A few weeks ago I was approached by Codie Oliver the Co-Founder of BlackLove.com. 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.
In addition, BlackLove.com 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?
MISSING THOSESIMPLE THINGS
Where would he be? What would he be doing? Onething 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, applyingto colleges, graduatingfrom high school, goingaway 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.
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, sportsthemes, 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.
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 achange 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.
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 THINGSwe 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:
I remember the days when I would go to the Westridge Summer Camp Fair and find options for Justin to select for the summer. I must say that Justin was indeed aware and grateful that he was fortunate to be able to go places besides his front yard during the summer. I got there before the crowds and always managed to play my favorite childhood game.
Over the course of his life, Justin went to a slew of camps, many of which I found out about at this fair i.e. the NY Film Academy where he and his team made a movie about a boy getting bullied after school until he bounded with another boy and they became best friends. They stood up for each other when- others did not.
After his 4th-grade teacher told me “ I never call on Justin because I know he knows the answer- he will find his niche in college.” You know what I said back to her and what I did!!
I found the Institute for Educational advancement camp Yunasa (the Lakota Sioux word for “balance”). He went and he loved it. Yunasa supports the whole gifted child, encouraging growth and support of campers intellectually, socially, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. They allowed Justin to go at age 9-even though he was shy of the 11 year age start.
And then there was the Catalina Island Camp where we went EVERY year as a family because the Horner’s hosted our church. Justin learned how to snorkel, kayak, rock climb, and compost.
Then he found Harvard-Westlake Summer programs and the rest is history. He fell in love with the program, the school, and his mom on campus- Ms. Simon.
Up until last year, I was unable to even step foot near this fair. I took a leap of faith and chaperoned my friends who were looking for camp options for their kids. I was shielded on all sides by my friend Jenn, her husband and kids. I survived.
One of the things I loved about this fair was getting the chance to play was the good old fashion Cake Walk game.
Every year I would stand on a number and step to the music with the hopes of my number being called for cake. when the music stopped. Today was no different. I went to the fair to get materials for my friend. After entering, I told my friend Rene that I needed to make a stop at the Cake Walk game first. I bought tickets. I was shocked that the price had increased from $1 to $2, and I made a comment. The parent running it said kindly: “Inflation”. The music played and when the music stopped my number was not called. One of the working parents rushed over to me and said: “ Any adult playing this game with all of these kids deserves a cake!” I laughed and then said: Really? She said: Yes! She led me into the room and of course, I selected the best one on the table. The one that resembled a ” Susie Cake” It was from Becker Bakery. Don’t worry I will be sharing it with all of my neighbors.I then told the mother why I was even there to begin with- I shared Justin’s Story. I told her to love her daughter, don’t get caught in all of the hype and competition and let your child be. ” She hugged me and said she will remember what I said.
We scurried through the various booths and I was able to: Hug Maria from Catalina Island Camp Embrace Betsy- one of the founders of IEA See Coach Bible who was one of Justin’s Swim coaches at H-W. Bump into my friend Stephanie whom I just met 2 years ago. She was a mere stranger who found the words to confront me and not run away like some “friends” did. She was touched to the core by Justin’s story. She came up to me and said: “ You don’t know me but I went to your sons funeral. I was taken aback by your unimaginable loss. I only have one child… She told me a just a few weeks ago: “ I am both inspired and shamed that you as a mother of a child in heaven are more mother than 100 of us put together. I want to step up my game because of your example. I want to get closer to God because of your life of giving. You lift me up.”
They all mentioned Justin’s name. It feels good when other people are not afraid to mention my baby’s name. I love it when they do. And everyone said to me: It’s good to see you!”
When we left my friend Rene said: “ I don’t know how you do it and come to something like this. How do you feel? I said: “Life is not always a cake walk, I’m taking baby steps, and I carry Justin with me everywhere I go. He is walking with me now. ”
P.S. The cake was packaged and wrapped in plastic wrap so I really did not see the actual colors until I came home. Really!!
S.A.F.E. HEART SCREENING will perform the tests for ALL AGES 12-24 YEARS OLD
WHERE: HOLMAN UNITED METHODIST CHURCH 3320 West Adams Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90018
WHEN: SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2018 – 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.
Justin Carr wanted World Peace since he was 4 years old. He loved swimming, design and performing arts.
He was vibrant and a seemingly healthy 16-year-old Junior at Harvard-Westlake high school. He died during his usual swim team practice from an undiagnosed heart condition on February 22, 2013. Darrell & Susan Carr want to save other families from dealing with an unimaginable loss that can be prevented.
According to Parent Heart Watch, “Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is not a heart attack – it’s the sudden onset of an abnormal and potentially fatal heart rhythm that causes the heart to beat ineffectively or not at all. The underlying cause of SCA can be a heart condition you’re born with (often inherited) and/or can develop as young hearts grow. SCA can also be triggered from a viral illness, or a blow to the chest from an object or a person.”
Screenings are non-invasive (no needles or x-ray
exposures) and take about 20 minutes to complete.
Screenings include a health history review and ECG.
If the participant is under 18 years old and brings a
fully signed/completed screening packet, parents do not
need to be present at the event.
Female technicians screen girls in a separate area
from boys. Private screening areas available as needed.
Participants should dress in t-shirt and sweat pants
or sports shorts. Girls should wear a sports bra.
Instructions will be given if follow-up medical care is
recommended. Final reports will be sent after the
cardiologist formal review.
Marching to the Beat of the Drum… My Hamilton Story
Ending 2017 with a new beat.
Since 2015 my friend Amber kept telling how imperative it was for me to go see the play, “Hamilton.”
She ranted and raved that the cast and crew were magnificent and how Lin-Manuel Miranda is brilliant along with the whole production. She literally saw it a half dozen times.
For two years I blocked out any notion of attending such a thing. I did not read anything related to the hype of Hamilton because I knew that it was going to be too painful to go to see any show without Justin who loved all things related to the theatre—the set designs, acting, songs, dancing and reading the PlayBills. I had to protect myself and march to the beat of my own drum so to speak. Then she sent me lyrics to ” Quiet Uptown” When I listened I felt such a connection to it because the song depicted the aftermath of Hamilton and his wife losing their only son. I had no idea. It was our reality. I listened to it often.
because “ SPOILER ALERT” Alexander Hamilton and his wife lost their only son too… Need I say more?
“It’s Quiet Uptown”
[Angelica:] There are moments that the words don’t reach There is suffering too terrible to name You hold your child as tight as you can And push away the unimaginable The moments when you’re in so deep It feels easier to just swim down
[Angelica/Ensemble:] The Hamiltons move uptown And learn to live with the unimaginable
[Hamilton:] I spend hours in the garden I walk alone to the store And it’s quiet uptown I never liked the quiet before I take the children to church on Sunday A sign of the cross at the door And I pray That never used to happen before
[Angelica and women:] If you see him in the street, walking by Himself, talking to himself, have pity
[Hamilton:] Philip, you would like it uptown It’s quiet uptown
[Angelica and women:] He is working through the unimaginable
[All men (except Hamilton):] His hair has gone grey. He passes every day They say he walks the length of the city
[Hamilton:] You knock me out, I fall apart
[Company (except Hamilton and Eliza):] Can you imagine?
[Hamilton:] Look at where we are Look at where we started I know I don’t deserve you, Eliza But hear me out. That would be enough If I could spare his life If I could trade his life for mine He’d be standing here right now And you would smile, and that would be enough I don’t pretend to know The challenges we’re facing I know there’s no replacing what we’ve lost And you need time But I’m not afraid I know who I married Just let me stay here by your side That would be enough
[Company (except Hamilton and Eliza):] If you see him on the street, walking by her Side, talking by her side, have pity
[Hamilton:] Eliza, do you like it uptown? It’s quiet uptown
[Company (except Hamilton and Eliza):] He is trying to do the unimaginable See them walking in the park, long after dark Taking in the sights of the city
[Hamilton:] Look around, look around, Eliza
[Company (except Hamilton and Eliza):] They are trying to do the unimaginable
[Angelica:] There are moments that the words don’t reach There is a grace too powerful to name We push away what we can never understand We push away the unimaginable They are standing in the garden Alexander by Eliza’s side She takes his hand
[Eliza:] It’s quiet uptown
[Company (except Hamilton and Eliza):] Forgiveness. Can you imagine? Forgiveness. Can you imagine? If you see him on the street, walking by her Side, talking by her side, have pity They are going through the unimaginable
Darrell works often in his butterfly garden for release and for dealing with our unimaginable loss.
A few years later in 2017 something finally hit me. When Darrell and I were discussing what to get Justin’s best friend aka “Twin” Chanell for her upcoming gift from graduating from the University of Michigan.
Hamilton seemed like the perfect gift. We always like to give gifts that are memorable, usable and practical. She and Justin often sang through their homework nightly via Skype, they were in choir together, loved Beyonce and theatre. The last show they saw together was “Memphis” the Musical. The feeling I had inside was that it was ok to go and share the stage with Chanell and I would survive seeing it. I said to myself: You can do this!! Justin would want this. He would say: “Mom you got this!”
In March I was fortunate to I was able to snatch up tickets for face value. I met Chanell for lunch after she graduated, I gave her an envelope. When she opened up the card her facial expression was priceless. I thought I was looking at Justin. She put her hand on her face, and ecstatically said: “ How did you get these tickets? OMG Center Orchestra? She had to take a picture to share with her close friends. She was so animated. She was overjoyed. She responded the way I thought Justin would have. It made me feel good.
Showtime was 6 months later. We got there early to savor the moment. Chanell was pinching me throughout, mouthing some of the songs and shaking her head. The twin effect was really working her. I thought that I was next to Justin for a few minutes.
Her hands went up in the air on the song “Just Say No” She knew all the words to every song!!!
“ Just say No… There’s nothing like summer in the city Someone under stress meets someone looking pretty There’s trouble in the air, you can smell it And Alexander’s by himself, I’ll let him tell it
I hadn’t slept in a week I was weak, I was awake You neverseen a bastard orphan more in need of a break Longing for Angelica Missing my wife That’s when Miss Maria Reynolds walked into my life, she said
I know you are a man of honor I’m so sorry to bother you at home But I don’t know where to go, and I came here all alone
My husband’s doin’ me wrong Beatin’ me, cheatin’ me, mistreatin’ me Suddenly he’s up and gone I don’t have the means to go on
So I offered her a loan, I offered to walk her home, she said
You’re too kind, sir
I gave her thirty bucks that I had socked away She lived a block away, she said
This one’s mine, sir
Then I said, well, I should head back home She turned red, she led me to her bed Let her legs spread and said
That’s when I began to pray Lord, show me how to say no to this I don’t know how to say no to this
But my God, she looks so helpless And her body’s saying, hell, yes
No, show me how to say no to this
I don’t know how to say no to this
In my mind, I’m tryin’ to go (go, go, go)
Then her mouth is on mine, and I don’t say
No, no (say no to this) No, no (say no to this) No, no (say no to this) No, no (say no to this)
Like most, we thought the show was absolutely fabulous. The final song will be Darrell and my guide as we will always celebrate and remember Justin in all things that we do.
“ Who lives who dies who tells your story” [WASHINGTON] Let me tell you what I wish I’d known When I was young and dreamed of glory You have no control:
[WASHINGTON AND COMPANY] Who lives Who dies Who tells your story?
It was close to midnight when we started making our way down the streets of Hollywood to our cars. We were yacking back and forth sharing our favorite songs.
All of the sudden, a random stranger wearing all black, a baseball cap and a backpack walking just a few steps in front of us turned his head and asked: “ Did you just see Hamilton?” Hesitantly, I said Yes. Did you? He turns around and shows this badge hanging around his neck and said: YES. I’M THE DRUMMER FOR THE SHOW. I thought for a minute, he is no stranger to me!! (lol) More tickets!!
We stopped in our tracks and I started asking a million questions. My first one, of course, was: “ Can you get me more tickets?” He laughed and said: You and everyone else!” Then I said: “Where did you learn how to play the drums?” He said he learned everything in the Public Schools of Oakland California. He raved about his mentors and teachers that he had. I said OMG, I’m from San Francisco. What schools did you go to? He told me that he was in the San Francisco Production of Hamilton too? I was amazed. As I said, I had a plate load of questions. What’s your call time? Do you sit in the pit? Where do you guys live? He said his drum set is so big, he has a room all to himself. I told him I was so glad that he was able to make a living out of the performing arts and beat to the rhythm of is own drums.!!!
He proceeds to tell us that he and his wife decided to get a place down here. They fell in love with a house that only had one open house. His wife wrote the owners a note. They were able to get it. When he told me the name of the city he lived I said OMG that is where I live. I then asked, What street? When he responded I said OMG, OMG that street is just a few blocks from my house!!!!!!! And guess what, the name of his street means butterfly …
I then told him about Justin our butterfly the swimmer and his love for the visual and performing arts, how he saw Lion King 5 times and Wicked 5 times and Memphis 2 times, his connection to Chanell and how hard it was coming to this play because he would have loved all things about it. He paused and said: That is utterly sad about your son. I don’t know what to say. So glad you were able to come find some peace in this production!!! Let’s get together for breakfast soon.” He posed for a picture. I said, don’t forget to be sure to let me know if you ever have extra tickets. We all laughed and hugged each other. Chanell and I were speechless. We just shook our head.
What are the chances that we meet the Hamilton orchestra drummer who was certainly playing that funky music with every beat of his drum? It was as if Justin was part of the plan. Timing is everything. As we end 2017 I guess I have a little peace of mind as we venture into 2018 always Justin’s Mom #JC4WPMOM
I can’t make this stuff up!! Just ask Chanell!!
Thanks Amber for insisting and giving me a little joy in this life as both of us know for sure it can change fast!!! Happy Birthday to you too!!
Encouraging words in 2017 have helped us continue to move each day as we remember and honor our beloved son Justin. Each year we receive so many great messages of hope and reflection from people we know and strangers as noted below. Social Media has been good to us. These highlighted messages below show how Justin still continues to impact even Those Who Never Met Him…
A 2017 FaceBook Message from Mia Ehrenberg:
“Hi Mrs. Carr, I hope you are doing well. I met you several years back at the SDLC conference in Washington DC, which I attended as a student at Campbell Hall. I was touched by Justin’s story and even more so after hearing personal stories from Chris Lopez, who I’ve become close friends with since the conference. Anyway, I am writing today because I’ve recently become friends with some people on the swim team at Johns Hopkins (I am a sophomore here). I mentioned being from LA to a person on the team who wasn’t even from LA and had never met Justin, but they knew many stories about how talented and kind he was because they’d heard as much from the LA swimmers on the team. I thought it was really special how his legacy has spread because only a person as special as he was would inspire such sharing and memory. I thought you might want to know because while I know nothing can bring him back, I hoped it might help to know that Justin inspires so many of us and his legacy will live on with us. Thank you again for sharing his story with me that weekend at SDLC and I hope you have a lovely holiday season and new year.”
This is a picture of Mia a rising star who found words and contacted us.
A 2017 JCWWP Website Message:
This message came from our website right around Justin’s birthday in September. It gave us chills. It was indeed a gift. We were able to meet this admirable student a few weeks ago when we spoke at the UCLA Saving Hearts Student Organization last month and had a chance meeting with Bryce. Lesson learned, you never know who is watching or listening to you.
My name is Bryce Bentley and I am a Junior at UCLA. I am the Student Coordinator for the UCLA Saving Hearts Foundation. I would like to speak with you regarding an event that we are planning in the Los Angeles area. We would like your help and input to provide free heart screenings to high school students. In 2015, Justin Carr’s parents spoke to a group of teenagers at a Jack and Jill event. I was one of those teens. Their heartfelt story has been in my thoughts since that day. Partly because of that, I became a pre-med student at UCLA with the intent of becoming a cardiologist. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Sincerely, Bryce Bentley
Bruin and Trojan together Susan and Bryce…
An Email Message from the 2017 Scholar
This poem came to us a few minutes after this student received notice that he had been awarded the JCWWP 2017 Scholarship. We did not know that N’jhari was also a swimmer and a poet…
He found the words…
“Thank you for contacting me. I must say when I got your email, it was bittersweet and that’s just being honest. It is truly the BEST letter I have ever received and it will be with me forever and will be a constant reminder to always do the right thing.
“Darkest in Water, Brightest on Stage”
Though the roosters have yet to sing, Sun no interest in being seen, coach’s whistle screams it’s time to hustle. The water no longer still, like waves of the ocean my frame takes the ride. Whitewater rafting sounds fun; tho’ for now kicking up bubbles legs on fire seconds count down to the wire. Finding fun without the sun hard enough, coach yells, “it’s not rough, now get tough.”
Mumbling frustration is quite hard while swallowing the saltiness choking on discipline with an unpleasant grin; better focus and pray hard. Oh, my aching shins filling these breaststroke fins. Eyes on the prize, mind right. Oh, look it’s daylight! ‘Darkest in water’, unseen threat, taking all bets while helping my teammate be his best. No arrogance or conceit, making it tough to beat even in defeat head held high, shaking hands because I’m a man standing accepting His plan.
Curtain call, lights like fire, perspiration breaks still no threat. Confidence a shield, the smile says hello. He’s ready, heart shown with e’vry move, never rude. ‘Brightest on stage’, his platform was made. His message soars across the risers, words take flight just maybe tonight a kind hand extended humble and meek. Justin Carr Wants World Peace! Renaissance man always extended a hand. Tho’ the last bow taken not, with e’vry wave, looking at the stage, I’ll help seek, world peace.
The Justin Carr Wants World Peace Foundation
By, N’Jhari J.
Because of your support we were able to accomplish so much this past year with respect to:
We also learned firsthand about Kintsugi –the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold and lacquer. It’s the philosophy that something broken can be remade into something even more beautiful. Something that we realized we’ve been doing—with your help and support—through JCWWP in homage to Justin…
We are so grateful for your continued support as we remain steadfast in expanding Justin’s messages of hope, peace, inclusion, and love. It surely takes a village. One thing that we also know is that a broken tree can still bear exceptional fruit. We are all of the same branch reaching towards the sun. God touches us. We touch you. You touch someone else. Next year we hope to continue to not only do the same but more. Thank you.
DONATIONS CAN BE MADE TO THE JUSTIN CARR MEMORIAL FUND YEAR ROUND:
VIA REGULAR MAIL:
PASADENA COMMUNITY FOUNDATION
301 E. Colorado Blvd., Suite 810 | Pasadena CA 91101
Add: Justin Carr Wants World Peace Foundation in the memo
Justin wrote this letter in 2004 when he was 8. He and his Dad always loved watching all things Star Wars.
So when Justin was 10, he decided he wanted to be Mace Windu—the fictional character in the Star Wars franchise, portrayed by actor Samuel L. Jackson.
He would not settle for the usual over the counter costume so he commissioned our dear friend Sherrie Brooks (who sews very well) to make his authentic costume- and that she did. He went with her to get the best fabric close enough to the outfit worn by his idol.
He was so happy with Sherri finished product. The last request he had was for his Dad to shave his head bald so he really could look just like Samuel L. Jackson!!!
Fast forward to February 5, 2013 (2 weeks before Justin died) He and his dear friend Arielle Winfield spearheaded the Harvard Westlake Black Leadership and Cultural Club (BLACC) Event with the surprise guest Samuel L. Jackson. The room buzzed with joy when Samuel took to the stage. His story was profound. He opened up his heart beyond the big screen. He shared that he was a swimmer. His mother made him be on the swim team to keep him out of trouble. He also wanted to be a marine biologist- just like Jacques-Yves Cousteau he said.Furthermore, he shared that he almost hit rock bottom with his drug consumption—it was from the unconditional love and support from his wife LaTanya that saved his life…
Justin was so happy of the outcome of the event. It was a huge success.
The night before Justin’s Celebration of his life I looked in my Spam folder. What a blessing I did because this letter was in it. It made me smile. It is truly a gift in this circle of life.
See the video of Justin introducing Samuel L. Jackson
I answered the phone. The chipper voice on the other end said:“Hi Sue, this is Nat are you coming to the 2017 Harvard-Westlake (H-W) graduation to see Lauren?” I paused hard. I then took a deep breath. I honestly told her that I was not sure at the time but I assured her that I would think about it. Justin was like Lauren’s big brother. She attended H-W because he strongly encouraged her. Justin attended H-W from the strong insistence of his big sister Taylor Vaughn Lasley and her mother Merle.
After I broached the subject with Darrell we totally agreed that we could do it. Besides, so many students who knew Justin were in that class, and many students from the school still support Justin’s “Dare to Dream” program and furthermore, we are still a part of the H-W community. The last time we were on that field was for Justin’s class graduation in 2014. It was unimaginable, to say the least, but he was celebrated posthumously in the highest regard. It will be a day I will never forget…
I entered from the track and was instantly spotted by my dear friend Nasreen. She was shocked to see me. She was speaking with a lady. She introduced me and I said my quick hello and goodbyes and wandered to find a seat. Darrell had already made a detour to sit in the shade near the bleachers.
As I waited for Merle, the same lady that I had just met with Nasreen walked over and sat behind me. Her name was Heather. We began chatting. I asked her did she have a child graduating and she said yes. Her son Collin. She then began telling me that her daughter Kassie — who was weeks away now from graduating from college—was on the swim team with Justin. She said she was hesitant to talk to me ( when she realized who I was) but something inside her was so strong that she had too. She recapped the indelible impact that Justin had on the whole school community and especially her daughter and his teammates. We could not really fight back the tears of remembrance.
I told her that my new mission in life was to help kids use their voice, seek their passion and for the world to change how we have been taught to deal with grief and loss. You see the reality about grief is that it is emotional and it shows up in many forms from the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a move, a divorce, an illness loss of safety, an election and lord knows what the aftermath of these hurricanes are going to do to those affected in so many ways.The hopes, dreams, and futures have been wiped away in a matter of seconds… That’s exactly happened to us. She mentioned that her husband was a pediatric cardiologist and that she too was a pediatrician. I said I sure wished we had met you guys before our unimaginable loss. She mentioned that in their medical field even though they save lives every day, many times people grieve their illness for many years.
She then said she wanted us to meet her husband Kevin and that we should come over to the camp her husband runs on Catalina Island. They run it for 3 weeks at the end of summer each year.
http://www.campdelcorazon.org. They are 23 years in the making now… Camp del Corazon is an organization that provides a medically supervised, residential summer camp for children ages 7-17 who are living with heart disease, as well as additional programs for these children and their families. I said Heather, don’t tell me is it at Catalina Island Camp? http://catalinaislandcamps.com
And she said: Yes it is. I almost gasped for a breath. I said are you’re kidding me? Then since I can’t make this stuff up, I told her that Justin and our family went to that camp every year for about 10 years because the owners of that camp– Tom and Maria Horner are our friends from Altadena and they are members of our church St. Marks.
Every year since Justin was in Kindergarten we would venture over there because they hosted our church members for “Family
Camp” during the Memorial Weekend. Justin loved that place!!We always shared the cabin with the Parr family and Justin’s surrogate brothers Miles and Sean. Lauren and her family went too. Justin learned to snorkel, kayak, rock climb, high ropes, archery etc. I, on the other hand, get seasick so I always wear my sea band and lay down on the trip over there. When I got there I enjoy the water and hiking and soaking in all of the beauty.
For the past 4.5 years, I have often thought to myself that I will NEVER go to Catalina Island again… A place where Justin went for years and loved. Like the graduation, I had to think about it. Her husband and his team started this camp for kids with heart disease. They provide this free opportunity for girls and boys age 7-17 to come and just be a kid for 5 days. Some are sicker than others, some don’t make it the next year because they may have died. But for the days that they are there, they LIVE to the fullest.
A few weeks after the graduation we had dinner with the Shannon’s. They are so loving and compassionate. Dr. Kevin Shannon was patient with my million questions about the “What ifs I had with Justin’s demise” He definitely had the BEST Bedside manners of ANY Dr. I have ever met. I asked him why he started the camp. He said over 20 years ago he took the risk and was able to save a 9-year-old boys life with a new heart surgery. Every time the kid came for his check up appointments he wore two t-shirts—he was hiding his scars from the surgery. He thought to himself, “ I just saved this kids life and he is embarrassed from his scars. This can’t happen… So that was how this camp was created. Kids from all walks of life could come experience camp and do all the activities where they can be successful. They meet their friends, they wear their scars proudly as they enjoy ALL things that this camp has to offer. THE BEST PARTS FOR THE KIDS THERE WERE NO HELICOPTER PARENTS ALLOWED.
The camp date was set for September 2, 2017. The night before I packed for the day trip. We had to be at San Pedro dock for 7 a.m. We left our house a little before 6 a.m. and as we got on the freeway the light went on in my car and the engine started smoking. OMG I thought, we can’t miss the boat. Darrell pulled over and started trying to figure out the problem. I already knew in my mind that we were going to ditch that car. I called Billy who lived just blocks away. He came we got on the road and we made it there by 7:05 am, Whoa!!
We were told that we would meet Gumpy and 10 others who were traveling over to the island with us. The group included Darrell and me, Gumpy and his daughter, Chris Waller (UCLA Gymnastics Coach and his wife) Laurel Travis and her son Jonathan (who started Safe Heart Testing http://www.safeheartscreening.com after seeing Justin’s story on television) and a couple with their son.
We arrived safely and I did not get sick. Before we got off the boat, Heather told the group that we could not use our real names at the camp and that we had to make up a camp name. Darrell was Rooney, Jonathon was Seagull, and Heather was Feather. I can’t remember the others names but for some reason, I decided upon “ Mama Bear.”
As I was getting off of the boat a familiar face sans a long beard greeted me. It was Wendel. He was Justin’s camp counselor at Justin went with the Youth Group when he was in the 6th grade. Wendel was in high school. He is now a handsome married man. He gave me that extra hug as if I knew that was for Justin.
I had some relief, no hesitation and I felt strong to go visit the camp and carry Justin with me every step of the way. Even though it was about 85 degrees that day, I did carry Justin’s Nike jacket with me for old times sake. He wore that Jacket on his last visit to Catalina in 2012.
We got our credentials on deck and we went on a guided tour with the “Big Kahuna” aka Dr. Shannon. It fit him well because he stands about 6’3″ tall. He is a gentle giant and he and Heather- oops I mean Feather have raised wonderful children. They were all there volunteering as counselors as they do every year.
I tried not to be too overbearing as if I was so familiar with the lay of the land because you know I had been there over 10 times before… I was patient. Darrell was happy about that. We looked at all the groups of kids donning specific scarfs around their neck or head with colors to suit each team. The littlest campers were the tugboats the oldest tsunamis. They were having so much fun. I noticed that some moved slower than others and I could see some of the vertical scars outside of their t-shirt line. I noticed a kid in a red wagon. Big Kahuna said that this kid had been a camper for 3 years and he had been in the hospital again just a day before he came to camp. His whole time in the hospital he said he wanted to go camping.
They told him he could come but it would be best for him to ride in the wagon between the activities so he would have all of the energy to participate in the various options. Gumpy who works with the kids in the water sports said that there was a camper who was on oxygen and they just strapped life jackets to the tanks and put them in the kayak so that he could go out into the water– just like the other kids.
As I watched the campers enjoying all of the adventures that camp had to offer, I could not help but place Justin’s image at the various activities because really he too was there from age 5 and his last trip to Catalina he was about 15…
We toured the cabins, they were just as we last left them. Big Kahuna pointed to the sign on the wall and he said on day one each cabin of campers have to come up with their own cabin rules. The rules on this sign caught everyone’s attention just to think that these boys were around 13 years old!!!!
He also said that each cabin gets rated every day for the cleanliness of their cabin. We went to the infirmary and commended the bay of Drs. and nurses who volunteer their vacation time to make a difference in these campers’ lives.
Lunchtime was next. The 130 boys and girls’ campers and over 80 plus volunteers and nurses who unassumingly administer hundreds of pills to the campers throughout the day sat on the benches under the roof. Since we were the VIP’s for the day they played some funky music and we danced our A__ off as we made our way on deck. They had us call out our name to the crowds. When it was my turn I roared:“ MY NAME IS MAMA BEAR!” and I know your special hand clap… I did it and to the surprise of the campers, they cheered in amazement. I then said: “ I HAVE BEEN HERE BEFORE” Let’s do it again. In sync, the sweet sound of our collective claps made some noise. They soon announced that we would each be seating with a table of campers. So the counselor then started to call out the various cabins for each VIP. Before she got to me, a long table of boys off in the distance started to pound on the tables and chant loudly: “WE WANT MAMA BEAR! WE WANT MAMA BEAR!… The head counselor then said: I guess that’s where you are going to sit Mama Bear!!! It was the Senior II table. I ran over and immediately asked each kid their name and where they were from. There was Billy from Visalia and Eddie from Escondido and Andrew from LA. Some of the campers had been coming from 3-9 years. This was their last year…
I then turned to my right and there was this movie star looking stud with a dark shadow of a beard “ Sorry Darrell” I said: What’s your name? With a deep voice he said his name was “Scruff” He was surely a stud muffin and I almost lost my train of thought… But I kept my composure and said: “How long have you been a counselor here?” He said: ” 3 years.” Then he proceeded to tell me that he had his first heart surgery when he was 2 years old. I guess that he was about 25 years old now. I was shocked. I told him that he was indeed blessed. About 30% of the counselors have heart disease and they were once campers at this camp too.
Then Mama Bear went to work asking a million questions to each camper. They were shocked that I remembered their names. One kid from Escondido told me that sometimes he looks bad on the outside when he is sick but he is still a good person. I told him to keep on enjoying your life and sharing your story and using your voice. Another camper Billy said he played the drums. I gave him some leads to drum core camps for the future. They asked me what I wanted to drink and they got water for me. I asked them why they wanted me to sit with them and they said: ” You are cool!”
Before we ate they announced: “We can’t eat until we say, Grace!” I thought to myself isn’t this a secular camp? Are they going to do really say a blessing? Not like that’s a bad thing at all…Before I could blink and eye Darrell and his table of the mightiest campers were lined up on the stage. This adorable boy who was about 8 years old was the leader. He had a head full of curly blond hair that was the size of the Jackson 5 afros. He went down the line asking each of his fellow cabin mates to say grace. The first one started off and said:
“ Jupe, jupe jupe jupe jupe! The leader said wrong!! The other campers got it wrong too. When he got to Darrell who was the second to the last Darrell said Jupe, jupeee jupeeee, jupe jupe with a little high improv pitch rhythm but to his chagrin, he was wrong too. The kids roared with laughter. The last kid finally belted out Jupe, jupe jupe jupe jupe… and the last thing he said was the name “ Grace’!! It was so funny and clever way of saying their version of ” Grace” too!!
My table of young men were gentlemen and polite. They let me go to the head of the line and I told them all to make sure that they filled their plates with colorful vegetables. By the way, the food at this camp is a 5 star for real!! So nothing had changed since the days when we came. A lot of other campers came up to me and said: “ Hi Mama Bear” I, in turn, said hello and asked them a question or two. It dawned on me that these campers were the same age as Justin was– the last time I saw him…
Boy, you don’t know what this camp did for me. I easily fell right back into being a Mom… I had not been called Mama in 4.5 years. Hearing this from these campers just did my mind and body good… As I was leaving the cafeteria a young man came up to me and said: “ Mama Bear are you coming to the talent show tonight?” I said:” What time, I think we are leaving in a few hours.” I told him maybe I can come back next year and see you.” He said: “ This is my last year. Can I at least have a hug? “ OMG I wanted to FALL OUT!!!!! I said: Of course you can!!! I gave this young camper the biggest bear hug ever. It was all too much. But greatly appreciated. I was beside myself. Before I could get emotional the counselors motioned us to come over to this cabin and pick out some costumes to quickly put on for the “ Parade of Lost and Found Items” We put on the crazy outfits, grabbed items from the Lost and Found Box and danced up and down the aisle searching for the campers to claim them. It worked all of the missing items were retrieved. Man, it had been a while since I danced and moved and smiled at the same time. It was so fun!!!
A few moments later at the corner of my eyes, I could see the UCLA coach walking on his hands towards the front of the room. After he landed on his feet he began to tell his story. He spoke about how he was little for his age, how he started doing gymnastics how he broke his hand and legs before and then how he responded when he was told he too had heart disease– diagnosed a few years before he was training for his biggest chance in his lifetime the Olympics. After his surgery, he was still able to compete… I could not believe that this muscular guy had his own personal story related to heart disease and he is a living testament that you can still have a viable life and do your own PERSONAL best despite the times when you think your world is coming to an end. It was powerful, and after I told him so…
We then said our goodbyes, I hugged Big Kahuna, Lisa Knight, the fabulous camp Director and the staff and said this is the best camp ever. He said actually these are the best 3 weeks of my year. You could see it on his face it was pure joy and satisfaction.
I can’t believe the army of volunteers that it takes to pull something off like this. You know you can never judge a book by its cover. Just like these fearless campers– who had the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and run and play with other campers who are still living with hopes and dreams despite that they are also living with heart disease.
I can’t make this up. I went to the H-W graduation, I had a chance meeting of Heather aka Feather – someone who found the words to approach at the H-W graduation, the connection to the Catalina Island Camp and our neighbors Maria & Tom, seeing Wendel—Justin’s counselor when he was in 6th grade, and feeling at home and not sad being on the island that Justin loved so much…
Before we knew it was time to leave. Darrell and I ventured over to the last cabin we stayed in as a family. It was “ Clipper.” I still have the tags on my luggage at home… Then I put on Justin’s jacket and walked to the ocean. I looked out and said to Justin… “Your Mama Bear did it! I survived a day of camp. I was not my usual Over the Top Olivia” (OTTO) Justin. This Bear will always be your Mama and you will always be my little cub!! Happy Birthday, my sweet love, I will love you forever and miss you always.”
But I must say that the biggest gift was being called “Mama.” I guess as the saying goes “Once a Mother—Always a Mother!” And as we know there are many women who may not have birthed a child but in their own right, they can sure be a “Mother from the Heart.!”
I’ll take that!! Any day!! Mama Bear enjoyed her special day at camp. I will honor you, Justin, I carry you with me each and every day. You are my co-destiny. Heavenly Birthday Honey.
Love your Mom, OTTO and Now Mama Bear I can only imagine what you would be like at 21 years old. God Bless you, honey.
This young man sent us a gift of peace. It goes well with todays theme for Justin’s 21st Birthday Art, Heart & Peace
The Prince of Peace N’Jhari
A Gift of Peace!!
I wanted to introduce this year JCWWP Scholarship Winner. Not just by his name but because of his words. He described himself, his dreams and what he thought Justin was all about- because he never had the opportunity to meet him. What struck me the most was his immediate reaction when he learned the news that he was selected… N’Jhari get’s the award for “Prince of Peace.”
Each year we award enhancement scholarships. This year we would like to introduce our winner N’Jhari. He is a Junior in high school. He never met Justin but he did his homework and submitted an application that was unanimously selected by the JCWWP Scholarship Committee. Darrell and I are not on the committee. After he got the announcement that he had won the scholarship, he sent us the message and attachment noted below. He said that we could share it. N’Jhari is truly an inspiration.
Here are a few things about him that were noted in his application:
“Donated AEDs to youth sports programs and one to my school
Help train and certify 62 adults, teachers, and scouts in First-Aid/CPR/AED
Made my J.O. (swimming) and participated in 2 J.O. Meets”
I know that Justin Carr has parents who love him very much wake every morning with a purpose to spread his legacy and to honor his spirit. I know that he was a SWIMMER like myself, which drew me closer to his legacy. I know his story has won an Emmy. I know he was kind, a respecter of persons, and excelled in the performing arts. I know that through his parents his spirit, the legacy will forever be upon us all still trying to figure out life and somehow help thy neighbor in the process. I know that his wish for those he left here on earth is for World Peace and has entrusted us to see come to pass.
What do you think was important to him? Do you think you can carry his message? If so, how would you do that?
In getting to know Justin Carr through his parents at the 2017 Parent Heart Watch Annual Meeting and through reading his story, World Peace and helping thy neighbor was important to Justin. I believe and have accepted the charge to bring peace throughout first my community, and then to the world. I believe if I can help unite and bring peace to my neighbors, community, then that can spread throughout a city, a state, a country, and the world; our world. Doing my part save young hearts is a pretty good start while helping to bring smiles to kids stuck in the hospital battling illnesses bigger than their bodies is a pretty good start, I’d say!
List five words that you believe best describe you as a person and set you apart from your classmates, and why.
I am a writer! I write what I feel, what I see, what I want to see. This is a poem I recently wrote and I think this describes the 5 words above that I chose to BEST describe me as a person and set me apart from my classmates.
“THEY SAY THAT I’M A DREAMER”
They say that I’m a dreamer, dreaming my future true; refusing to be blue just to satisfy you. Belief in me, believing all that I can be, knowing I achieve what I dream. No time to be mean, dreamers spend time owning their dream. No arrogance or conceit, rising from defeat; a dreamer plants both feet before they take that leap. Who’s going to let me be who I was wonderfully made to be, I worry not, daring to be stopped. Others dream to be creative; dreamer’s reality is being more creative than they can dream. Fo’ a dreamer embarks a dream and sets sail above the skyway up high. O’er oceans never afraid to dive deep to reap not the reward but all they dream.
They say that I’m a dreamer; I have hope for a future. Dreamers dream the reality of their future. Learning vastly, exploring widely, expressing creatively, O’ the confidence of dreaming boldly! Self-expression by thought, word, and deed a gift; never abandon choose your words wisely never random. We soar and listen to the wind roar as we explore dreaming ever more.
Dreamer I am! Not because I can but because I will climb that hill, donate a meal, help build not fo’ a dollar bill just helping thy neighbor it’s in His will. Greatness on the brain, putting nothing in my vein, nor dreaming in vain. My dream I claim! They say I’m the dreamer, right they are, Puttin” up high above the bar never subpar. I am a dreamer, that I am.
N’Jhari (NJ) Jackson
N’Jhari sent the Foundation this letter after he was awarded the scholarship. This was not a requirement. He felt compelled and these words came through him…
———- Forwarded message ———-
Date: Sun, Jun 4, 2017, at 12:10 PM
Subject: Re: Message from the Justin Carr WWP Foundation
Hi Mrs. Carr,
Thank you for contacting me. I must say when I got your email, it was bittersweet and that’s just being honest. It is truly the BEST letter I have ever received and it will be with me forever and will be a constant reminder to always do the right thing. As a tears curled out the corner of my eye, I didn’t reach to wipe it because my heart knew they needed to fall. Maybe they fell because I couldn’t cry at my aunt Carolyn’s funeral couple months ago, maybe they for my cousin Cyara who had emergency heart surgery 3 days ago or because she has a scheduled heart procedure on June 14th, or maybe because I get to fulfill a dream and someone I’ve never met won’t. I didn’t even know how to say, thank you to you or JCWWP Foundation. Do I call, email, Facebook? I had decided I’d miss church stay in bed this morning nursing a cold/allergies, but something inside said, “go.” I told mom I’d changed my mind and I’d go with her so off we went. Throughout worship, I started writing in my head as I often do when not appropriate to put pen-to-paper. As soon as I got home, all of my words came rushing out, I typed as fast I could so not to lose one word. I attached those words for you and Mr. Carr in a word document and a PDF. Thank you so much for helping me and for entrusting me to help keep Justin’s wishes and spirit alive. I pray you and Mr. Carr continue to take one day at a time. Pause if you must, sit and kick up dust, cry if it makes you feel a little better and hold one another tight as you continue the fight! Thank you for letting me write to you and please forgive me if I offended you in any way by letting my feelings flow.
With Love and Kindness,
NJ (N’Jhari J.)
This is why N’Jhari gets the award for the Prince of Peace on Justin’s Birthday!!