Tag Archives: Justin Carr

Justin Carr 2022 H-W SwiM Meet

Justin’s angelic voice bursting from the sky, stunned the crowd of swimmers and fans and brought tears to my eyes, and many others, kicking off the 7th annual Justin Carr Swim Meet at Harvard – Westlake — a place where he described himself for a homework assignment to write 6 words to describe yourself. “ Darkest in Water Brightest on Stage” He certainly was.Congratulations to the 10 schools who participated and to the HW Girls and Loyola Boys teams who won!!! Thanks Coach Darlene Blix Bible for putting it together again.

Justin’s Voice Opening Up the Meet 3/11/2022


Essay Competition Justin won to send off 2008 Olympian Jason Lezak who saved the day for Michael Phelps


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.

The Other Side of Motherhood

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? 


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

Life is Not Always a Cake Walk

Life is Not Always a Cake Walk

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!!


Marching to the Beat of the Drum… My Hamilton Story

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.

Amber with an original Hamilton Star in NYC

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”

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

The Hamiltons move uptown
And learn to live with the unimaginable

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

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

You knock me out, I fall apart

[Company (except Hamilton and Eliza):]
Can you imagine?

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

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

Look around, look around, Eliza

[Company (except Hamilton and Eliza):]
They are trying to do the unimaginable

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

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.

Justin and Chanell Twin Day at School 2012

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!”

Justin and his BF Chanell pose with the HW Diversity Award

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 never seen 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

She said

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”
Let me tell you what I wish I’d known
When I was young and dreamed of glory
You have no control:

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!!



A Sign of the Times

A Sign of the Times

An email popped up on my phone this past midnight. I was just getting ready to shut my eyes. It was from my brother Martel aka Marty. Today is his birthday and also the birthday of my nephew Burl III. I quickly read the heading on the email:

Phelan Hall to Be Renamed to Burl Toler Hall” April 7, 2017
Then I read the first sentence: “A group of students uses  performing arts to promote social justice.” My heart skipped a beat. I thought of Justin, I thought of my Dad. What a posthumous honor to bestow on my Dad and our family.

Read the full story here:



How profound that it was unveiled in a performing arts manner befitting of something Justin, an honorable thespian in his own right and agent for social justice, would probably want to do. Justin loved visual and performing arts and he wanted world peace. Thankful Justin was able to follow all of his passions!!


Papa at Justin’s first performance

Justin and his Papa

Justin’s debut as the Wolf in the Three Piggy Opera 1st Grade

    Justin doing his many things with a passion!

Such a blessing that my Dad was able to see Justin act in his debut play in 1st play as the big bad wolf.

Justin was just like my Dad in so many ways.  He spoke about his Grandpa in 2012.  Justin passed away suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition while swimming on 2/22/13.  He was 16 years old…

I called my brother, I said: “Marty this is a crazy story!  I am so honored that a building will be renamed on the University of San Francisco (USF) campus from Phelan Hall to Burl Toler Hall. I told Marty I needed to read the rest of the story and I wished him a happy birthday.
As mentioned above, the original name of the building was Phelan Hall. It was named after a man James Phelan who was a US Senator, and San Francisco Mayor from 1897 to 1902.  He also had a disturbing vision of “ being against Japanese and Chinese immigrants”. He also ran his reelection campaign on the slogan “Keep California White.”  The students and USF community thought it was time to make a change and to be more reflective of an inclusive university.

Juxtaposed to his aforementioned man, I am proudly stating that my Dad was an upstanding man of character from start to finish. He came from humble beginnings and took advantage of the educational opportunities provided to him. He put family first. He stood his ground. He was inclusive. He helped and nurtured thousands of kids in the San Francisco Bay Area- that’s why there is a school named after him today. He did things right while not expecting any accolades. He was a lifelong mentor and “ community Dad”. One of his students in Junior High, Bill Yee, came to our house to deliver flowers shortly after my Dad died. He said: “ As a child of Chinese immigrants, he often got into altercations at school and had his lunch money taken and my Dad would give him $0.25 for his lunch money and my Dad never called his parents when he got in trouble.” Bill told me that he became a teacher because of my Dad.  Bill recently retired after over 25 years of service.

Burl Toler in Action at Ben Franklin Jr. High

Burl Toler notes on Giving Children a clear sense of direction 1971

Some of my Dad’s memorable quotes include:
• “Don’t let other people determine how you act.”
• “Do your best and your best will be good enough”
• “Do the right thing”
• “Children learn most of their first character lessons in the home”
• “If you can show me a man who has never made a mistake, I will show you a man who has never made a decision”
• “Treat people the way you want to be treated”

In print, his notable accomplishments have been:

• Member of the USF 1951 Dons Football and a College All-Star in Football
• Undergrad and Graduate degrees from USF
• In 1964 the NFL named him the first “Negro major league official in any professional sport
• First Negro ever named as a Junior High School Principal in San Francisco
• Police Commissioner in SF
• Benjamin Franklin Jr. High School renamed to “ The Burl Toler Campus” in 2006
• Cherished Husband of 40 years
• Father of 6
• Grandfather of 10

Burl Toler Campus Dedication 2006

USF/NFL Hall of Fame Gino Market, Ollie Matson, Bob Sinclair, w/ Burl Toler

There are change agents rising up for various matters all over campuses throughout the world today. The students want their voices heard. They want civil rights and opportunities. Who doesn’t for that matter? Arts are being stripped from curriculums along with after school programs that could change kids lives in the right direction. Elite schools and parents are redirecting students away from taking visual and performing arts classes because “ They just don’t’ give you the GPA boost needed to be competitive”. Public schools don’t even provide vocational or creative opportunities for their students. Budgets do not even cover such things. People don’t talk to each other. People don’t stop to help one another.  People do not listen. It is time to Stop to see what is going on. Look into the eyes of people you encounter.  Listen to what others have to say. Climates are changing.

It’s the sign of the times.

The Dedication will happen on my Dad’s Birthday, May 9, 2017


Twin Peaks San Francisco, Photo Credit: Darrell Carr

My Dad did his best and his best was sure good enough.

Honored to be your daughter Dad. You and Mom taught us all how to do the right thing.

My Dad would be proud. I am sure that Dad, Mom, and Justin are looking down beaming with pride…

What a gift! It’s the Sign of the Times.

Justin wanted world peace and so do I!!!


Created on UC Berkeley’s campus by Justin’s cousin Laureina and friends 2013

Happy Birthday, Martel, Burl III, and Dad.

College Roommate Walt Jourdan at Burl’s 80th bday party

Check out “THE ’51 DONS” from Darshan Kembhavi on Vimeo.




“Happy Birthday
By: Stevie Wonder

You know it doesn’t make much sense
There ought to be a law against
Anyone who takes offense
At a day in your celebration
‘Cause we all know in our minds
That there ought to be a time
That we can set aside
To show just how much we love you
And I’m sure you would agree
It couldn’t fit more perfectly
Than to have a world party on the day you came to be
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday
I just never understood
How a man who died for good
Could not have a day that would
Be set aside for his recognition
Because it should never be
Just because some cannot see
The dream as clear as he
That they should make it become an illusion
And we all know everything
That he stood for time will bring
For in peace our hearts will sing
Thanks to Martin Luther King
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday
Why has there never been a holiday
Where peace is celebrated
All throughout the world
The time is overdue
For people like me and you
Who know the way to truth
Is love and unity to all God’s children
It should never be a great event
And the whole day should be spent
In full remembrance
Of those who lived and died for the oneness of all people
So let us all begin
We know that love can win
Let it out don’t hold it in
Sing it loud as you can
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday
Happy birthday
Happy birthday
Happy birthday…
We know the key to unity all people
Is in the dream that you had so long ago (happy birthday)
That lives in all of the hearts of people (happy birthday)
That believe in unity (happy birthday)
We’ll make the dream become a reality (happy birthday)
I know we will (happy birthday)
Because our hearts tell us so (happy birthday)
Happy birthday
Happy birthday”

This Little Light of Mine “Happy 20th Bday Justin”

This Little Light of Mine, I’m Going to Let Him Shine

As most of you have witnessed over the past 3.5 years sans Justin, Darrell and I tuck away the pain in our heart—every waking hour—every single day. We cycle through the days, week’s months, holidays and milestones and we hold each memory of our joy with Justin close to our hearts. This will continue for a lifetime and will repeat, day after day, and month after month. So, it’s not unusual that for over a year, I have been cautiously anticipating this day—Justin’s birthday—September 13th. He would have been 20 years old… Justin was and will always be our greatest gift. He is our guiding light!

















Happy 20th Birthday honey!

The other day, I went to my usual nursery—where I am known as the flower lady. Before I got out of the car, I spotted a pot full of flowers that were almost in the shape of a round cake. I knew at that moment that I did not have to look any further. I motioned to the gardener to pick out the two prettiest plants. I asked him: What type of flowers they were. He cheerfully said: “mums.” I thought to myself, how appropriate— because in England “mum” also means mother and we know that “Mother’s knows best” and I will always be “Justin’s Mom aka Mum.”



After he loaded the flowers into my car, I started up the engine. The song blasting over the radio was: “ Tears from Heaven.” I know you all remember that song by Eric Clapton. Well, I don’t have to tell you what I did next … I first wanted to switch stations right away to spare the tears, but then I caught myself as I bravely listened intensely to the words. Subsequently, I let the tears flow. That was a good thing.


Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on
‘Cause I know I don’t belong here in heaven
Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?
I’ll find my way through night and day
‘Cause I know I just can’t stay here in heaven
Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart, have you begging please, begging, please
Beyond the door, there’s peace I’m sure
And I know there’ll be no more tears in heaven…

Written by Eric Patrick Clapton, Will Jennings • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group
Justin was our center.



Justin was our “whole world” in our hands

Justin's friends at School 2013
Justin’s friends at School 2013






Justin had the whole world in his hands

We are so grateful that we have so many people who are wrapping their hands around us. We have learned that there are many things and encounters that help give us hope—hope for a future that includes embracing life again.
So as we celebrate my baby, with the well-received gifts… Don’t just read, take heed following is a life-saving message…



GIFT #1 “The Good Samaritan”

Last year, a brave and determined stranger, Laurel Travis, approached me at a seminar. She said: “ You do not know me, but I know all about your great loss. I work for a Cardiologist and we saw Justin’s Story on television. To spare other families from going through an unimaginable loss of losing a child, I started “Safe Heart Screening ”, a heart screening foundation, in honor of your son. I was dumbfounded. Through Laurel’s dedication, research, and good work, she introduced us to the new state of the art life-saving ECG/EKG machine. It’s a handheld device (blue no doubt) that can identify young athletes who are at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. “CardeaScreen is a convenient, hand-held electrocardiographic (ECG) device, a diagnostic tool that measures and records the electrical activity of the heart. Specifically attuned to the normal characteristics of the athletic heart, CardeaScreen helps physicians who are conducting Pre-Participation Exams (PPE) identify athletes with abnormal heart conditions who may be at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. CardeaScreen helps identify young athletes who are at risk of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).”

In hindsight, Darrell and I wished that we had this knowledge in our hands so that we could have possibly known about Justin’s condition and spared his untimely death…

Cardeascreen Machine
CardenScreen Machine







GIFT #2 Save the Date; Save a Life

Justin attended St. Marks School for Kindergarten and he was also an acolyte and in the choir up until 6th grade at the church. They are opening up their doors for this special event.  Thank you.

Justin in his St. Marks Choir uniform
Justin in his St. Marks Choir uniform








Safe heart Screening http://www.safeheartscreening.com
will be doing ECG screenings for girls and boys age 12-25 in honor of Justin. It will be hosted at Saint Marks Episcopal Church in Altadena, CA on Sunday, October 16, 2016, from 10:00 to 4:00 p.m. Please go to the SafeHeart Screening  website to sign up !
The actual test takes about 16 seconds with an allotment of 15 minutes for the process with each person. $25.00 donation for screening.


SMILE Lady Susan (holding the testing machine) & Darrell
SMILE Lady Susan (holding the testing machine) & Darrell

Gift #3 Keep Smiling for Justin

Debra Johnson aka the SMILE Lady is a member of our Community. She knew Justin very well. SMILE is her acronym for Support, Motivate, Invest, Love, and Educate. And Johnson is on a mission, one “to promote all aspects of SMILE and to spread a little joy,” she said. Tune into the Pasadena Community Network Channel 32, Arroyo 32, for more about the heart-testing event. “I want to help your child tap into their inner SMILE and purpose. After all, we were all born to SMILE and we’re all destined to leave this place better than we found it,” Johnson said.

This journey that we are on is sometimes difficult, but as I looked at the homework assignment that Justin did in the 3rd grade tonight,

Justin's 3rd grade Science Project
Justin’s 3rd grade Science Project


I know that I too will continue to transform from a chrysalis and find catalysts that can move me towards finding my voice and wings once again.





Justin's 3rd Grade Butterfly Project
Justin’s 3rd Grade Butterfly Project

Justin is my butterfly. I will never forget him. I know he wants me to accept his metamorphosis and to find new ways to live. As we emerge from the darkness and seek inner peace, I will continue to try and love this life, and live bravely, faithfully and as cheerfully as I can with Justin—our guiding light you along the way.



“This little light of mine, I’m going to let him shine, let him shine let him shine…”









Miss you always and love you forever!! Happy Heavenly Birthday Justin.






Love, OTTO

A envelope Justin addressed to me...HIs OTTO
An envelope Justin addressed to me…His OTTO






Visit our website to make a donation to help kids or to learn more about Justin


“The Hands Of My Father”… By Justin Carr

The Hands of My Father

As I said before, I can’t make this stuff up!! Just a few weeks ago (due to water damage) I was forced to go through “stuff”  that I really wanted to leave in place forever… But, in hindsight, I was glad I was pushed because I found yet another treasure that Justin left behind.  It was beyond appropriate and perfect timing for this Father’s Day.

I grabbed one of Justin’s middle school backpacks that lay dormant in his closet. I never looked at his homework assignments. Pretty much he was self-supportive in ALL of the homework that he ever did—and he rarely asked for help. Well, let me take that back. I do remember one time when he was in 5th grade and he was up late putting the final touches on his project. We assured him that he should go to bed and that if he places the pictures in order for his poster:“Shaquille O’Neal for President” we would glue them down. To make sure that they stuck, Darrell and I came up with the “grand” ideal to lay heavy books over the documents. The next morning we learned we had made a major faux pas. The pressure from the books made the glue seep beyond the picture borders and ruin the paper and the overall layout. In other words it was indeed really a “hot mess”! Justin was mad and told us: “Please, never touch my stuff again!” So we did not.

In any event, as I was going through loose paper, when I came across an assignment that Justin had for 8th grade English- to write a poem. As I read through all of the drafts and the final document, once again the words from our young Renaissance man, took my breath away. It was a poignant poem about his Dad… “The Hands of My Father”

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My Fathers hands are his most prized possessions.

The roughness,

From fixing many broken things

The splinters,

From moving old firewood back and forth

The burns,

From making bonfires for my birthday

He has now learned from his mistakes and wears his marks like trophies

Big ones.

Small ones.

Ugly ones.

Each and every one is wonderfully displayed in his hall of fame.

Every time I walk through my Dad’s hall of experience,

I think about what it would be like to just have a small portion of his experience.

To know so much,

Would be the best thing to have…

… And those little trophies would be really nice, too

Along with stories about where those marks came from

And where the cuts came from

They’d make a great book of knowledge

A book called “My Dad.”








As a surprise, I put all of the drafts and the final copy of the poem in a nice frame for Darrell- to remind him often how much a great Dad that he was for Justin -and that he will always be.


I don’t know if any of you have suffered from a loss (of any kind) and felt like you wished you should have done things differently, spent more time, said more things etc. Darrell and I have talked often about unfinished business we had with Justin. However, I hope that this poem is now proof for Darrell on yet another Father’s Day (sans Justin) that Justin loved him dearly, appreciated what he taught him and learned so much by his Father’s good examples of how to be a gentleman, with integrity, strength, compassion and empathy for others. I appreciate you too Darrell.






From an early age Justin watched Darrell build and fix things and subsequently he knew how to paint, build and work with concrete too.

In 8th grade he made a ceramic tool kit piece of art for Darrell







Later in life, Justin helped his peers with construction activities in New Orleans to help construct a house of Habitat for Humanity
















Darrell has many hobbies and can work with concrete, metals and woodwork. Justin could do the same. Darrell has a lot of work in progress projects around the house. He has started a garden for Justin, and laid each and every rock with “his hands” and he just recently completed an extension on the stairs in the yard… So much love.


































Butterfly flower in Darrell’s Garden


Darrell, I can’t imagine what your pain is without Justin, by your side. I do hope that you can look at this poem and know that you indeed did a wonderful job as Justin’s Dad from the beginning to the end. And as you move forward you will always be Justin’s Dad and Justin will always be your son!  You gave him the gift of life ( with a little help from me!)

This poem that Justin wrote in 8th grade  says it all.  Darrell the words of your son could not have been put any better.  You were his ” Hall of Fame”


First Beach outing in the Bahamas












Darrell and Justin in Australia ( I stayed at home)








At his friend Tara’s Arangetram
















Justin learned from Darrell so he too could help others









Postscript.. Darrell texted me this picture that he took of himself with the note” This has been the best gift ever, next to seeing  Justin (Champ) being born. Thank you very much Susan (Justin’s Mom)IMG_0510

JCWWP Letter from the President …It Takes a Village

The African proverb says: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  This past saturday was the conclusion of the 3rd  school year session of the JCWWP “Dare to Dream” program  at the Frank D.  Parent school.  It was the school that Justin had adopted and shared with his peers to help bring the visual and performing arts and math tutoring to the underserved students.



Darrell spearheads this program.  At least once a month, the Harvard-Westlake Student volunteers, Justin’s  High school Art Teacher, Ms. Hall,  his elementary Principal Ms. Q, and our many friends including Angie Daves, Pam Daves and Ricky Lin and the school coordinator Ms. Wallace come together for the saturday program.


Ms. Q and Ms. Hall
Ms. Q and Ms. Hall

I attended the last session. Teacher Darrell gets the ball in motion and tells Justin’s story.   This final day was a “fun” day!! Although the H-W students do give them valuable tips for Math to make their efforts fun. Ms. “Q” and her daughter Aurora cheorgraphed a hip dance to Janelle Monáe’s song.  Three hours later the routine was completed– and the kids were exhausted!! They soon learned what it takes to put a short number together and now they can appreciate how their favorite artists prepare for their performances. Our village of supporters made this program a success. The kids did not have any electronics or other distractions for 3 hours!! Darrell  told the kids:” You know what you just did?  Old School Fun!!”



Well a few days ago something special came in the mail.  This is how Darrell describes it:

“Susan & I received a letter from President Barack Obama on Monday. He said that he was inspired by the strength we have shown in the face of tragedy. Losing Justin in 2013 was just plain insane, & our lives have changed forever. Justin’s tutoring program Dare To Dream, he started in 2012 when he was 15 years old is thriving, because of our Village & supporters. Susan & I want to say THANK YOU!!! For all that you do for us. This is a very difficult road we are trying to navigate. Thank you Mr. President for reaching out to us. Your encouraging & helpful words will always be an inspiration to us. We love you. Darrell”










This is the backstory as told by Susan:

“It is all because of the support, compassion and love from our friend Renee Plummer.  Even though she and her husband Michael , daughter Ashley and her family are kindred spirits and walk their own unimaginable loss of losing their son Austin, she still had the empathy to share our story to our Commander- in -Chief. Out of the thousands of letters he gets daily… her empathetic words got his attention… Can’t make this stuff up!!! Bless you Renee. It’s all for you Justin,  Susan”

Like President Obama said : “I have found that Americans can achieve extraordinary things when we work together.”

The African proverb says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,”

Because of all of you-our village we have come so very,very far.



Darrell and I both agree!!!



Juju is still Dancing…

Juju is still dancing…

At least every other week, my sister Jeni braces herself before she tells me yet another JJ and Juju story. JJ is her 5-1/2 year-old son.

Jeni and JJ
Jeni and JJ

(Juju is the name that Justin’s little cousin Mia gave him because she could not say Justin, and it stuck.) JJ was only 2.5 years old when Justin died, but boy was he aware and in touch with him beyond anything I have ever seen from a young child.




Justin and his little cousins
Juju  and his little cousinsJustin loved his little cousins and big ones too!.

Juju and his cousins
Justin and his cousins

He was so glad that he was the elder amongst the little cousins-for a change. I wrote a blog three years ago: “Juju Dancing.” It was about a true event that occurred a mere 2 months after Justin died. The synopsis goes something like this: Jeni and JJ were coming to surprise me for my birthday a few short months after Justin died. Jeni walked in my house with an astonished look on her face. The first thing she said before she could even say the slighted sounding “surprise” was “Throughout the flight, JJ kept laughing and looking out of the window smiling and saying, “Juju is dancing, he is saying bye-bye…

Juju dancing Photo Credit Darrell Carr
Juju dancing Photo Credit Darrell Carr







” Read the full story here…

Juju is Still Dancing


This afternoon, decided I had to write just a few words. It’s been awhile. I was reflecting on my most recent conversation that I had with Jeni just a few days ago. She said JJ overheard her speaking with me the other night when we were talking on the phone. When she hung up he said: “When is Juju coming back from heaven? I sure want him to get to know me now.” I don’t know how she responded or better yet if she could…



I think we all have pondered this very same question every once in awhile over the past few years. It is that lingering question that no person who lives on this earth can really answer. We all will hold a precious memory of Justin with us in our hearts and minds. I honestly think it will be forever— as we bravely grace this Earth. As most of you know, I tuck Justin with me everywhere I go. He is the oxygen that keeps me breathing.

My sisters often say that JJ acts just like Justin! He rolls his eyes at them when they say things he does not agree with, he moves furniture out of the way so that he could have enough room to do his cartwheels and he loves to dance and move his body to the current sounds of the day- and oh yes; JJ also has that infamous smile—just like is cousin Juju.

I have transformed. My friend Valerie writes it all the time. “If nothing ever changed there would be no such thing as a butterfly, no such thing as Justin, the sacred spirit. Life is beautiful (and cruel) because there is change. The thing we can’t change has this very peculiar way of changing us.”   The music changes.  It does. And so must the dance.” So, when (I know there will be a time) JJ asks me “ Is Juju home now? I will tell him with a bit of  joy in my heart: JJ just close your eyes and you can feel Juju as you visualize all the butterflies and stars dancing in the clouds and swimming to the moon.


I guess I always think of how much Justin loved dancing.   I loved dancing with him.  This week, my breath was taken away again, when I opened up an old flash drive I found.  On it was  this PowerPoint presentation called ChaChaslide.  It was layered  in-between my many files from when I worked on the Universal Studios Jurassic Park Project. I guess that Justin saved his project on it a few years ago.  He was teaching people how to do the Charlie Brown dance…   So, in my heart– Juju my Justin will always be dancing…

Screenshot 2016-04-17 17.19.34Screenshot 2016-04-17 17.20.03










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