was a glorious moment in time— which I will never forget. Darrell Carr either. This morning on his 25th bday I lay paralyzed in my thoughts — thinking about my most precious son who died at 16, barely being a young man.
Justin loved celebrating his birthdays. He had so many themes for his special day. He prayed for world peace on his 4th bday.
Justin lived, loved, and laughed often. He had hopes and dreams. He truly loved his family and friends. He loved helping, creating, singing, acting, and being. He had courage, compassion, commitment, community, and knew how to resolve conflicts.
He coined a poem saying he had dreams, goals, promise— opportunity.
On his first day of life, he held my finger tight. The night before he died, he told me he would take care of Darrell and me when we got old. We often think about who will take care of us now and in the days and years to come?
Darrell and I will hold each other’s hands and those in our village of people, his friends, our friends, strangers who walk with us and who love us and miss Justin too.
These are the gifts we cherish as we remember, miss, cry and smile for Justin.
I will hold on to Justin’s Memories Tight! I will stop and wonder at butterflies, too- like the one that rested in my palm in Costa Rica. He has taught his Mom his OTTO, “Over the Top Olivia,” Sooooo many things.
I am honored to be Justin’s Mom.
Happy Birthday, Honey! I miss you always and will love you forever!!
I rarely take the time to go outside and smell the roses. On the other hand, Darrell spends hours a week outside watering his garden, chasing butterflies with his camera, repotting his plants, and just moving stuff around. You know we have bears in our neighborhood. Just two doors up, our friends post pictures almost weekly of the “BearbNd “who sleeps nightly on the side of their house and sometimes into the midday hours seriously!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!
So, I have been staying inside!! Today I decided to sit quietly with Darrell before the bears came. I watched the hummingbirds sip nectar from the flowers. I listened to the neighborhood kids at play, gazed at the graceful butterflies in flight, looked at the rusted basketball hoop, Justin’s old GI Joe camouflage truck blending in the distant bushes, and then I saw the tree.
The peach tree with peaches ripe and ready to eat. Suddenly, it was reflection time. Years ago, when we moved here, there was a beautiful crape myrtle tree adorning the planter just outside the window. However, it was attracting way too many bees.
One day, when Darrell was working, and Justin was watching from the truck, he said: “Dad, we need to plant some food, trees that bear fruit so we can always have food and never go hungry.” So together, they dug up the old tree and planted lemon and peach trees in its place.
So, years later, we now have strawberries. Lemon, peach trees, and so many flowers and plants and ornamental butterflies that our friends gift us to attack butterflies.
Darrell’s garden is home to the birds, bees, flowers, and trees as the sun shines, and the moon lights us and watches us from on high in their natural glory. And the trees are much taller and broader by far than they were a few years ago. They have grown and stretched out like arms closing in for a big hug.
Today, I tried a recipe I found, “Peach Cobbler Cookies,” paying homage
to Darrell and Justin with their fruit from their labor and love.
Darrell and Justin did most of the yard’s rock work, and Darrell made the metal arches and took these pictures today. Home is what you make it…
Radio Disney contacted me a few months ago to talk about my time as a Walt Disney Imagineer and life as I know it with the Justin Carr World-Peace Foundation (JCWWP)- formed after Justin died from an undiagnosed heart condition at age 16. Justin was a young Renaissance man who loved all things Disney— visited the parks in California and Florida and had many of his birthdays there with friends. Once he even designed his bday cupcakes with his friend’s likeness for his celebration, and he played Rafiki in 4th grade in his school’s “Lion King “Production. Justin had hopes and dreams of becoming an Imagineer one day with all of his creative abilities. I’m glad he got to enjoy some aspects of the parks. He was so proud that I once worked there.
Below is the link to my conversation with compassionate Radio Disney Host Betsy Spina. The show was to air on April 11, 2021. I later found out that Radio Disney has shut down after being in business for 25 years. What a loss on so many levels. I am so grateful that I was able to get a copy of my interview and share it. After I listened to it, my husband Darrell (photographer extraordinaire) and I decided that adding photos to the audio would be a perfect way to tell the story. Thankful that Darrell had thousands of images that fit right in with the audio conversation. Thank you, Betsy & team, for making this happen.
Please read this feel good story about a team aka a band of brothers who stood on the right side of history despite their many differences. NBC Sports writer Matt Maiocco contacted our family a few weeks ago and produced this wonderful written and visual story about my Dad and our memories of this gentle giant.
Read the story and Justin Carr World-Peace is not forgotten!!
There are two short videos. Be sure to click on the 6 minute youtube video to see me ( lol)
Burl Toler’s son spotted something he had never before seen as his father packed for one of his routine 36-hour trips to officiate an NFL game.B
And the significance of what young Martel Toler saw that day would not become clear until many years later.
Burl Toler became the first Black NFL official in 1965. He spent 25 seasons as a field judge and head linesman. Nobody but Toler really knew what he dealt with during a quarter-century of work in NFL stadiums across every section of America.
And his children can only imagine because Toler never spoke a word of the inescapable racism he faced along the way.
But when Martel saw a plastic shell that fit inside his father’s officiating hat, he asked for an explanation.
“He said there’d been times when people had thrown stuff at him,” Martel remembered. “It looked like a normal hat when he had it on, but I guess it was a little protective shield that he had.”
Burl Toler, who died more than a decade ago, was the perfect man to traverse chasms. The man who made ends meet as the first Black toll-taker on the Bay Bridge also built bridges of a different kind.
His memorial service on Aug. 26, 2009, at Saint Ignatius Church on the campus of the University of San Francisco drew an overflow crowd of mourners and admirers.
“The church was full, rolling out the church, because not only was he a great athlete, great official, he was a great teacher and administrator,” former long-time NFL referee Mike Carey said. “He broke barriers everywhere he went. The outpouring of people who just loved that man, it was very heart-warming.”
Toler stands as one of the most important and transcendent figures in Bay Area history.
His influence reached far beyond the sporting world. And his legacy is carried on today by his three daughters and three sons, his 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
He touched thousands of other lives as an educator, rising to become the first Black secondary school principal in the history of the San Francisco School District. He was also a San Francisco police commissioner, on the University of San Francisco Board of Trustees, and served various other leadership roles in the community.
“All these different things are prime examples that his legacy lives on forever,” said his grandson, Burl Toler III, the wide receivers coach at Cal.
“I think he was an activist. He is a legend. He was a superhero. The best part is that he did it, not for that recognition, but because he knew things needed to be done the right way.”
“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”
Those who knew him well remember the mantras he repeated. They were not cliches. His words served as his guiding principles. Everything about the man was genuine and authentic.
Toler often said he may have been the first, but if he did his job the right way, he would not be the last.
It took 55 years from the time Toler first stepped on the field as an official for the NFL to assign a crew composed entirely of African American officials – something Carey points out should have happened randomly many times over the years.
Referee Jerome Boger led his on-field crew of seven onto Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, for the Buccaneers’ Week 11 game against the Los Angeles Rams in 2020.
All-Black NFL officiating crew for the first time ever on Nov. 23, 2020
“He had a huge smile,” Carey remembered of Toler. “And it would’ve gone from ear to ear, because it was a great accomplishment. But it was so long overdue.”
Another officiating first occurred on that same field on Feb. 7. Down judge Sarah Thomas became the first female to officiate a Super Bowl when Tampa Bay and the Kansas City Chiefs met in Super Bowl LV.
That was all Toler wanted throughout his life. And he demanded it in his typically understated way. He was the perfect person to be first – regardless of what field he was blazing a trail.
Then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle knew exactly what he was doing when he offered Toler a position as the first African American on-field official in all of North American professional sports during the heights of the Civil Rights Movement.
Rozelle knew exactly the kind of man who must be chosen to fulfill that job and live up to that standard.
And he knew Toler had everything that was required to handle the challenges.
“Pete Rozelle is the reason my dad was chosen to be the first (Black official) in the National Football League,” said Burl Toler Jr., the eldest son of Burl and Melvia Toler. “He knew him as a person, knew him as an athlete. I think Pete knew what he was getting in my father, and it was kind of a no-brainer that it was time in 1965 to bring my dad into the NFL.
“And I think, I don’t know, I’ve never talked to Pete about it and, of course, Pete has passed. I’m sure Pete would say he made a pretty good decision.”
Rozelle was sports information director at the University of San Francisco when he first got to know Toler, one of the stars of the Dons’ legendary unbeaten, united football team of 1951.
“Do the right thing”
Toler grew up in Memphis, a city beset by racial tension. His mother, Annie King Toler, and father, Arnold Toler, wanted a better life for him. They sent him to Berkeley to live with his mom’s brother, businessman Louis King.
He enrolled at City College of San Francisco, never having played football in his life. A coach saw him on campus and persuaded him to give football a try. Toler agreed.
He combined rare size, strength and athleticism along with determination and being a quick study. Toler was stationed at linebacker and was told, simply, to tackle the man with the football during the first practice before the 1948 season.
He did it once, making it look effortless, much to the bewilderment of the ballcarrier and everyone watching.
He did it again. And again.
“They were like, ‘Who is this guy?’” said Susan Toler Carr, one of Burl’s three daughters. “After a few tackles, that’s how they met. ‘Hi, I’m Ollie,’ And, ‘I’m Burl,’ and they became best friends from there.”
Ollie Matson was already an established star, clearly destined for football greatness. Toler showed from the first moments on the field that he was a natural with an unlimited future.
The two men were teammates at City College. Together, they went on to get educated and play football at USF. They were best friends off the field. That connection lasted until Toler’s passing in 2009. Matson died two years later.
The USF team was the stuff of legends. Matson, Bob St. Clair and Gino Marchetti would eventually earn busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Eight players would go on to play in the NFL, including five who were chosen to play in at least one Pro Bowl.
And Toler might have been the best of the bunch, many of his former teammates agreed. He was a team captain and the leading tackler. He would be considered a prototype NFL linebacker even in today’s game.
The Dons appeared destined for a prestigious bowl game that would have provided the university with much-needed funds to keep the football program afloat. After capping a 9-0 regular season with a 20-2 victory over Loyola at the Rose Bowl, USF received a conditional invitation to the Orange Bowl.
The condition? Toler and Matson, the team’s two Black players, would not be allowed to play in the game.
There was nothing, really, to talk about. The Dons declined the invitation. There was no thought given to playing a game if any members of the team were going to be excluded. The team was a team – and skin color was immaterial.
“We told them to go to hell,” the late St. Clair said to thunderous approval at a 2011 event to commemorate the 60-year anniversary of the team.
“These guys said, ‘No, if Burl and Ollie can’t go to the game, we’re not going to go,’ ” Susan said. “That was the end of the football season. They chose compassion and what was right over money and fame, and they all were able to go on and do their things in life.”
Faced with a financial crisis, USF disbanded the football program after that season, never to again play at the NCAA Division I level.
The last time that unbreakable team got together was at the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, where the Dons were honored during an emotional halftime tribute in Tempe, Arizona.
“What I saw was brotherly love,” Susan said. “It didn’t matter what they looked like. You could tell there was an earnest amount of love they had and support and admiration. They always said, ‘Your dad was one of the best – not just on the field but in character.’”
Photo via Darrell Carr The 1951 USF Dons gather at the 2008 Fiesta Bowl
“Don’t let other people determine how you act”
Like many of his teammates, Toler appeared destined for fame in the NFL. But fate had other plans for him.
He sustained a badly broken leg in an all-star game that pitted the best in college football against the NFL champions, the Los Angeles Rams, at Soldier Field in Chicago. The college all-stars were in a tightly contested game and Toler was having an exceptional game, when he sustained a devastating injury on a low, blind-side block.
He was drafted with the No. 105 overall pick to play for the Cleveland Browns. But after a long stay in a Chicago hospital, he never played football again. Those closest to him never heard him express any bitterness or regret about the suddenly, devastating end of his football career.
“He probably used it as inspiration,” said his son, Burl Jr. “He had to stay about a month in Chicago. He couldn’t fly until he sufficiently healed. When he came back, he never looked back. He never talked about what could’ve or should’ve been. He used it as inspiration to become an educator.”
Toler returned to the Bay Area and initially worked as a toll-taker. He graduated from USF with a bachelor’s degree in 1952 and a master’s in 1966. He thrived during a long teaching and administrative career at Benjamin Franklin Middle
He became the first Black secondary school principal in the San Francisco School District. He continued to work in education, impacting young lives while traveling the country on weekends to officiate NFL games.
“When he was elected to be an official, it was at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in 1965,” Martel said. “But he didn’t think twice about accepting the position, because that’s the kind of person he was.”
Toler was selected to officiate as head linesman for Super Bowl XIV at the Rose Bowl in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 31-19 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Jan. 20, 1980.
Carey entered the league in 1990, the year after Toler retired from on-field work. Toler kept close contact with Carey and many other officials over the next eight years as an NFL observer and mentor. Carey later became the first African American referee in a Super Bowl, when he worked as the head of the officiating crew at Super Bowl XLII.
Carey reflects now on his crew having the games of their lives that day, Feb. 3, 2008, for the New York Giants’ 17-14 victory over the New England Patriots in Glendale, Arizona. He might only have been in that position because Toler proved to be so capable in leading the way.
Carey said he cannot even begin to understand what Toler must have faced on a weekly basis throughout his career.
“When you think back to what he had to go through on that undefeated team at USF, that had to be horrendous,” Carey said. “Every stadium, you walk through a tunnel that’s lined with fans. And you get some very interesting comments as you go through now.
“But I can’t imagine what he went through, being the first African American (official) to show up in any stadium, in any sport. And I think that’s when you get those who are trying to thwart progress do their best to try to undermine whoever is that first one to break that barrier. And, boy, did he stand up tall.”
Burl Toler knew that – as unfair as it was – many others would be judged by his actions. He approached his job with the utmost professionalism, even scolding some of his former USF teammates that he could not socialize with them when he was on the field to officiate one of their NFL games.
“He knew he was there for a purpose, which was to do a job and do the job as the first,” Burl Jr. said. “And his response always was if he goes out and referees a good game and is fair in his responses, even though he’s Black, as long as he does his job well, he won’t be the last.”
“Do your best and your best will be good enough”
Burl Toler was a lot of things to a lot of people. But his sons and daughters remember him, above all else, as a father and husband.A
“He always wanted to do his best as an educator, as a referee, as a college All-American,” Burl Jr. said. “But I think the thing that really drove him was his ability to be a father. And not just a father, but a good father and a presence when the opportunity arose.
“He was not only the father to all six of us, it was to students, family, friends and mere acquaintances who also looked to him as a father as well.”
Greg Toler is writing a book about his father’s life, but he said it is impossible to tell the story of Burl Toler without highlighting his supporting wife, Melvia, who preceded him in death.
“She was really the MVP, to be honest,” Greg said. “All Hall of Famers have to have somebody to block and tackle for them, so to speak. And she was the one who really allowed him to excel in everything he did. So she’s going to be a very big part of the book, as well.”
Daughter Valerie is the eldest of the six siblings. Her father lived with her in his final two years as he battled Alzheimer’s.
“They were pretty much inseparable,” Valerie said. “She would pack my dad’s clothes every Friday night and make sure he had everything and drop him off at the airport. He left Saturday morning and would come back Sunday night.”
Burl and Melvia created a loving and compassionate environment inside their home on Orizaba Avenue in the Ingleside District of San Francisco.
Toler was a commissioner of the San Francisco Police Department from 1978-96 and served on USF’s Board of Trustees from 1987-98. He was inducted into USF’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1959.
The former Benjamin Franklin Middle School campus, now the home of Gateway Charter School, was named in his honor in 2006. Toler was enshrined into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2008. An on-campus residential dorm at USF was named for him posthumously in 2017.
“It’s monumental,” Carey said. “I don’t care what race you are. To have those credentials that he has . . . who has that? And for African Americans, it fulfills that dream that we all hope for, which is give us a chance. Like all Americans, just give us a chance and we’ll shine just like anybody else does.
“Burl Toler, as a man, was very unique. You look at any segment of his life and you’d be thrilled to have one-tenth of the success that he had.”
Burl Toler campus at Gateway High School Photo by Darrell Carr
“Children learn most of their first character lessons in the home”
Those accolades, busts and structures named in his honor serve as markers for a life well-lived. The greatest testament to Burl Toler’s legacy are the family members to whom he showed that anything is possible.
“I’m very close with all my siblings, my nieces and nephews,” said daughter Jennifer. “My own son, he knows his grandpa. He knows everything his grandpa stood for, what he’s done for his community.
“Being super athletic, he reminds me of my dad a lot. He asks questions all the time. I instill in my son, J.J., the importance of what his grandfather and grandmother did for their community and for their family and how family is important and one of the top priorities.”
Justin Carr, son of Susan and husband Darrell, created a special bond with his grandfather. Though separated by nearly 68 years, they were unmistakably kindred spirits.
“They were going to name Benjamin Franklin after my dad and the whole family was at the event,” Susan said. “Justin said, ‘I want a suit just like Papa.’ He was probably 9 years old. We got an old-man suit for our little son.”
Justin wanted to wear the same style of shoes as his grandfather. Duly impressed with his grandson’s appearance, Burl Toler told the precocious young man, “I have a tie for you, too.”
Said Susan, “Justin was so proud to look like his grandpa.”
Justin wanted to be an architect. He was active in all aspects of Harvard-Westlake High School. He was a student national merit scholar, Junior Olympics swimmer, visual and performing artist and a leader of the Black Leadership Awareness and Culture Club.
Three-and-a-half years after his grandfather passed away, 16-year-old Justin lost consciousness during a swim practice. He died of an undiagnosed heart condition, idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
True to the lasting impact of the family’s patriarch, Justin left a legacy of his own.
At 4 years old, he wished for world peace when given the opportunity to bless the food before a meal. Justin always wanted to help underserved kids – even as a child himself, his mother says.
His parents established a foundation in his memory, Justin Carr Wants World Peace. The non-profit organization provides free heart screenings for youth and young adults, art and peace programs and awards scholarships to grade school students who demonstrate excellence and promise in the areas of visual arts, performing arts and/or academic achievement.
“It’s hard to have them both gone, but the times we had together were beautiful in memories,” Susan said. “It doesn’t replace the loss that we have, but knowing we had those precious times, and they were so alike in so many ways.”
It is difficult to find anyone who accomplished as much as Burl Toler in as many different areas.
He never spoke of his feats or the obstacles he overcame that were set up to prevent him along the way.
The greatest personal pride he experienced was in the successes and good deeds of his family members.
He provided the opportunities. He provided the examples. He instilled the drive and determination.
He quietly endured a lot of hardships along the way, from Memphis to the Bay Area to every NFL city, in order to make the path – albeit not perfect – perhaps a little less daunting for those who followed.
His name, Burl Toler, carries on in the family through his son, who has forged a long career as an architect and project manager after playing linebacker at Cal in the mid-1970s. Burl Toler Jr. was named as the winner of the 2018 Glenn Seaborg Award, presented annually to a former Cal football player for representing the Cal principles and traditions of excellence in academics, athletics, leadership and attitude.
The name carries on through Burl Toler’s grandson, a four-year letter-winner as a Cal wide receiver who routinely was asked by officials whether he was related to the Burl Toler. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in social welfare and a concentration in sociology, he spent time with the Raiders and Washington of the NFL. He now serves as a mentor for young men as a college coach.
The name is carried on through Burl Toler’s great-grandson, son of Burl III, who recently turned 3 years old. The late author Alex Haley once wrote, “In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.”
Each generation of Burl Abron Toler is distinguished by a nickname. Senior was B.T.; Junior is Butch; Burl Toler III is Burly; and the youngest is Bo.
“They called him B.T.” Susan said of her father. “I thought it was for Burl Toler, but they said it was for ‘Big Time.’ And he said, ‘No, that’s not me.’”
As much as he did not seek attention and actively tried to deflect or downplay his influential role within his community and beyond, Burl Toler was unequivocally Big Time.
As the years pass and America still faces obvious challenges and barriers in achieving racial equality, greater perspective and appreciation is gained. Burl Toler stature only grows as his memory remains fresh and his footprints grow in size.
“(We) definitely appreciate all that he stood for, all that he was to our family,” Jennifer said. “He was the rock. As we look at it now, he is just an even bigger rock. He’s that mountain.
It’s a story I had inside since last Christmas 2019.
The day my life changed on 2/22/2013 was a Hard Stop for all things that I once knew.
Including duties and responsibilities as: Justin’s Mother and as a Career Professional Engineer
And as time continues to move around me, sometimes I can’t escape feeling the emotions of seasons and timeless rituals and their impacts that hit me like a hurricane.
Those distant memories of Joy celebrating milestones stopped too:
Birthdays Anniversary Holidays Christmas—the Biggest one of the Year meant NO TREE… NOT for me.
I would fall out at every glimpse of one these past 7 years
So, I have not decorated the house since 2012 —no tree, no lights, no gifts because there was No Justin!
Justin loved, loved, loved all things Christmas. He knew we would celebrate with Darrell’s Family. Then travel to San Francisco to be with my Family.
There was the Gumbo Feast at Uncle Butch’s and Aunt Sue’s house. Opening presents and putting on shows with the cousins And the White Elephant game with families collectively strategizing for capturing the grandest of them all prize.
Justin also loved celebrating Kwanzaa. ( an annual celebration of African-American culture that is held from December 26 to January 1)
My 2013 Birthday was about 45 days after Justin died. All I wanted to do was crawl under a rock and cry, and it showed when Darrell tried to cheer me up and take me out to lunch.
Tina, our waitress, introduced herself and asked if we were celebrating anything special. With tears in my eyes, I sadly said: “It’s my birthday.” Tina asked: “Why do you look so sad?” I said our son died… Tina kept her composure and held back her tears, and asked what his name was? I said, Justin. She said I am so, so sorry. I can’t even imagine. My only son’s name is Justin… I will take care of you today, ok.” I can tell she was jilted (as I was saying those words) when she walked away. It’s shocking you know to say: My child died!
We finished lunch. Tina and I gave each other a big hug like we did not want to let go.
Fast forward four years later, 2017
As I left the Bank, a woman approached me and said: “You are Justin’s Mom. Do you remember me? I am Tina. I was your waitress on your bday four years ago, and I have a son named Justin too. I recognize you because you are wearing a Justin Carr Wants World Peace t-shirt, and you carry a story I will never forget. “Our eyes of sentiment and compassion locked, and we hugged and departed as she hurried to get in the long line.
Fast forward two years later, 2019
I get an email.
“My Dear Susan,
I’ve met many people working at Mi Piace, and many of them have stories to tell. But for some reason, yours always stuck with me, and I always wondered how you dealt with the cards you were given. I guess it’s been about six years now since I first met you and just a couple since I ran into you in Bank of America. It doesn’t seem that long ago.
I thought of you frequently before, and I think of you daily now as I try to adjust to the new life that I hate, without my Justin. My Justin died in a car accident on July 12th. It’s been over a month, but it seems to get harder every day. All I can do is pray and hope that in time…………………………….but I don’t think that time will really change anything. Does it? My Justin was my only, as was yours, I believe.
Thinking of you, and now I can say, feeling your pain.
Love and blessings to you,
I trembled as I read the email; I told Darrell we have to go to the restaurant. Now! We had not been there since 2013.
We walked in. We asked to be seated in Tina’s area. When she approached our table, no words were necessary. We jumped up and hugged her. All I said as I looked deeply into her eyes was: “What time do you get off of work? Come to our house.” We ate, went home, and within a few hours, Tina was at our door.
At first, there were many minutes of silence. I told Tina that no words could replace her unimaginable loss of losing her son. I shared with her what my friend Valerie told me. Losing a child changes you. We are different. Our arms are empty. Our arms are full. Our eyes are sad. Our eyes are curious. Death impacts the body and mind. Like the naked branch of a tree, you grow differently in the air. It’s ok. There is no timeline or method for dealing with loss or grief.
She told me her Justin loved the color blue, the Dodgers, and his family and friends. His trademark was a puzzle he has tattooed on his arm. We laughed. We cried, and we are forever connected.
2019 and Beyond
Tina and I talk and walked (before COVID) and share moments of gratitude and memories of each of our boys.
Tina is creative in her thoughts and her gifts are abundant. She gave me this puzzle and other gifts that showcase our Justin’s!!
Justin’s favorite swim stroke was the butterfly so butterflies now have special meaning to us. I was in shock last Christmas when she gave us this tree that she made full of butterflies carefully placed. It made me smile. So this year I finally decided to turn on the lights and showcase the beauty surrounding our life. It is time to put up a tree– at least this one.
It is time to turn on the lights that are all part of the tree of life.
Our Justin’s will be proud that their Mom’s are connected and will carry both of them in our hearts. Forever.
Thank you, Tina, for shining your light of love on me. You have helped me. This little light of mine, I am going to let it shine.
The 2019 Tree came with a custom ornament from Tina too.
A broken tree bears exceptional fruit. We are all of the same branch reaching towards the sun.
REACHING FOR OUR SONS… THE SEEDS WE PLANTED TO GROW…
OUR TWO SONS ARE STILL TOWERING OVER THEIR MOMS…
WATCHING US FROM ON HIGH
JUSTIN’S FRIEND CLAIRE PUT HER THOUGHTS TO PAPER IN THIS SONG SHE WROTE IN HONOR AND MEMORY OF HER FRIEND JUSTIN IN 2014
Holiday Blessings Really sending 24/7 Blessings to all of us living who get the gift of life.
I CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP…
These are my thoughts this Christmas Morning, 2020.
Like you, the Justin Carr Wants World Peace Foundation (JCWWP) started 2020 off, hoping for a year filled with joy, happiness, and Peace. We had plans to reach more people with our Art (free programs for students), Heart (free heart screenings), and Peace. Ah, Peace, this is what Justin, our Renaissance, young man, wanted beginning at the age of 4. He envisioned a world where all people are committed to creating, building, and designing a global environment of Peace.
We did accomplish some good things, but then the world changed in a flash-just like that. First, it was COVID-19, which then soon collided with the civil unrest that crossed the globe. We have shared some profound moments of pain, witnessing the dehumanization and corruption in our communities and country. It can be hard to know what to do and difficult to pinpoint precisely where the oppression has always lived.
Tragically, this world is still an overwhelmingly unsafe place for many with social identities— who don’t “fit in.” Yet, they still show up to school, work, watch tv, and walk outside while still stuck in unprocessed grief, enduring more stress, anxiety, and covering important parts of themselves. Some face a threat and reality of death every day combined with the loss of basic opportunities and dignity.
JCWWP went into action. We adapted to the change, listened, and mentored remotely, provided resources, supported mobile educational platforms that reach kids living in transitional housing. We produced the Good Grief webinar series, partnered with the Ceeds of Peace non-profit organization, and provided tangible ways and toolkits for individuals to grow Peace while navigating the toughest and most challenging parts of their lives.
“Thank you so much for the webinar you gave and thank you for sharing Justin’s story. Everything you spoke about was insightful and made me think more in-depth about the privileges I have had in my life because of my skin. I was also really interested in the breakdown of important actions that we, as individuals, teachers, children, corporations, and the media, must take to unlearn our racist behaviors and have empathy for everyone.”
“We are definitely in a time of examining and re-examining our biases. Even in the midst of this troubling time, I do believe the next generations are and will continue to move us forward.”
What did we learn? We learned that Grief is us. Good Grief is everyone who wants more, a better way to live when the worst thing has happened. JCWWP is offering an invitation for each of us to keep our hearts and eyes open as we continue learning, inspiring, and empowering ourselves to share our stories to challenge and be upstanders instead of bystanders. May we all make choices daily to lead inclusively with confidence during both uncertain and prosperous times. And, through Justin’s vision of world Peace, we can all reconnect to a sense of hope and regain purpose by doing the best so we can and grow Peace from here. Every day is a day of thanksgiving.
Remember, we are the mirrors for our children, who are the future. We have to teach them well and let them lead the way. Let them dream and realize their possibilities.
LET THERE BE PEACE ON EARTH AND LET IT BEGIN WITH YOU
In Peace and Love,
Justin Carr Wants World Peace Foundation
Contributions are accepted year-round, and we appreciate your support in helping us continue to be the change. Please see the back of the card for secure donation information. Thank you.
JUSTIN CARR was a young Renaissance man who loved the visual and performing arts. He was four years old when he started his quest to achieve world Peace. On 2/22/2013, at the age of 16, Justin died suddenly during swim practice at his school. He had an undiagnosed heart condition (cardiomyopathy), which resulted in his Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). SCA is the #1 Killer of student-athletes, contributes to the #2 Medical cause of death of individuals under the age of 25, and is the #1 cause of death on school campuses. JCWWP is a 501(c) 3 created in Justin’s honor and memory and his desire for world Peace. Our mission is to promote and support world Peace through education, mentorship, scholarship, heart screenings, and heart health awareness.
JCWWP BOARD: Tona’ Broussard, Susan Toler Carr, Darrell Carr, John Sampson, & Greta Wallace
JCWWP 2020 Missions Accomplished
AED Donations & Free Heart Screenings
Awarded Student Scholarships
Parent Heart Watch Conference Speaker and PSA’s Participants
JCWWP Art Exhibit
Supported Programs for Marginalized Youth
Produced Good Grief Webinar Series & Toolkit
SECURE WAYS to DONATE your Tax-Deductible Contributions to meet our Art, Heart & Peace Goals.
Justin would be 24 years old today. He was our 24-karat humble child who did not know his true brilliance. He was also our little golden Junior Olympian
Like 24 karat gold the color cannot be changed without changing the purity.
All things we knew about Justin can never be changed either…
Justin was the 4-year-old boy who prayed for World Peace
and the 16-year-old boy who left this earth while doing the butterfly swim stroke.
Transitions can be unexpected, and some are necessary and inevitable.
A timeless birthday ritual is making a wish before you blow out the candles on the cake. Growing up in our household when it was your birthday you got to choose your favorite meal for dinner and your cake of choice. We always knew when my brother Greg’s birthday was coming because he frequently asked my Mom not to forget his steak every time she went shopping and it had to be a big steak at that. To this day Greg’s wife still cooks him a steak on his birthday.
Well it’s September 13, 2020 and another year without Justin— our forever young Renaissance man. The thought of his absence is sometimes hard to comprehend. Just when summer is over our stomachs start to turn as September approaches. Justin was born on this day and it marks a glorious day for us, our family, and friends. We celebrated Justin arrival into this world and now it’s sometimes a dreadful marker. He is not here to eat his favorite Thai food or a chocolate mint kind- of -cake and Oreo ice cream in celebration of his special day.
On Justin’s last birthday I baked him the receipe he found for the craziest double mint, chocolate loaded- with -sugar brownies that he wanted to take to school and share with his friends.
Since it was a school night and homework was not unavoidable he devoured his favorite Thai dishes and as he was blowing out the candles he looked into the camera and said, “Thank you guys for raising and loving me.” Who would have even imagined that this would be his goodbye message to us?
So now I must thank Justin 24 times. Here are 24 karats for You!!
Thank you, Justin for being:
*These above 5 traits are how Justin described himself and now they are the branding on our peace sign logo.
16. Future Focused
22. Family orientated
24. Our Superstar Son
My 24 Wishes for Justin and the World as we strive for peace are:
I hope you are
My Wishes for the World are:
24. How about Seasons of Love
Justin, I know if you were here you would wish for some of the same things that I did.
Happy 24th Birthday Honey. I will miss you always and will love you forever.
A thought of Justin’s 21st birthday just crossed my mind. I brought a cake. The saddest thing for us was the thought that Justin had to watch us from afar mark this occasion. I told my friend Valerie that I burst into tears after I lit the candles. She wrote me the following:
“Those are the bumpy steps, the stairs of sand, the boulders you have to climb over. He is 21. His spirit is present. So yes. Celebrate his birthday. Have a cake. Light candles. Burst into tears. The best thing I read about crying is that it is memory coming out of your eyes.”
We will light a candle on a cake in honor and memory of Justin’s light that shined in our lives and we will probably burst into tears. It’s okay. This is a part of the seasons of love we have for you Justin.
Mom aka OTTO
How Do you Measure a Year? You Measure your life in Love…
I wrote this original email on Monday, June 1, 2020, at 12:19 am because I could not sleep ***A lot of people know that we lost our son Justin 7 years ago when he died from an undiagnosed heart condition during his usual swim team work out at school. He was 16 years old. For many years I was numb … I could barely breathe and sometimes I still can’t. I am sharing this because so many people have been asking my opinion and this is not just for my ” Grief Sisters”. It’s for anyone who wants to be a heart with ears, but does not know what to do.
Losing a child is like no others. For 5.5 years I drove 70 miles round trip twice a month to share in the comfort of other women who were carrying the heavy load too of losing their child. We still connect and talk as often as we can. We hold each other up when we face life issues that bring us down. This is what I call Good Grief.
I guess I’m writing this to you because together we have shared some deep moments of pain these past 6.5 years as we honor, morn and remember are children 24/7.
We know what grief is for losing a child or someone we love dearly. Grief comes in all types of situations. Right now before I go to sleep I just have to tell you that some of my grief I can’t hide. I am a black woman. I am married to a black man, I birthed a black boy and from an early age had to teach Justin how to respond to the rule of order. The weight is heavy…
I don’t care about your political persuasion. My parents and I as a black woman was raised on the premise of accepting all, treating everyone equally, right from wrong, honesty, integrity fairness, and equality, and no bullying. I have multi-international in-laws, nieces, and nephews who accept and honor their biracial identities. However, you will never know my unique pain.
No one really wants to trade places with a black person. Would you?
I just watched a professor ask an entire class of white people whether they would be willing to be treated the way blacks are treated today and no one raised their hands – so people should be screaming and yelling- our nation is so divided
Everyone in my family has faced racism. I just found out today that my nephew was stopped 14 times and counting on his way home from school to his home in a Bay Area suburb- never arrested always scrutinized and let go!
This week my wound that that has been a sore is wide open, hell it is bursting at the seams.
I have had to make some tough decisions in my life.
Today I fielded dozens of calls and messages from my White friends in tears and asking how they can help. I told them to read these books
I’ve read and seen the videos of the looting and destruction by people in distress or just plain ignorant. Very disturbing and many were staged Attacks of non-black people. I don’t condone violence.
I have witnessed friends go silent and avoid the discussion about the “ white elephant in the room” – the infamous Amy Cooper the dog walker in Central Park– who threatened the Black Man like he was a dog,.
Rant and rage about the destruction – but not about the death of George Floyd or others or other deaths of unarmed black men and women.
Some of the responses are oh too familiar as it was the day Justin died :
So I know you must be wondering what I feel – but not sure how to connect – maybe I have not crossed your mind – but you certainly have crossed mind these past few days. I thought : What are my sisters really thinking? Why have I heard from them? Something was different.
Here are a few other things To see and read if you have not already :
Anti-Racist Education bit.ly/ANTIRACISMRESOURCES (Note: this is a large compilation of resources put together outside of our community that we received through KQED’s Mindshift podcast.) Aspen Ideas with Ibram X. Kendi: How to Be An Antiracist (there is also a book by the same title)
Resources for Healing Racial Trauma Toolkit from the Institute for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture Historical and Current Context and my library providing largely untold but need to know American History “Just Mercy: A True Story of the Fight for Justice” and “Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults)” by Bryan Stevenson Equal Justice Initiativ: https://eji.org/ “The Half Has Never Been Told” Edward Baptist “America’s First Freedom Rider” Jerry Mikorenda “The Warmth of Other Suns” Isabel Wilkerson 1619 Project “13th” (documentary available on Netflix) “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” by Michelle Alexander”
So as you get through the days and years to come living through the aftermath of the civil unrest in our lifetime we are currently facing without ever having to face the other side of grief that I live witnessing discrimination because of the historical stereotypes – the color of my skin – know that you don’t have to be fearful of me of talking about “the white elephant in any room. “
I posted this yesterday on the FaceBook Page ” I went to a Catholic School in San Francisco”
AS QUIET AS IT HAS BEEN KEPT…FACING RACISM IN SF
I woke up this morning realizing I had to write to this page. Just my thoughts and I’m and not trying to stir the pot. These recent few weeks have been intense. Past memories have surfaced.
I can’t be silent anymore.
As quiet as it’s been kept.
Last Sunday during a family call I got more details from my brothers and nephews – all who attended catholic schools in San Francisco and the Bay Area about their stories of getting stopped and frisked while driving home or wherever in SF growing up. Sometimes they were let go as soon as they stated their full name and because of their name recognition “ Toler” Were they the 1% lucky one’s sort of right. But, most people don’t have that benefit!!!
My brothers poignantly and painfully recounted the dozens and dozens of times they and/or their friends were pulled over – scrutinized intimidated and released- as if it was yesterday… My nephew stopped 14 times and counting on his way home passing through Orinda, CA. 100% of the time they were let go never cited because they were stopped for no apparent reason.
My Dad was an Educator and Police Commissioner in the city — that never stopped the racism he encountered . He continued to stand on the right side and do his best. He did not complain he just kept it in. My Mom was also an educator and a counselor in SF . We were raised on the premise that everything is possible, accepting all,treating everyone equal , the difference between right from wrong, honesty , integrity, fairness and equality and no bullying . I have multi- international in-laws , nieces ,and nephews who accept and honor their biracial identities.
Every school I attended and every job I have had I have faced racism. I use my voice. Many friends in school often told me “I see what’s going on and it’s wrong I agree but I must remain silent …”. Or You should have won for student body President but you are black so I could not vote for you.”
Every African American person I know has encountered racism at various stages of their life and every black man I know has been stopped while driving “ black”.
Try and understand the history of why the death of George Floyd exposed so much more about inequities in this world afflicting African Americans. The cork was just released from the boiling teapot.
Listen to the Rev. Al Sharpton he got it right in my opinion
As we move forward in this chaotic USA I’m going to live by what my parents instilled in me. I’m glad I had the opportunity to attend a catholic school in SF. I forged friendships that I still have today and my brothers and sisters did too.
All I’m saying to you is that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Even though your life may not be affected by the plight of people of color know that we all are the mirrors for the children and they watch and repeat every
thing they see.
Last week I needed to get grounded and read some old notes and quotes my Dad wrote on Giving Children a clear sense of direction in 1971:
I see it as something for all ages.
Ten Traits of Character by Burl Toler :
1. Self- Discipline
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 Loving Memory of Justin Carr, by Susan and Darrell Carr