be with me forever and will be a constant reminder to always do the right thing. As a tears curled out the corner of my eye, I didn’t reach to wipe it because my heart knew they needed to fall. Maybe they fell because I couldn’t cry at my aunt Carolyn’s funeral couple months ago, maybe they for my cousin Cyara who had emergency heart surgery 3 days ago or because she has a scheduled heart procedure on June 14th, or maybe because I get to fulfill a dream and someone I’ve never met won’t. I didn’t even know how to say, thank you to you or JCWWP Foundation. Do I call, email, Facebook? I had decided I’d miss church stay in bed this morning nursing a cold/allergies, but something inside said, “go.” I told mom I’d changed my mind and I’d go with her so off we went. Throughout worship, I started writing in my head as I often do when not appropriate to put pen-to-paper. As soon as I got home, all of my words came rushing out, I typed as fast I could so not to lose one word. I attached those words for you and Mr. Carr in a word document and a PDF. Thank you so much for helping me and for entrusting me to help keep Justin’s wishes and spirit alive. I pray you and Mr. Carr continue to take one day at a time. Pause if you must, sit and kick up dust, cry if it makes you feel a little better and hold one another tight as you continue the fight! Thank you for letting me write to you and please forgive me if I offended you in any way by letting my feelings flow.
With Love and Kindness,
NJ (N’Jhari J.)
This is why N’Jhari gets the award for the Prince of Peace on Justin’s Birthday!!
Last year Darrell & I were interviewed by the creators of the “Black Love” Documentary Series that is currently airing on Oprah’s OWN network. I can’t even remember what we said. I know that we talked about how we met, and our life as a married couple for over 20 years and of course, we spoke about Justin… He is part of our story. Not sure how it was all edited but, we will see when it comes on. Set your DVR’s for Next Saturday, September 9, 2017,” Black Love”.
We will be in Episode 3 that airs next week on September 9, 2017.
Trust me!! This was not a dream!! Thank Goodness!!!!
Most Photos Compliment of Darrell’s Adventures:
This place was:
Just a 2-hour flight from Los Angeles (3-hours from San Francisco)
Where I woke up and fell asleep to the view and sounds of the Sea of Cortez—that was just a few steps away from the house
I took morning yoga classes on the bluffs of the Beach Club and did the “warrior and Cobra” poses watching the waves crash against the shores and the iguanas rest on the rocks
I danced to the Latin beats in the water Zumba classes
Relaxed often on the patio of this comfortable house
Watched Darrell Carr dance, snap his fingers and sing along to the surround music of Al Jarreau’s song:
We’re In This Love Together
‘We’re in this love together
We got the kind that lasts forever
Don’t you know, that?
We’re in this love together
And like berries on the vine
It gets sweeter all the time’��
” I wished I could have captured it on video but ” Who needs a cell phone in a place like this?”
Swam in the infinity pool or sat in the Jacuzzi as these water bodies finally brought me some peace of mind as I thought of Justin with joy in my heart and looked out into the endless ocean that stretched for miles…
Read a book in many of the indoor /outdoor peaceful nooks the house
Watched a movie
It’s worth noting that EVERY massive suite has a view of the ocean and sunsets, and EVERY window in the house has a view of either the ocean, pool, landscape or mountains
I Got a massage in my room with natural air blowing through the open floor to ceiling windows
I Watched the sunrise on the beach (ok really I was sleeping but Darrell captured beautiful sunrise photos because he found his serenity in photography and he could not sleep)
Where I felt like I was on a desert island of peace
I can’t vouch for how the golfing was but it sure looked greener on the other side of the pool where I was most of the time…
Oh, but there is one thing you do have to worry about each day and that is: “Where are you were going to eat for dinner!!” There are wonderful restaurants choices from “Buzzards” the beach, local treasures or the hidden upscale gems off the dirt roads. Oh, did I mention that the Beach Club (that you have full access) also had a wonderful restaurant?
There was no place like this home and Rose Good made sure that everything was taken care of and provided a lot of care, help, and resources to make sure our stay was the best.
If you like waking up after having a “Good Dream” then you should look no further and take a short or long vacation or respite TO THIS PRIVATE RESIDENCE.
“The House of Dreams” is in San Jose Del Cabo which is on the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula
Do you know what Sueños means? It means dreams!!!!
I went to the Apple Store to fix my computer. A handsome tall young African American young man greeted me. As he helped fix my computer— for over an hour I kept looking at him. Occasionally, I would pause and ask: “How long have you worked here? 15-minute pause ” Did you like computers when you were little? 5-minute pause “Are you from California? ” 10-minute pause… What year did you graduate from HS?
Finally, I said: ” I’m sorry honey but can you answer one more question?” He was so polite. He said: Yes. I then asked: ” How tall are you? ” He said 6’6”. I then said please forgive me but I am not trying to hit on you but my son that I lost was 6’3 and he had a beautiful smile like you. Your mannerisms, smile and height were similar.” With a big Justin Carr World-Peace like smiling, he said: ” I did not notice you looking at me and I am so sorry you lost your son. I’m glad you see him in me. That’s a compliment!”. I was lost for words and I told him: “Thank you.” I had to leave. That young man was a Genius! He was the apple of my eye for the day…
Both of these photos are of Justin Carr World-PeaceThese photos are from the day we dropped Justin off at The Cal Poly Architecture camp in 2012 and the day we picked him up 4 weeks later!! It was time for a hair cut!!
Daddy’s Little Girl and the Wind Beneath Her Wings
“You’re the end of the rainbow, my pot of gold,
You’re daddy’s little girl to have and to hold…
” Daddy’s Little Girl” Lyrics by Al Martino
Last week we went to the USC Viterbi School of Engineering Awards Dinner. My friend Stayce Harris was honored. It was on the wings of love and admiration for her that I somehow was able to muster the courage to attend. You see, this event was my re-emergence so to speak; I came out of my cocoon.
It has been over 4 years since I attended anything related to USC even though I am a Trojan for life. My husband Darrell became a Trojan by marriage and oh, my beloved son Justin had dreams of joining the USC student body through his legacy— but really from his own innate talents. As a family, we attended countless USC events through the years. But when life threw us a curveball I had to protect myself from those broken dreams we had for Justin.
It was a glorious night. This event was wonderful. It was welcoming and safe. A wave of nostalgia swept over me as the USC band played and as I watched my friend LIEUTENANT GENERAL STAYCE D. HARRIS —the first black woman to become an Air Force Lieutenant General, receive the Distinguished Alumni Award. Over 500 people came to “her party” as she said during her acceptance speech.
Stayce and I were classmates in a few general engineering courses on the Monday –Wednesday-Friday track back in the day. We became fast friends. On one particular Thursday, I had to take a second look when I spotted her quickly racing across campus donning a crisp and orderly Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) uniform. I caught up with her and called out her name. She turned around. To my surprise, it was Stayce! I did not know she was in the ROTC. Together in sync, we both busted up laughing and I said: “ OMG is this you? She smiled and said proudly, “ Yes, it is!” I said: “I’m not mad at you. Right on girl! I am still honored to be your friend. “ Fight On!!
You see, on our usual college days, Stayce was dressed like the rest of us, civilian students. We frequently attended social and sporting events on campus. She wore jeans, sweatshirts, bell-bottom pants, leggings, mini skirts, and boots. She even had her fashionable ” Farrah Fawcett hair style too!
Pam , Cynthia and Stayce at USC Homecoming
Stayce was an all-inclusive student. She was involved in all aspects of student life. She also pledged the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. At our campus parties, she often was spotted on the dance floor. Yes, we danced at parties back in the day. She was also quite the dancer— and just as good as the Soul Train Dancers. She effortlessly was able to do the various dances i.e. the worm, the point, or the cowboy!! She was always in the mix with the crowd. Stayce was unassuming. She was a mentor and friend to all.
As women in the engineering department, we were rare commodities. A woman in the ROTC was a surprising yet beautiful sight to see. She was committed from an early age. She was “Daddy’s girl”… She said:
“I was born in Los Angeles. My father was career enlisted in the Air Force, so I grew up as a military brat. Basically, I’ve been serving ever since I was born. In my mind, all I wanted to do is grow up to be just like him. When I was 8 years old, I’d watch my dad go to work every day in a light blue shirt and dark blue pants, but I didn’t have a clue about his actual job in the Air Force. All I knew is that every two years, we’d move to another exotic location. And that’s what I enjoyed — the ability to travel the world. It wasn’t until I entered high school and started taking Junior ROTC that I knew I had the propensity to serve and wanted to be an airman.”
Fast forward. We graduated and remained in contact. Following are a few of her humble accomplishments. She has always been passionate about her goals and mission in life. She kept her eyes on the prize.
She did the following without fanfare or accolades:
B.S. Industrial Engineering USC
Masters of Aviation Management
Flew C-141 Cargo planes
United Airlines Pilot
Major General US Air Force
Lieutenant General US Air Force
Friend and Mentor to Many
As she graced the stage during her acceptance speech, she compared her love for her two families – USC and the US Air Force. She paid homage to her #1 role model her father. She also committed and dedicated her excellence in service to the Tuskegee Airmen (the first black servicemen to serve as military aviators in the U.S. armed forces, flying with distinction during World War II.) A group of Tuskegee Airmen also came to celebrate Stayce. They too got a standing ovation. The remaining few are now in their 80’s and 90’s. It was another honor to be in their presence.
“The Tuskegee airmen were the first black servicemen to serve as military aviators in the U.S. armed forces, flying with distinction during World War II. Though subject to racial discrimination both at home and abroad, the 996 pilots and more than 15,000 ground personnel who served with the all-black units would be credited with some 15,500 combat sorties and earn over 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses for their achievements. The highly publicized successes of the Tuskegee Airmen helped pave the way for the eventual integration of the U.S. armed forces under President Harry Truman in 1948. (http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/tuskegee-airmen)”
When Stacey’s Dad passed away the Tuskegee Airmen came to her rescue. They adopted her as their daughter. They told her: “ It’s ok Baby. We are your Daddies now…”
Hearing this gave me chills…
“Daddy’s girl, Daddy’s girl.
I’m the center, of Daddy’s world.
I know I’m Daddy’s number one,
For he loves me like I was his son.
****So please watch this short 3-minute video of Stacey as we honor all of her goodness. See who has a cameo in it…
Watch Lt. Gen Harris Acceptance Speech at the USC Viterbi 2017 Awards
Justin loved Stayce. Every time she would visit she responded to him. She was patient with his endless questions. She also was genuinely interested in the things he liked to do. He took pride in showing her is artwork and his design projects. Whenever we would fly on United Airlines he would ask the stewardess: “ Who is the pilot? Is Ms. Stacey flying the plane? He was so proud of her. It was a blessing that we all got to witness her pinning by the Tuskegee Airmen in 2009.
“The best piece of advice Harris remembers came from ABC anchor Robin Roberts.
“I always tell people to find your passion and follow your passion with all of your drives and abandon, but most importantly, realize that God’s delays are not his denials. I went to a Black Enterprise women’s summit one year and [Robin Roberts] was the speaker. When she said that, it just resonated with me so well and I have used it in almost every single speech that I’ve given ever since,” Harris said. “I always try to give her credit for it, but it really means that in pursuing your goals, there may be stumbling blocks. I call it turbulence because I’m a pilot. There’s turbulence out there, but those stumbling blocks, in my opinion, really serve as building blocks to get you where you want to go. So don’t be deterred if there are delays in you achieving your goal. I think you become stronger for it.”
For you are the wind beneath my wings…” Bette Midler
Well, all of this is confirmation of how one can have an extended family. I met most of my cherished friends today at USC. They came to the rescue when we needed them the most 4 years ago. My CIA agents (my best girls) all got their training through our forged friendships developed at USC.
I have learned how sharing my life stories as I have emerged from this cocoon are the driving forces behind whom I have already started to become during this difficult journey from my chrysalis—a catalyst moving me toward finding my voice, and my wings, once again.
Justin, my butterfly, is now the wind beneath my wings.
Congratulations LIEUTENANT GENERAL STAYCE D. HARRIS You are our “Shero”. You can fly higher than an eagle with your Daddy as your constant wind beneath your wings.
Stayce my USC sister, keep flying high!! I will try too!
P.S. William Wang another USC Alumnus was also honored that night. He was an immigrant student from China. He attended USC as an Electrical Engineering student. He got his firs F grade ever in life in his EE 105 class. He did not know how to break the news to his mother. He told her the F stood for FIGHT ON!! He said he failed the class 3 times, had a 2.4 GPA and he later launched VIZIO HDTV’s. As he mentioned you can get one at a Costco near you!!!
An email popped up on my phone this past midnight. I was just getting ready to shut my eyes. It was from my brother Martel aka Marty. Today is his birthday and also the birthday of my nephew Burl III. I quickly read the heading on the email:
Phelan Hall to Be Renamed to Burl Toler Hall” April 7, 2017
Then I read the first sentence: “A group of students uses performing arts to promote social justice.” My heart skipped a beat. I thought of Justin, I thought of my Dad. What a posthumous honor to bestow on my Dad and our family.
How profound that it was unveiled in a performing arts manner befitting of something Justin, an honorable thespian in his own right and agent for social justice, would probably want to do. Justin loved visual and performing arts and he wanted world peace. Thankful Justin was able to follow all of his passions!!
Justin doing his many things with a passion!
Such a blessing that my Dad was able to see Justin act in his debut play in 1st play as the big bad wolf.
Justin was just like my Dad in so many ways. He spoke about his Grandpa in 2012. Justin passed away suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition while swimming on 2/22/13. He was 16 years old…
I called my brother, I said: “Marty this is a crazy story! I am so honored that a building will be renamed on the University of San Francisco (USF) campus from Phelan Hall to Burl Toler Hall. I told Marty I needed to read the rest of the story and I wished him a happy birthday.
As mentioned above, the original name of the building was Phelan Hall. It was named after a man James Phelan who was a US Senator, and San Francisco Mayor from 1897 to 1902. He also had a disturbing vision of “ being against Japanese and Chinese immigrants”. He also ran his reelection campaign on the slogan “Keep California White.” The students and USF community thought it was time to make a change and to be more reflective of an inclusive university.
Juxtaposed to his aforementioned man, I am proudly stating that my Dad was an upstanding man of character from start to finish. He came from humble beginnings and took advantage of the educational opportunities provided to him. He put family first. He stood his ground. He was inclusive. He helped and nurtured thousands of kids in the San Francisco Bay Area- that’s why there is a school named after him today. He did things right while not expecting any accolades. He was a lifelong mentor and “ community Dad”. One of his students in Junior High, Bill Yee, came to our house to deliver flowers shortly after my Dad died. He said: “ As a child of Chinese immigrants, he often got into altercations at school and had his lunch money taken and my Dad would give him $0.25 for his lunch money and my Dad never called his parents when he got in trouble.” Bill told me that he became a teacher because of my Dad. Bill recently retired after over 25 years of service.
Some of my Dad’s memorable quotes include:
• “Don’t let other people determine how you act.”
• “Do your best and your best will be good enough”
• “Do the right thing”
• “Children learn most of their first character lessons in the home”
• “If you can show me a man who has never made a mistake, I will show you a man who has never made a decision”
• “Treat people the way you want to be treated”
In print, his notable accomplishments have been:
• Member of the USF 1951 Dons Football and a College All-Star in Football
• Undergrad and Graduate degrees from USF
• In 1964 the NFL named him the first “Negro major league official in any professional sport
• First Negro ever named as a Junior High School Principal in San Francisco
• Police Commissioner in SF
• Benjamin Franklin Jr. High School renamed to “ The Burl Toler Campus” in 2006
• Cherished Husband of 40 years
• Father of 6
• Grandfather of 10
There are change agents rising up for various matters all over campuses throughout the world today. The students want their voices heard. They want civil rights and opportunities. Who doesn’t for that matter? Arts are being stripped from curriculums along with after school programs that could change kids lives in the right direction. Elite schools and parents are redirecting students away from taking visual and performing arts classes because “ They just don’t’ give you the GPA boost needed to be competitive”. Public schools don’t even provide vocational or creative opportunities for their students. Budgets do not even cover such things. People don’t talk to each other. People don’t stop to help one another. People do not listen. It is time to Stop to see what is going on. Look into the eyes of people you encounter. Listen to what others have to say. Climates are changing.
It’s the sign of the times.
The Dedication will happen on my Dad’s Birthday, May 9, 2017
My Dad did his best and his best was sure good enough.
Honored to be your daughter Dad. You and Mom taught us all how to do the right thing.
My Dad would be proud. I am sure that Dad, Mom, and Justin are looking down beaming with pride…
What a gift! It’s the Sign of the Times.
Justin wanted world peace and so do I!!!
Happy Birthday, Martel, Burl III, and Dad.
Check out “THE ’51 DONS” from Darshan Kembhavi on Vimeo.
By: Stevie Wonder
You know it doesn’t make much sense
There ought to be a law against
Anyone who takes offense
At a day in your celebration
‘Cause we all know in our minds
That there ought to be a time
That we can set aside
To show just how much we love you
And I’m sure you would agree
It couldn’t fit more perfectly
Than to have a world party on the day you came to be
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
I just never understood
How a man who died for good
Could not have a day that would
Be set aside for his recognition
Because it should never be
Just because some cannot see
The dream as clear as he
That they should make it become an illusion
And we all know everything
That he stood for time will bring
For in peace our hearts will sing
Thanks to Martin Luther King
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Why has there never been a holiday
Where peace is celebrated
All throughout the world
The time is overdue
For people like me and you
Who know the way to truth
Is love and unity to all God’s children
It should never be a great event
And the whole day should be spent
In full remembrance
Of those who lived and died for the oneness of all people
So let us all begin
We know that love can win
Let it out don’t hold it in
Sing it loud as you can
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
We know the key to unity all people
Is in the dream that you had so long ago (happy birthday)
That lives in all of the hearts of people (happy birthday)
That believe in unity (happy birthday)
We’ll make the dream become a reality (happy birthday)
I know we will (happy birthday)
Because our hearts tell us so (happy birthday)
I first got wind of this incredible song “ Something So Strong Inside…” after our Producer, Joanne Morris introduced me to Pastor Kelvin Sauls and his famous church Holman United Methodist Church (HUMC). We were seeking a venue to host our annual JCWWP event. Joanne poignantly set the stage and introduced Justin Carr. His story resonated so deeply with Pastor Sauls.
At the completion of the meeting, I asked Pastor Sauls if he wanted any young members in his community to participate in our program? He thought for a second. He said yes! He then pulled up this song on the internet: “ Something So Strong inside”. He said we could get students from the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School to sing the song. As we watched the video, the words and music silenced us and brought tears to our eyes. We are grateful of the bond that has now been formed between JCWWP and HUMC.
Alas, our event was named! “ The Ceeds of Peace: Something so strong inside.” It was held on February 25, 2017.
Our guest speaker Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng is the Co-Founder of the Ceeds of Peace (COP) Organization. COP encourages everyone to teach children the Ceeds (Compassion, Courage, Collaboration, Community, Critical Thinking and Conflict Resolution). COP instills the importance of having a 360-degree approach to raising children and how imperative it is to include parents, teachers, children and the community in the process. Darrell and I are satisfied that we actually raised Justin with the “Ceeds”
Maya graced our program with her words of intellectual and spiritual wisdom. She shared her thoughts on how to be peace builders. She said: “Justin was a transformative leader, she learned about grassroots community organizing from her brother and her mother taught them how to be intellectually and emotionally brave.”
Her book “ Ladder to the Moon” was inspired by the legacy of her own Mother, Ann Dunham. It is a magical tale that sings with the love that bonds a family together through generations. The artwork reminds us that loved ones lost are always with us and that sometimes we need only to look at the moon and remember.”
This is what Maya said about Justin’s Art:
Art is Eternal…It lasts forever!!
She also said that it is important to remember those who have passed. Their spirits linger and impact us greatly and move us.”
We will bravely remember Justin every day- it’s just something so strong inside…
THE EVENT & THE FOUNDATION
1). Sister station CBS2 did an Emmy-winning news story on Justin in 2013, when the Foundation was first established, this is also a follow-up to that piece on where they are 4 years later — now holding the benefit in a nearly 1,000 seat historic church with President Obama’s sister, Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng as the keynote speaker.
2). The Foundation was established in 2013 by Susan and Darrell Carr, when their only child and son, Justin, died from an undetected heart ailment, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), while in swim practice for his Harvard-Westlake Swim Team, and now supports at-risk/under-served youth in the arts & tutoring programs, and enrichment scholarships, as well as an HCM/heart awareness campaign.
FEBRUARY – BLACK HISTORY MONTH CONNECTION
February is Black History Month, and this one special benefit next Saturday connects 3 historic milestones:
2). Holman UMC is also the church home of civil rights legend, Rev. James Lawson, known as the architect of the non-violence protest training for the civil rights movement. Actor-activist, Jesse Williams, depicted him in the award-winning film The Butler.
3). The keynote speaker is peace advocate, Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng of the acclaimed Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, she is also the sister of 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and the 44th President of the U.S. Barack Obama, also the nation’s first Black president.