Season of love: happy 24th birthday Justin

Happy 24th Birthday Justin 

The Season of Love

How Do you Measure a Year?

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

Justin’s 4th Bday

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:

1.         Observant*

2.         Skillful*

3.         Creative*

4.         Helpful*

5.         Sensitive*

*These above 5 traits are how Justin described himself and now they are the branding on our peace sign logo.

6.         Talented

7.         Selfless

8.         Compassionate

9.         Courageous

10.       Passionate

11.       Ambitious

12.       Loving

13.       Empathetic

14.       Caring

15.       Determined

16.       Future Focused

17.       Discerning

18.       Motivated

19.       Flexible

20.       Logical

21.       Peacemaker

22.       Family orientated

23.       Humble

24.       Our Superstar Son

My 24 Wishes for Justin and the World as we strive for peace are:

I hope you are

1.         Safe

2.         Happy

3.         Curious

4.         Creating

5.         Helping

6.         Enjoying

7.         Loved

8.         Dancing

9.         Singing

10.       Smiling

11.       Designing

12.       Acting

13.       Hopeful

14.       Peaceful

15.       Joyous

16.       Engaging

My Wishes for the World are:

17.       Unity

18.       Equality

19.       Inclusiveness

20.       Honesty

21.       Kindness

22.       Anti-racist

23.       Happiness

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.

Uncle Marty’s tattoo in honor of his nephew Justin


Mom aka OTTO 

How Do you Measure a Year?  You Measure your life in Love…

Justin’s Custom BDAY cupcakes he designed
“Seasons of Love”  Jonathan Larson  

Five hundred twenty-five thousand

Six hundred minutes,

Five hundred twenty-five thousand

Moments so dear

Five hundred twenty-five thousand

Six hundred minutes

How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights

In cups of coffee

In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife

In five hundred twenty-five thousand

Six hundred minutes

How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love? 

How about love?

How about love? 

Measure in love

Seasons of love

Seasons of love

Five hundred twenty-five thousand

Six hundred minutes

Five hundred twenty-five thousand

Journeys to plan

Five hundred twenty-five thousand

Six hundred minutes

How do you measure the life

Of a woman or a man?

In truths that she learned

Or in times that he cried

In the bridges he burned

Or the way that she died

It’s time now to sing out

Tho’ the story never ends

Let’s celebrate

Remember a year in the life of friends

Remember the love (you got to remember the love)

Remember the love

Remember the love

Remember the love

Measure measure you life

Measure measure you life

Measure measure you life

Measure measure you life

Measure measure you life

Measure measure you life, ooh (seasons of love)

Seasons of love

Seasons of love

Seasons of love

Seasons of love

Seasons of love

In diapers, report cards

In spoke wheels, in speeding tickets

In contracts, dollars

In funerals, in births

Five hundred twenty-five thousand

Six hundred minutes

How do you figure

A last year on earth?

Five hundred twenty-five thousand

Six hundred minutes

How do you figure

A last year on earth?

Five hundred twenty-five thousand

Six hundred minutes

How do you figure

A last year on earth?

Remember the love

Remember the love (remember the love)

Remember the love

Seasons of love

Let me be the first to say…Good grief 6/1/2020

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 :

Don’t worry

Don’t cry

Be strong 

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 :

Resources for talking with children about racism and protests…/parents-talk-kids-racism-ge…/story……/talking-children-after-racial-i…

Anti-Racist Education (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:
“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”

Kareem Abdul Jabbar

Trevor says it right :

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. “

GOOD GRIEF… It’s complicated grief– but I had to let it out.

I’m exhausted.

Good night

Love, Susan


I posted this yesterday on the FaceBook Page ” I went to a Catholic School in San Francisco”


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. 

I’m tired.

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 

Or what Kareem Abdul said:…/dont-understand-the-protests-what…

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

2. Compassion

3. Responsibility 


5. Work

6. Courage 

7. Perseverance 

8. Honesty 

9. Loyalty

10. Faith 

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”


On the second day of April, Peaches was buried. It was a lonely ceremony that was surreal to witness from a car. Peaches birth name Carolyn was my husband’s only sister. She died in the hospital and was buried in a cemetery under the gaze of a family isolated from one another. It was unnatural; I missed how it should have been, how it used to be. It’s a COVID-19 world and yet Peaches didn’t even have the virus. She died as many died before coronavirus: cancer all through her body.

I have been to many funerals in my lifetime, including my son’s. Seven years ago, when Justin died suddenly at the age of 16 from an undiagnosed heart condition, I was devastated.

On the morning of his funeral, I was emotionally and spiritually paralyzed. But I didn’t have to worry about my family watching me from a car window. My sisters and brothers, my nieces and nephews, my friends held on tight to us that entire day as my husband and I struggled to breathe, to expel air.

Because a human story is meaningful, when their story ends, it is repeated among the mourners, and then repeated to those, not in attendance, and then repeated in our loneliest moments, and repeated in our dreams for our ancestors’ benefit. The story then is the footprint they leave behind that we gingerly walk in. But in a coronavirus world, the footprints are invisible. The story is condensed and oftentimes gone. I wrote this poem because I wanted to share the service of Peaches’ life to more people than the handful that were present. I wanted to remember and not ever forget. I also thought about the song from the play Hamilton… “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?”

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?

Never thought these words could be formed into a sentence
They can now because I witnessed one today—and wished I didn’t
For two weeks now we have been following the coronavirus stay -at- home rules
So, dressing in street clothes was a thing of the past
We are wearing comfortable sweats and pajamas not knowing how long the policy would last
As I was taking a shower before getting dressed up to leave
The words “Drive-up Funeral” hit me and I couldn’t comprehend or conceive
So, and I wrote them down
With a sigh and a frown
We got dressed up only for no one to see
And sit in the car and this was how it was to be
Husband put on his suit and tie
I put on my black and signature turquoise and wiped a tear from my eye
Rode to the cemetery where our only son rests
Along with his grandparents and two uncles who proceeded him in death
Another hole was dug next to the family plot for the only sister whom we celebrate today who took her last breath

The weather was clear and not a bird insight
Just like the day we last saw Peaches–barely a month before
At our beachside memorial for Justin with plenty of hugs and butterflies in flight
How did this happen? I am asking again how?
As we entered the unmanned cemetery gates
Who would want to buy a ticket for such an untimely fate?
The place was empty. No people or cars in clear sight
And once again to me the whole concept of a Drive-up funeral just didn’t seem right

My View From the Car 
Photo Credit by Susan C
My View From the Car
Photo Credit by Susan C

We drove to the designated marker and parked for our perfect view
Pulled up behind the hearse and I thought “ Oh Pugh!”
Two mortuary attendants shooting the breeze stood casually guarding the hearse
They were talking freely without gloves or masks until it was time for their usual verse

My View From the Car
Photo Credit by Darrell C

Eight family cars pulled up and parked on either side of the road
But no one got out only those that were told

Only the immediate family— no more than 8 could get out
Of their cars and wonder about
It was showtime for the attendants to start the procession
It was to be short and I knew that was their intended mission
Instead of handing out programs, they gave the select few gloves and masks
Trembling hands of all sizes somberly took them without even having to question or ask

Photo Credit by Darrell C.

This was the first glances of the family since we all got the news that their wife, mother, sister, grandmother had died
It was the day after Peaches death we gathered via a Zoom video call and we saw each others faces and had time to confide

They walked toward our cars standing six feet away donning masks and looks of despair
They waved and we waved never attempting to roll down a window for words or fresh air
Unimaginable to say the least there are no words…

This surreal funeral with no hugs, no handshakes no ability to comfort or to be comforted
No need to hold back our tears so you just let them flow
Can’t say words of sorrow or remembrance
Because the rolled-up windows sealed our emotions

The golden casket draped in a cascade of pink roses was swiftly moved by the hands of her loved ones, her husband, her sons, and her nephew—who could only do this jester but he had to back swiftly away from the limited seating services

Watching the mask-wearing family in shock sitting off the edge of their seats and holding their hands
Positioning themselves 6 feet apart as the mini service began
Can’t add 2 more people because all you get is 10
You must save a spot for the minister, mortuary and one for the patiently waiting cemetery groundsmen

Just before it began my cell phone rang in the car
It was Peaches daughter calling me so we could hear the service from afar
She asked could I hear and she turned on her phone speaker
I connected the people in those cars in front of us and behind even though the sound was weaker
This was the closest we would get the hear the minister speak
We listened carefully not to miss a word
The sound went in and out, but we managed to understand what we heard

Photo Credit by Darrell C.

Under tween granddaughters standing together 40 feet or more away from the casket under a tree with Mom

Photo Credit by Darrell C.

They could not be with Dad who stood by the casket of his mother numb
Surviving brothers, us wives, and sons and daughter sitting in separate cars
Nieces and nephews also sitting in cars with their doors ajar

The littlest 8-year-old granddaughter wearing a mask too big
Was tasked with getting Kleenex from the car—a brief little gig
She respectfully hopped skipped OVER the headstones using one hand to secure the oversized mask on her face

Photo Credit by Darrell C.

Wearing a mask and it’s not Halloween only for safety just in case
What was she thinking did she really understand?
That her grandma she loved shopping with could no longer hold her hand?

No words exchanged for a family in need of hugs
Emotions contained inside the car
Could not it even roll down windows to talk — this Drive -up funeral was just really bizarre

Hair disheveled
Eyes bloodshot red
Sweat pouring down foreheads
Ties adjusted
Heels sinking into the grass
Minds perplexed
Thoughts jumbled
What comes next?

Minister spoke his spiritual words in 19 minutes and his job was done
When he turned his head, we could see his multicolor mask as he walked swiftly away.
He waves to us “car stuck “people as he walks towards his Porsche
And puts his hand over his heart and does the thumbs up motion like a torch
But the family sits hopelessly looking at the lone casket
So, help me God what can be next?

Then the noise of the backhoe tractor starts up which I know was a sign for us to leave
So, they can scoop the dirt upon the casket until it meets the bottom of the adjacent branch trees

Photo Credit by Susan C.

My husband looks at me and says: “This is the hardest part for me

Let’s go…”

Not this again I know he is thinking…
He is hopelessly lost as he gets his last glimpse of his sister’s final house
He snaps a few more pictures as quiet as a little mouse

Cars start driving off from the Drive- up funeral
And the equipment starts moving the dirt

What ?? This Imitation of life movie over? Just like that? How much of a person’s life can be covered in a few brief minutes?
But this was all we could do during these uncertain COVID19 times

It was a life interrupted for Peaches who was just 71 years young :

No more of her famous potato salad
No more of her favorite pastime of shoe /clothes shopping
No more family gatherings with her
An empty chair at the table
An empty receptionist chair at her job
An empty passenger seat in the car
An empty side of the bed
No more cooking meals or driving to run errands
No more nagging to her husband to turn off the late-night TV so she could get her rest
No more sounds of calling Mama, Auntie Peaches, Grandma, or terms of endearment or recollecting of my wife , my sister, my aunt, my mom or for me sister -in -law

A life well-lived and an uncertain life left for us here

As I finish these notes of remembrance of my day, I want to make sure that we all understand that I share the same thoughts that I have learned from the Grief Recovery Method:

“Grief is the natural and normal reaction to a loss—an end in a familiar pattern of behavior. Grief is unique and emotional. You can’t compare or compete. Everyone handles grief in their unique way. There is no timeline or method in how one deals with grief or loss.”

One final stop before exiting the cemetery,
We drove by our baby’s grave who died too soon

Justin Wanted World Peace
We blew a kiss and said a prayer
Too much loss and way too much to bear
We tell Justin’s story now because he was not given the lease on life to continue living his

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?

This is real, this is the truth I can’t make this stuff up so what do you do or say?
I go back to my beloved mother’s words “ Let go and let God” might be the only way.

May you rest Peaches and hug everyone for me.

In Peace and Love,


My brother Greg in his consistent manor penned a poem in honor of Justin’s 23rd Birthday. I just saw it this morning in my unopened email and it is worth sharing. Thank you Greg for finding the words.

 September 13, 2019 

Celebrate Today and Make a Difference Each Day in Between 

Every year our birthday is the one day we look forward to celebrate. 

365 days in between each one sure is a long time to wait. 

Do you twiddle your thumbs counting the hours and days until your special day arrives? 

Or do you wake up each day and continue to thrive? 

Some wish for special things to make their day complete. 

Others do things that change lives even for strangers they just happen to meet. 

“Every day is a day of Thanksgiving, “a wise man once said. 

So, there’s no reason that we all can’t make a difference as soon as we exit our beds. 

I also know a wise young man who had a special way of celebrating between his special day. 

He continues to inspire us all in many ways. 

So, when you blow out your candles on that three-layer cake. 

Wish for some ways that you can make a difference for goodness sake. 

Happy Birthday Justin, you’re sure one of a kind and your presence will never cease. 

And one day I truly believe we will achieve world peace! 

Love Uncle Greg Toler (aka UGT) 

Justin and his Uncle Greg
Justin and his Papa Burl Toler the Wise Man Who often said : “Everyday is a Day of Thanksgiving…”
Justin and his Papa, Uncles and Cousins
Justin teaching his cousins how to perform…
Metta World Peace (former NBA Player) with Elizabeth Gregory holding a Justin Carr Poster
Photo Credit Beth Stokes
Gift Created by Felicia
From Africa with Love and a Message for World Peace

What Would Justin Turning 23 Look Like for Me? HAPPY BIRTHDAY JUSTIN!!!

Happy Heavenly Birthday—There is no other apropos greeting, right?

What Would  Justin Turning 23 Look Like for Me?

Yesterday the TV screen flashed a 23andMe genetic testing commercial. It only reinforced the inner feelings that I have been carrying heavy in my heart this month because Justin would have turned 23 years old today. So, I asked myself: “What Would Justin Turning 23 Look Like for Me?” People often ask me: “What do you think Justin would look like today? How would he wear his hair? Would he have a mustache or a beard? Where would he be working? What would he be designing? What would he think about the world we live in today?”

Justin, you were our star that was born on Friday, September 13, 1996.  It was our lucky day. Your birth and your life certainly continue to demand all the lights, cameras and action as they were on the first day you were born, and your air-breathing began. You opened your eyes and looked at me. T

Throughout your short 16 years, you continued to breathe life into others. Your little life took shape and you grew physically and your yearning to learn never stopped. You became a master of insight. When you were only 4 years old you asked God: “Help us achieve world peace.”  When you were 9 you wrote a note to Santa Claus: “ All I want for Christmas is World Peace.” You wanted to make this world better and a more inclusive place. You did your part. You have left us simple instructions to live by.

Justin loved planning and celebrating his birthday—and Darrell and I did too! The only time that he got mad was when he turned 13. We gave him a surprise party. He felt bad when he got to school the next day because he was confronted by his peers who were not invited… He did not know what to say when he was confronted so he took it out on me. He was used to going to his friends Sweet 16, Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs and parties.  He had heard that his cousin Taylor (who was his inspiration for a lot of things)  had her own “soul” version of a bat mitzvah and so he talked about wanting a “ Bro Mitzvah”. So that’s exactly what Darrell and I planned for his 13th Surprise party at the Lucky Strike at LA Live. You were surprised Justin and everyone enjoyed bowling, eating, listening to the coolest DJ, great food and dancing. It was fun!

Flashback of Birthday Memories
Taylor and Justin
Justin’s Surprise 13th Birthday Party

Any parent who has lost a child can only begin to even imagine how their child would change physically and mentally over the years. We have to put our imagination into full throttle as our thoughts take off. We can only create in our hearts and minds picture perfect images of what our children would look like. God bless us all as we try and live in this world called life without our children. There are some tough days but the sun does come out. It’s okay to Dare to Dream too!

Some things we can only leave to our imagination.

Justin was in the process of trying to grow his hair out in twists. He had just started shaving but I think today he might be sporting a mustache to mimic his Dad. 

Halloween Costume dressing up like his teacher Mr. Gaston

If he had majored in Architecture, he would be finishing up his 5th year of college.

Cal Poly SLO Architecture Camp
Cal Poly Architecture Camp

If he had majored in Technical Theater design, he might be creating a set for the next Broadway show in NYC?

Wesleyan College Technical Theatre Design Summer Program Justin’s Set and Design

But, he also could have changed his major to whatever he wanted.

I also know that as often as possible Justin would have been assisting the underserved or those whose lives have been ravaged from the aftermath of pain and suffering or natural disasters.  He would be speaking his truth, standing on the right side of democracy and carrying all of the “C”eeds of Peace” (Compassion, Courage, Commitment, Conflict Resolution, Community) and doing his best to make the world a better place.

Our DNA indeed tells the story of how you’re connected to populations around the world.

Justin was proud of his heritage and his multicultural aunts, uncles and cousins and his wide array of friends from all walks of life, culture and religions.

Ironically, today my brother Martel sent us his results from his genetic testing. Marty as I call him, love for his nephew Justin is literally shown as a tatoo on his arm. The tatoo is of Justin’s actual signature.

Uncle Marty’s Personal and Loving Tatoo
Justin and Uncle Marty

We are  Sub-Saharan African, European, East Asian & Native American. From Darrell’s test results he is Sub Saharan African, English and Native American. So, combining these makes Justin carry a little bit of everyone in his ancestry. He was proud of who he was. He loved being an African American. Accepting others despite their differences should be simple.

Thanks to Father Leo LaRocca the children in Uganda know about Justin
Beautiful Children of Uganda

Words Matter so I will leave this Birthday Post dedication with Justin’s words and the words of others:  

Jeanne M. Huybrecht’s, head of Harvard-Westlake schools, wrote in an email on the day Justin died…

“It is impossible for me to summarize all that Justin was in just a few sentences,”

“Scholar, athlete, singer, actor, ebullient child, he was an extraordinary young man by any measure.”

My words to Justin…

Justin you were born to fly. You were a young renaissance man on a mission who was a Reflective Humanitarian ,with a Copious Personality and infectious smile, Who Created Voraciously, Who Gave Love Naturally, With Heart Filled with Life.

Justin loved the poet Langston Hughes and I think some of his brilliance channeled through Justin… Justin felt he was the “darkest brother” in many environments. Yet that did not stop him…


I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.


I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”



They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

In Justin’s own words when he described himself in 6 words:

 “Darkest in Water, Brightest on Stage”

Justin’s Poem he wrote 3 weeks before he died for English homework. Darrell and I did not see it until months later.

After Langston Hughes”
 Theme for English III

By: Justin Eugene Carr

The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.

And let that page come out of you— Then it will be true”

I am an only child.

Not one of three, 

Just me.

I go to a school where I feel like a fly in a bowl of milk. 


Walking down halls where I am one of three… 

Or at least one of the few with dark skin like me.

The kinks in my hair and the dark skin I wear connects me to the trailblazers 

Who struggled to clear paths in order to make my journey easier.

As I walk through the white halls with the white walls,

I see the footsteps of Martin, Malcolm, and Coretta before me.

Their pain and suffering endured just so I can be me,


In my classroom,

I don’t sit in the back waiting to be called on

Because the sea of seats are all available to me.

It’s hard for me to imagine

Being stationed in the back just like my mother and father were, 

Where they couldn’t even see,
that they were lacking opportunity.

I turn on the TV to see faces with brown tones

Sing through microphones,

Not of yesterday’s sorrows,

As the wounds have healed leaving scars of remembrance

Then I look back at me and what do I see? 

Not a rapper or a ball player,

But a boy with dreams.




So, for me, if Justin were here we would of course celebrated him in some form or fashion today– wherever in the world he may have been. I would hope that he was happy, taking care of himself and others, thriving in his own way, doing his best and being comfortable in his own skin. I know that he still would be so much taller than me, his smile would still be beautiful, I would welcome dancing with him in the kitchen and I would continue to let him be and he would roll his eyes at me and tell me to calm down!. That is Justin Turning 23 Would Look Like for Me…

 Justin even though you finished your life here on earth at the young age of 16 but we will honor and remember you all the days of our life.  

Justin’s Artwork from 4th grade

Justin, You are beautiful. You were a true American. He always said that people are really connected and we are all family!

Happy 23rdBirthday, Honey!

I love you more and your Dad aka “ Darnel” loves you always. We miss you .

Dad’s favorite place to sneak a meal
Birthday Celebrations
My Baby
Father and Son
Justin helping to build a home in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina



Somehow, I learned that when Justin died it was the day that the world changed not just for us but for many. I can’t believe it’s been 6 years and counting that our precious son Justin – our young Renaissance man left this earth. We all remember what we were doing at the time kind of a similar shock to when the attacks of 9-11 hit or the assassinations of JFK and MLK— but this time it was my boy wonder who was a mere 16!! However, I must say that I smile sometimes because Justin’s character and mission for world peace ripples have crossed the waters.

“It was the 22 of February

The day I’ll always Remember

You see that was the day that my baby died.”

Over the years I have been able to put pieces of his last hours together. And now on this Mother’s Day I am happy to report that Justin was  indeed LOVING LIFE!

  • He called me about an hour before he actually died. He was happy he was seemingly healthy we did not know he had a heart condition. He was in his element. He told me he was bringing Molly to Pasadena so they could go to see her Moms production of Hair Spray. He had been campaigning for his school to do a  stage production more relevant and diverse. He often laughed out loud hearing his favorite Theatre teacher Reese Pugh — who was not as familiar with the show. He called “Hair Spray” “Hair Gel”. lol The next year with Reese at the helm, the high school cast lived out Justin’s dream.

So after Justin finished school that day…

  • His friend told me that they were in the theatre talking for a few hours . He told her that she should go ahead and write that children’s book she always dreamed of doing and that should not be a failure in the eyes of her parents!!! He assured her that it was possible she could live her life just the way she planned because “ My parents let me do the things I like to do.” Justin was living his best life and also encouraging his friends to do the same.
  • He had been secretly video recording Birthday greetings for Chanell with her with his school mates and teachers and choir director ” Rodger ” as the kids fondly called him behind his back
  • He was excited that he would be a guest dancer in 8  parts of the upcoming show.
  • Poolside he was singing one of his favorite Beyonce’s song with his girl Chanell “ End of Time”  OMG!!!!!

End of Time


…“Take, you away, from here
It’s nothing between us but space, and time
I’ll be your own little star, let me shine you up
Or your own little universe make me your girl”…

He met his teammate Nina for the first time that day… She later found the words and shared her story to us and said that Justin taught her how to dance like nobody is watching…

He was happy.  He was “ Loving Life”

Justin’s littlest cousins were just 2, 2 ,7  and 12 at the time. In their own way, they carry their big cousin Juju with them. Kids grieve too you know so never discount them. They know when familiar things change.

  • JJ who at 8 years old now plays his sports like he is a Junior Olympic style athlete and he wants to wear Justin’s favorite number on his football jersey. My sisters say that JJ rolls his eyes and moves out furniture to flips cartwheels– just as Justin did… Justin was a Junior Olympic Swimmer you know…
Justin and his little cousins

  • Dashton is the builder- the Methodical thinker and the swimmer. He can still say Juju’s name with a BIG smile without any hesitation.
  • Mia ,the dancer, and artist is quiet and growing up fast. She still seems unsure of how to face the loss of her favorite cousin Juju who used to dance, sing , play and draw with her.
  • Dylan is making her mark taking care of business in high school and being a good friend. I’m sure she would allow only her cousin Justin to drive her fresh new car.
  • Justin’s older Cousins  Christianna, Burly, Cam, Pita, and Beina are all doing good by adding to the family tree, teaching and coaching others who need it the most, helping underserved students, and just being the best mentors that they could be.

I hope the two littlest cousins Bo and Hendrix whom he never got the chance to meet, learn a bit about their cousin Juju in the days and years to come. I see Hendrix knows all about the JCWWP luggage tags that have made their way around the world.

I think Justin made his mark and had spread his wings worldwide on so many levels. Some of his peers choose a different route besides college and that is perfectly ok because we are all not the same and everyone has their unique passions. I choose happiness vs. prestigue.

Post College Graduation Justin’s peers are doing their thing:

  • Working in the Visual & Performing Arts
  • Writing & Creating music and films
  • Working casual jobs, for non-profits, social justice, underserved populations, in all areas across the spectrum including teaching and working on Wall Street
  • In Graduate Schools
  • One of his” world traveler” friends continues to make her mark around the world helping others. She was the Rhode Scholar candidate for her university!!!! So proud of her!!
  • One young man who heard Justin’s story now is preparing himself to attend Medical School to become a cardiologist.
  • Another young lady is teaching 4th-grade students. She includes social justice in her curriculum- you see you are never too young to learn right from wrong we are the mirrors of the children.
  • His Best Friends are in law school
  • Butterflies are a part of my life the color turquoise will shield me in some way and my mothering instincts will never ever leave me. I recently read that Duchess Megan wore a turquoise necklace when the world met baby Archie for peace and tranquility. I like that choice!!


Justin’s absence does make the heart grief founder.

Darrell starts one project after another and continues to work in his garden.

Honoring his love of his only son through the art that he creates- art… especially what he gave me last night.

Today I played Natalie Coles Song ” I MISS YOU LIKE CRAZY” forJustin and some of the words I can definitely relate.

“I miss you like crazy, I miss you like crazy
Ever since you went away, every hour of every day
I miss you like crazy, I miss you like crazy
No matter what I say or do, there’s just no getting over you”

Love you the talented Darrell always Justin’s Dad and for taking thousands of pictures and as this collage shows every picture tells a story!

I was wondering what Darrell Carr was working on these past 4 days.Well last night he surprised me with his crown jewel piece of art. He told me “ I did not know what to get you so I made this… I cried many a night looking at all these pictures of our son we created. “ I was on the floor – again and not holding back any tears and neither was Darrell. He said” I wanted to blend Justin’s picture into his piece of art, that’s the butterfly that flew on your finger in Costa Rico and all of these are pictures I took over the years. You are Justin Carr World-Peace mom!”


A few weeks ago my local style ” Marie Kondo- the organizer Connie who was introduced to me by Jeru (the connector) is a true delight as she helped me clear my brain. She is spunky, fast and non- judgemental. 

She held my hand when I found some hidden treasures tucked away. My heart skipped a beat when my eyes viewed the party drawer with the GI Joe and Harry Potter cake pans and the abundance of Bday cake candles, Easter egg kits, pumpkin carving tools, and Justin’s popcorn boxes from parties. But I hit the floor when I found a ceramic vase that Justin made I think in 8th grade because it profoundly said:


One thing I know for certain is that Justin did “ Love Life” this is the greatest gift of all. Remember- you should too. You never know what tomorrow will bring so, make that cake and be sure to eat it too!

I think that is what he would want me to do today is to “Love Life”

Happy Mother’s Day to any women with a heart who dare to love and help a child. My thoughts for the readers today…Sometimes you just have to stop and smell the flowers.

Love Life, Love your Family and Friends and spend time with those who are important to you. And Don’t forget to teach the children well. You are the mirrors for how they learn and live.

Justin, I love you forever and will miss you always and I am glad I have been gifted the chance to be your Mother, Mom, and Crazy Over the Top Olivia (OTTO) Forever and Daddy and I will continue to fight on!


A few weeks ago I was approached by Codie Oliver the Co-Founder of She wrote this piece and prepared this video of me as I speak my truth about being Justin’s Mom. Happy Mother’s Day to every woman. I know that in some way you have touched a child, young adult or adult in a mothering way. Please read Codie’s story and watch the videos. I’m good enough today as I honor and remember Justin 24/7 and so glad to be his Mom.

The Other Side of Motherhood

In addition, sent out an Instagram post and over 38k people have viewed it as of this morning. Although I don’t recognize myself with makeup on I think my message is honest, loud and clear.

In addition, I am part of a project with Luna Peaks about living with loss. I was approached by a creative young woman Gracelyn who is with the sudden loss of her Dad and helping others who live with loss.


Well, the spirit has hit me on the eve of Justin’s Birthday, I had to put pen to paper as we celebrate a life we loved and honor and remember the love we lost— our pride and joy—Justin.

It was the 13th of September 1996. This day I always remember.  That was the day that Justin Eugene Carr was born!! Justin would be 22 years old today.  What would he look like?  How tall would he stand? Would he have a mustache like his Dad aka “Darnell” as Justin fondly called him? Would his hair be in the trending broccoli style, mini dreadlocks, big afro or buzz cut? 


Where would he be? What would he be doing? One  thing I know for sure is that he should have graduated from college this past June albeit that never happened— along with all those other “ings” like going to the prom with his bestie Chanell, driving, applying to colleges, graduating from high school, going away to college, collaborating, enjoying THAT college experience, working, talking, strategizing, studying, playing, designing, applauding, acting, voting, helping, protesting or arguing for right or arguing with Darrell and me (if we were wrong in his eyes,) drinking libations? – although,  I’m not so sure about that. The few times when he was in the presence of underage drinking he would tell people that he was allergic to alcohol. That stopped all enquires on the spot.  Justin would be encouraging, helping others who are fraught or out of sorts, or just staying in the mix, sitting at our table for shared meals, eating Thai food, playing and engaging with his littlest cousins and surrendering to his older cousins even though he would be looking down on them— he loved that he was the tallest of the cousins.  Justin would be building and creating with his Dad, rolling his eyes at his aunties, telling me  I am Over the Top Olivia (OTTO), shopping with his uncles, dancing, singing, swimming, crying, laughing, loving, grooving to Beyonce marrying, parenting, and of course smiling a whole lot as he was living his best life and of course celebrating many Birthdays in real time.  

Hanging With His Auntie

Spending time with Papa and the Cousins

Dancing and Singing with the little cousins

Hugging his cousin Coco

Easter Partying with his cousins

Styling with his Auntie

Test Driving with Dad

Measuring up to his Big Cousins

Sporting New Shoes that his cool Uncle Martel purchased

Hanging with his cousins Riko and Mako


Rolling his eyes before swimming

Justin loved celebrating his birthday. He had surprise parties, family gatherings and so many unique birthday parties themed to whatever occasion was the highlight in his life from Gymboree to Disneyland, slipping  and sliding with his “brothers” Sean and Miles, making volcanos that actually erupted, watching a marionette puppet show in the backyard to sleepovers, bowling, laser tag, sports  themes, magic mountain adventures. He often had two parties. One with his friends and one with family. Once he told Darrell that all he wanted for his birthday was for the family to come over and interface and talk and NOT TURN ON THE TV.  He hated it when the kids, women, and men were all interacting independently.  He wanted everyone to talk to each other without distractions – even though it was FOOTBALL SEASON.  It turned out really well and it was a beautiful gathering. Hours into it, Justin declared it was OK to turn on the TV.  I think he got tired of talking to everyone.

Blowing out Candles

Getting Surprised at his 16th Party With Chanell

Slip & Sliding with Sean and Miles

Slurping down icy’s

Wishing before Blowing

And of course, we never strayed far from our childhood family tradition of being able to have your favorite food and cake on your special day.  He had custom cakes. Justin loved the white on white famous Costco cake, and Violets custom cakes hit Pasadena. He had a swimmers cake and custom cupcakes he designed with Mickey Mouse hats. I even made a volcano cake that actually erupted (with dry ice). Once I made the mistake of putting his basketball ice cream cake in the freezer for so long that we could not cut it.  He said “ Mom it really did not look like a basketball so we don’t need it anymore…

Justin did not really ask for a lot of stuff.  He was grateful for the gifts and he was diligent about handwritten thank you cards for each thing he received.  

Do things get better 5 years later after losing a child?  In all honesty, the answer is No.  Grief is the natural response to a  change in the familiar. There is no timeline or method. What we had as a family, what Justin’s peers lost of having him in their lives on campus or just a phone call, text or Skype away, what a school community had or never had will never be realized beyond his last day on Earth. It was the day everything in the world changed.  Justin was a gift to our family, to his peers, teachers and even strangers. Because of the intermittent touch points,  we receive from people, the ripples of his goodness live on.

So will celebrate forever. Justin still lives with us.  We carry him with us where ever we go. He is in my backpack. People don’t know what we carry.  People carry Justin with them to places he will never go.  His message of world peace has traveled to all 7 continents through JCWWP t-shirts, luggage cards, artwork, and bracelets.

On the Western Wall in Jerusalem

Tanzania with JCWWP tag and his cousins

Some of his friends engraved his initials inside of their class rings, wrote their college essays about him, placed pictures of Justin on their dorm room walls or in the Western Wall in Jerusalem, near Pyramids in Peru or recent in Tanzania. They made bedspreads with the JCWWP logo and even framed the logo on their kitchen walls.  Justin also shows up in his friend’s good deeds when they help others struggling   — in similar ways that Justin would have helped.  And we were beyond thrilled when even during recent graduation ceremonies, his peers added their Justin” isms” on their graduation cap with butterflies, #JCWWP or the peace sign. Some added might and energy to the plight and fight for justice for others during their college days, some changed their majors in favor of what they wanted to be. Some of his friends wrote songs, poems, music, and others continue to put the power to pen,  write, communicate with us through letters, phone calls, thoughts of remembrance, hugs or with words that touched us to the core. One of his friends left her purse in an NYC taxi cab by mistake.  When the next passenger entered she looked in the bag and saw the JCWWP card and contacted me. I figured out who she was and the purse was returned in tack within a matter of hours!

Look at this amazing message that came when I needed it the most. A gift indeed!

So with each butterfly we see in flight dancing and floating in the air we pause for cause because we think of Justin our butterfly swimmer. 


These are meaningful gifts and THINGS  we truly love as we honor and remember, our son, your friend, cousin, nephew, student, teammate, classmate or even if you learned about him after he died.  Darrell and I are certainly proud that we allowed Justin to BE all that he wanted to be during his short life– and he was happy doing those things too.  So, parents, I hope you place “happy child” above all things as your children try and are their authentic selves.  Justin  will forever be remembered as he coined his personal phase for the class assignment when he had to describe himself in six words: 


                         And for us,  Justin will be Forever Young!

Forever Young

Rod Stewart

May the good Lord be with you down every road you roam.

And may sunshine and happiness surround you when you’re far from home.

And my you grow to be proud, dignified and true.

And do unto others as you’d have done to you.

Be courageous and be brave.

And in my heart, you’ll always stay

Forever young. (Forever young)

Forever young. (Forever young)

May good fortune be with you, may your guiding light be strong,

Build a stairway to heaven with a prince or a vagabond.

And may you never love in vain.

And in my heart, you will remain

Forever young. (Forever young)

Forever young. (Forever young)

Forever young. Forever young

And when you fin’lly fly away, I’ll be hoping that I served you well.

For all the wisdom of a lifetime, no one can ever tell.

But whatever road you choose, I’m right behind you win or lose,

Forever young. (Forever young)

Forever young. (Forever young)

Forever young. Forever young

For forever young


You will be Forever Young and always in our hearts.

Love Mom & Dad

In Loving Memory of Justin Carr, by Susan and Darrell Carr