I rarely take the time to go outside and smell the roses. On the other hand, Darrell spends hours a week outside watering his garden, chasing butterflies with his camera, repotting his plants, and just moving stuff around. You know we have bears in our neighborhood. Just two doors up, our friends post pictures almost weekly of the “BearbNd “who sleeps nightly on the side of their house and sometimes into the midday hours seriously!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!
So, I have been staying inside!! Today I decided to sit quietly with Darrell before the bears came. I watched the hummingbirds sip nectar from the flowers. I listened to the neighborhood kids at play, gazed at the graceful butterflies in flight, looked at the rusted basketball hoop, Justin’s old GI Joe camouflage truck blending in the distant bushes, and then I saw the tree.
The peach tree with peaches ripe and ready to eat. Suddenly, it was reflection time. Years ago, when we moved here, there was a beautiful crape myrtle tree adorning the planter just outside the window. However, it was attracting way too many bees.
One day, when Darrell was working, and Justin was watching from the truck, he said: “Dad, we need to plant some food, trees that bear fruit so we can always have food and never go hungry.” So together, they dug up the old tree and planted lemon and peach trees in its place.
So, years later, we now have strawberries. Lemon, peach trees, and so many flowers and plants and ornamental butterflies that our friends gift us to attack butterflies.
Darrell’s garden is home to the birds, bees, flowers, and trees as the sun shines, and the moon lights us and watches us from on high in their natural glory. And the trees are much taller and broader by far than they were a few years ago. They have grown and stretched out like arms closing in for a big hug.
Today, I tried a recipe I found, “Peach Cobbler Cookies,” paying homage
to Darrell and Justin with their fruit from their labor and love.
Darrell and Justin did most of the yard’s rock work, and Darrell made the metal arches and took these pictures today. Home is what you make it…
On the second day of April, Peaches was buried. It was a lonely ceremony that was surreal to witness from a car. Peaches birth name Carolyn was my husband’s only sister. She died in the hospital and was buried in a cemetery under the gaze of a family isolated from one another. It was unnatural; I missed how it should have been, how it used to be. It’s a COVID-19 world and yet Peaches didn’t even have the virus. She died as many died before coronavirus: cancer all through her body.
I have been to many funerals in my lifetime, including my son’s. Seven years ago, when Justin died suddenly at the age of 16 from an undiagnosed heart condition, I was devastated. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tm1Mi1mzr6
On the morning of his funeral, I was emotionally and spiritually paralyzed. But I didn’t have to worry about my family watching me from a car window. My sisters and brothers, my nieces and nephews, my friends held on tight to us that entire day as my husband and I struggled to breathe, to expel air.
Because a human story is meaningful, when their story ends, it is repeated among the mourners, and then repeated to those, not in attendance, and then repeated in our loneliest moments, and repeated in our dreams for our ancestors’ benefit. The story then is the footprint they leave behind that we gingerly walk in. But in a coronavirus world, the footprints are invisible. The story is condensed and oftentimes gone. I wrote this poem because I wanted to share the service of Peaches’ life to more people than the handful that were present. I wanted to remember and not ever forget. I also thought about the song from the play Hamilton… “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?”
DRIVE-UP FUNERAL Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?
Never thought these words could be formed into a sentence They can now because I witnessed one today—and wished I didn’t For two weeks now we have been following the coronavirus stay -at- home rules So, dressing in street clothes was a thing of the past We are wearing comfortable sweats and pajamas not knowing how long the policy would last As I was taking a shower before getting dressed up to leave The words “Drive-up Funeral” hit me and I couldn’t comprehend or conceive So, and I wrote them down With a sigh and a frown We got dressed up only for no one to see And sit in the car and this was how it was to be Husband put on his suit and tie I put on my black and signature turquoise and wiped a tear from my eye Rode to the cemetery where our only son rests Along with his grandparents and two uncles who proceeded him in death Another hole was dug next to the family plot for the only sister whom we celebrate today who took her last breath
The weather was clear and not a bird insight Just like the day we last saw Peaches–barely a month before At our beachside memorial for Justin with plenty of hugs and butterflies in flight How did this happen? I am asking again how? As we entered the unmanned cemetery gates Who would want to buy a ticket for such an untimely fate? The place was empty. No people or cars in clear sight And once again to me the whole concept of a Drive-up funeral just didn’t seem right
We drove to the designated marker and parked for our perfect view Pulled up behind the hearse and I thought “ Oh Pugh!” Two mortuary attendants shooting the breeze stood casually guarding the hearse They were talking freely without gloves or masks until it was time for their usual verse
Eight family cars pulled up and parked on either side of the road But no one got out only those that were told
Only the immediate family— no more than 8 could get out Of their cars and wonder about It was showtime for the attendants to start the procession It was to be short and I knew that was their intended mission Instead of handing out programs, they gave the select few gloves and masks Trembling hands of all sizes somberly took them without even having to question or ask
This was the first glances of the family since we all got the news that their wife, mother, sister, grandmother had died It was the day after Peaches death we gathered via a Zoom video call and we saw each others faces and had time to confide
They walked toward our cars standing six feet away donning masks and looks of despair
They waved and we waved never attempting to roll down a window for words or fresh air
Unimaginable to say the least there are no words…
This surreal funeral with no hugs, no handshakes no ability to comfort or to be comforted
No need to hold back our tears so you just let them flow
Can’t say words of sorrow or remembrance
Because the rolled-up windows sealed our emotions
The golden casket draped in a cascade of pink roses was swiftly moved by the hands of her loved ones, her husband, her sons, and her nephew—who could only do this jester but he had to back swiftly away from the limited seating services
Watching the mask-wearing family in shock sitting off the edge of their seats and holding their hands Positioning themselves 6 feet apart as the mini service began Can’t add 2 more people because all you get is 10 You must save a spot for the minister, mortuary and one for the patiently waiting cemetery groundsmen
Just before it began my cell phone rang in the car It was Peaches daughter calling me so we could hear the service from afar She asked could I hear and she turned on her phone speaker I connected the people in those cars in front of us and behind even though the sound was weaker This was the closest we would get the hear the minister speak We listened carefully not to miss a word The sound went in and out, but we managed to understand what we heard
Under tween granddaughters standing together 40 feet or more away from the casket under a tree with Mom
They could not be with Dad who stood by the casket of his mother numb Surviving brothers, us wives, and sons and daughter sitting in separate cars Nieces and nephews also sitting in cars with their doors ajar
The littlest 8-year-old granddaughter wearing a mask too big Was tasked with getting Kleenex from the car—a brief little gig She respectfully hopped skipped OVER the headstones using one hand to secure the oversized mask on her face
Wearing a mask and it’s not Halloween only for safety just in case What was she thinking did she really understand? That her grandma she loved shopping with could no longer hold her hand?
No words exchanged for a family in need of hugs Emotions contained inside the car Could not it even roll down windows to talk — this Drive -up funeral was just really bizarre
Hair disheveled Eyes bloodshot red Sweat pouring down foreheads Ties adjusted Heels sinking into the grass Minds perplexed Thoughts jumbled What comes next?
Minister spoke his spiritual words in 19 minutes and his job was done When he turned his head, we could see his multicolor mask as he walked swiftly away. He waves to us “car stuck “people as he walks towards his Porsche And puts his hand over his heart and does the thumbs up motion like a torch But the family sits hopelessly looking at the lone casket So, help me God what can be next?
Then the noise of the backhoe tractor starts up which I know was a sign for us to leave So, they can scoop the dirt upon the casket until it meets the bottom of the adjacent branch trees
My husband looks at me and says: “This is the hardest part for me
Not this again I know he is thinking…
He is hopelessly lost as he gets his last glimpse of his sister’s final house
He snaps a few more pictures as quiet as a little mouse
Cars start driving off from the Drive- up funeral And the equipment starts moving the dirt
What ?? This Imitation of life movie over? Just like that? How much of a person’s life can be covered in a few brief minutes?
But this was all we could do during these uncertain COVID19 times
It was a life interrupted for Peaches who was just 71 years young :
No more of her famous potato salad
No more of her favorite pastime of shoe /clothes shopping
No more family gatherings with her
An empty chair at the table
An empty receptionist chair at her job
An empty passenger seat in the car
An empty side of the bed
No more cooking meals or driving to run errands
No more nagging to her husband to turn off the late-night TV so she could get her rest
No more sounds of calling Mama, Auntie Peaches, Grandma, or terms of endearment or recollecting of my wife , my sister, my aunt, my mom or for me sister -in -law
A life well-lived and an uncertain life left for us here
As I finish these notes of remembrance of my day, I want to make sure that we all understand that I share the same thoughts that I have learned from the Grief Recovery Method:
“Grief is the natural and normal reaction to a loss—an end in a familiar pattern of behavior. Grief is unique and emotional. You can’t compare or compete. Everyone handles grief in their unique way. There is no timeline or method in how one deals with grief or loss.”
One final stop before exiting the cemetery, We drove by our baby’s grave who died too soon
Justin Wanted World Peace
https://www.justincarrwantsworldpeace.org We blew a kiss and said a prayer Too much loss and way too much to bear We tell Justin’s story now because he was not given the lease on life to continue living his
Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?
This is real, this is the truth I can’t make this stuff up so what do you do or say? I go back to my beloved mother’s words “ Let go and let God” might be the only way.
Somehow, I learned that when Justin died it was the day that the world changed not just for us but for many. I can’t believe it’s been 6 years and counting that our precious son Justin – our young Renaissance man left this earth. We all remember what we were doing at the time kind of a similar shock to when the attacks of 9-11 hit or the assassinations of JFK and MLK— but this time it was my boy wonder who was a mere 16!! However, I must say that I smile sometimes because Justin’s character and mission for world peace ripples have crossed the waters.
“It was the 22 of February
The day I’ll always Remember
You see that was the day that my baby died.”
Over the years I have been able to put pieces of his last hours together. And now on this Mother’s Day I am happy to report that Justin was indeedLOVING LIFE!
He called me about an hour before he actually died. He was happy he was seemingly healthy we did not know he had a heart condition. He was in his element. He told me he was bringing Molly to Pasadena so they could go to see her Moms production of Hair Spray. He had been campaigning for his school to do a stage production more relevant and diverse. He often laughed out loud hearing his favorite Theatre teacher Reese Pugh — who was not as familiar with the show. He called “Hair Spray” “Hair Gel”. lol The next year with Reese at the helm, the high school cast lived out Justin’s dream.
So after Justin finished school that day…
His friend told me that they were in the theatre talking for a few hours . He told her that she should go ahead and write that children’s book she always dreamed of doing and that should not be a failure in the eyes of her parents!!! He assured her that it was possible she could live her life just the way she planned because “ My parents let me do the things I like to do.” Justin was living his best life and also encouraging his friends to do the same.
He had been secretly video recording Birthday greetings for Chanell with her with his school mates and teachers and choir director ” Rodger ” as the kids fondly called him behind his back
He was excited that he would be a guest dancer in 8 parts of the upcoming show.
Poolside he was singing one of his favorite Beyonce’s song with his girl Chanell “ End of Time” OMG!!!!!
…“Take, you away, from here It’s nothing between us but space, and time I’ll be your own little star, let me shine you up Or your own little universe make me your girl”…
He met his teammate Nina for the first time that day… She later found the words and shared her story to us and said that Justin taught her how to dance like nobody is watching…
He was happy. He was “ Loving Life”
Justin’s littlest cousins were just 2, 2 ,7 and 12 at the time. In their own way, they carry their big cousin Juju with them. Kids grieve too you know so never discount them. They know when familiar things change.
JJ who at 8 years old now plays his sports like he is a Junior Olympic style athlete and he wants to wear Justin’s favorite number on his football jersey. My sisters say that JJ rolls his eyes and moves out furniture to flips cartwheels– just as Justin did… Justin was a Junior Olympic Swimmer you know…
Dashton is the builder- the Methodical thinker and the swimmer. He can still say Juju’s name with a BIG smile without any hesitation.
Mia ,the dancer, and artist is quiet and growing up fast. She still seems unsure of how to face the loss of her favorite cousin Juju who used to dance, sing , play and draw with her.
Dylan is making her mark taking care of business in high school and being a good friend. I’m sure she would allow only her cousin Justin to drive her fresh new car.
Justin’s older Cousins Christianna, Burly, Cam, Pita, and Beina are all doing good by adding to the family tree, teaching and coaching others who need it the most, helping underserved students, and just being the best mentors that they could be.
I hope the two littlest cousins Bo and Hendrix whom he never got the chance to meet, learn a bit about their cousin Juju in the days and years to come. I see Hendrix knows all about the JCWWP luggage tags that have made their way around the world.
I think Justin made his mark and had spread his wings worldwide on so many levels. Some of his peers choose a different route besides college and that is perfectly ok because we are all not the same and everyone has their unique passions. I choose happiness vs. prestigue.
Post College Graduation Justin’s peers are doing their thing:
Working in the Visual & Performing Arts
Writing & Creating music and films
Working casual jobs, for non-profits, social justice, underserved populations, in all areas across the spectrum including teaching and working on Wall Street
In Graduate Schools
One of his” world traveler” friends continues to make her mark around the world helping others. She was the Rhode Scholar candidate for her university!!!! So proud of her!!
One young man who heard Justin’s story now is preparing himself to attend Medical School to become a cardiologist.
Another young lady is teaching 4th-grade students. She includes social justice in her curriculum- you see you are never too young to learn right from wrong we are the mirrors of the children.
His Best Friends are in law school
Butterflies are a part of my life the color turquoise will shield me in some way and my mothering instincts will never ever leave me. I recently read that Duchess Megan wore a turquoise necklace when the world met baby Archie for peace and tranquility. I like that choice!!
Photo by LUNAPEAKCOMPANY.COM
Justin’s absence does make the heart grief founder.
Darrell starts one project after another and continues to work in his garden.
Honoring his love of his only son through the art that he creates- art… especially what he gave me last night.
Today I played Natalie Coles Song ” I MISS YOU LIKE CRAZY” forJustin and some of the words I can definitely relate.
“I miss you like crazy, I miss you like crazy Ever since you went away, every hour of every day I miss you like crazy, I miss you like crazy No matter what I say or do, there’s just no getting over you”
Love you the talented Darrell always Justin’s Dad and for taking thousands of pictures and as this collage shows every picture tells a story!
I was wondering what Darrell Carr was working on these past 4 days.Well last night he surprised me with his crown jewel piece of art. He told me “ I did not know what to get you so I made this… I cried many a night looking at all these pictures of our son we created. “ I was on the floor – again and not holding back any tears and neither was Darrell. He said” I wanted to blend Justin’s picture into his piece of art, that’s the butterfly that flew on your finger in Costa Rico and all of these are pictures I took over the years. You are Justin Carr World-Peace mom!”
OK I’M ALMOST DONE…
A few weeks ago my local style ” Marie Kondo- the organizer Connie who was introduced to me by Jeru (the connector) is a true delight as she helped me clear my brain. She is spunky, fast and non- judgemental.
She held my hand when I found some hidden treasures tucked away. My heart skipped a beat when my eyes viewed the party drawer with the GI Joe and Harry Potter cake pans and the abundance of Bday cake candles, Easter egg kits, pumpkin carving tools, and Justin’s popcorn boxes from parties. But I hit the floor when I found a ceramic vase that Justin made I think in 8th grade because it profoundly said:
“ LOVE LIFE”
One thing I know for certain is that Justin did “ Love Life” this is the greatest gift of all. Remember- you should too. You never know what tomorrow will bring so, make that cake and be sure to eat it too!
I think that is what he would want me to do today is to “Love Life”
Happy Mother’s Day to any women with a heart who dare to love and help a child. My thoughts for the readers today…Sometimes you just have to stop and smell the flowers.
Love Life, Love your Family and Friends and spend time with those who are important to you. And Don’t forget to teach the children well. You are the mirrors for how they learn and live.
Justin, I love you forever and will miss you always and I am glad I have been gifted the chance to be your Mother, Mom, and Crazy Over the Top Olivia (OTTO) Forever and Daddy and I will continue to fight on!
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:
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
Daddy’s Little Girl and the Wind Beneath Her Wings
“You’re the end of the rainbow, my pot of gold,
You’re daddy’s little girl to have and to hold…
” Daddy’s Little Girl” Lyrics by Al Martino
Last week we went to the USC Viterbi School of Engineering Awards Dinner. My friend Stayce Harris was honored. It was on the wings of love and admiration for her that I somehow was able to muster the courage to attend. You see, this event was my re-emergence so to speak; I came out of my cocoon.
It has been over 4 years since I attended anything related to USC even though I am a Trojan for life. My husband Darrell became a Trojan by marriage and oh, my beloved son Justin had dreams of joining the USC student body through his legacy— but really from his own innate talents. As a family, we attended countless USC events through the years. But when life threw us a curveball I had to protect myself from those broken dreams we had for Justin.
It was a glorious night. This event was wonderful. It was welcoming and safe. A wave of nostalgia swept over me as the USC band played and as I watched my friend LIEUTENANT GENERAL STAYCE D. HARRIS —the first black woman to become an Air Force Lieutenant General, receive the Distinguished Alumni Award. Over 500 people came to “her party” as she said during her acceptance speech.
Stayce and I were classmates in a few general engineering courses on the Monday –Wednesday-Friday track back in the day. We became fast friends. On one particular Thursday, I had to take a second look when I spotted her quickly racing across campus donning a crisp and orderly Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) uniform. I caught up with her and called out her name. She turned around. To my surprise, it was Stayce! I did not know she was in the ROTC. Together in sync, we both busted up laughing and I said: “ OMG is this you? She smiled and said proudly, “ Yes, it is!” I said: “I’m not mad at you. Right on girl! I am still honored to be your friend. “ Fight On!!
You see, on our usual college days, Stayce was dressed like the rest of us, civilian students. We frequently attended social and sporting events on campus. She wore jeans, sweatshirts, bell-bottom pants, leggings, mini skirts, and boots. She even had her fashionable ” Farrah Fawcett hair style too!
Pam , Cynthia and Stayce at USC Homecoming
Stayce was an all-inclusive student. She was involved in all aspects of student life. She also pledged the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. At our campus parties, she often was spotted on the dance floor. Yes, we danced at parties back in the day. She was also quite the dancer— and just as good as the Soul Train Dancers. She effortlessly was able to do the various dances i.e. the worm, the point, or the cowboy!! She was always in the mix with the crowd. Stayce was unassuming. She was a mentor and friend to all.
As women in the engineering department, we were rare commodities. A woman in the ROTC was a surprising yet beautiful sight to see. She was committed from an early age. She was “Daddy’s girl”… She said:
“I was born in Los Angeles. My father was career enlisted in the Air Force, so I grew up as a military brat. Basically, I’ve been serving ever since I was born. In my mind, all I wanted to do is grow up to be just like him. When I was 8 years old, I’d watch my dad go to work every day in a light blue shirt and dark blue pants, but I didn’t have a clue about his actual job in the Air Force. All I knew is that every two years, we’d move to another exotic location. And that’s what I enjoyed — the ability to travel the world. It wasn’t until I entered high school and started taking Junior ROTC that I knew I had the propensity to serve and wanted to be an airman.”
Fast forward. We graduated and remained in contact. Following are a few of her humble accomplishments. She has always been passionate about her goals and mission in life. She kept her eyes on the prize.
She did the following without fanfare or accolades:
B.S. Industrial Engineering USC
Masters of Aviation Management
Flew C-141 Cargo planes
United Airlines Pilot
Major General US Air Force
Lieutenant General US Air Force
Friend and Mentor to Many
As she graced the stage during her acceptance speech, she compared her love for her two families – USC and the US Air Force. She paid homage to her #1 role model her father. She also committed and dedicated her excellence in service to the Tuskegee Airmen (the first black servicemen to serve as military aviators in the U.S. armed forces, flying with distinction during World War II.) A group of Tuskegee Airmen also came to celebrate Stayce. They too got a standing ovation. The remaining few are now in their 80’s and 90’s. It was another honor to be in their presence.
“The Tuskegee airmen were the first black servicemen to serve as military aviators in the U.S. armed forces, flying with distinction during World War II. Though subject to racial discrimination both at home and abroad, the 996 pilots and more than 15,000 ground personnel who served with the all-black units would be credited with some 15,500 combat sorties and earn over 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses for their achievements. The highly publicized successes of the Tuskegee Airmen helped pave the way for the eventual integration of the U.S. armed forces under President Harry Truman in 1948. (http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/tuskegee-airmen)”
When Stacey’s Dad passed away the Tuskegee Airmen came to her rescue. They adopted her as their daughter. They told her: “ It’s ok Baby. We are your Daddies now…”
Hearing this gave me chills…
“Daddy’s girl, Daddy’s girl.
I’m the center, of Daddy’s world.
I know I’m Daddy’s number one,
For he loves me like I was his son.
****So please watch this short 3-minute video of Stacey as we honor all of her goodness. See who has a cameo in it…
Watch Lt. Gen Harris Acceptance Speech at the USC Viterbi 2017 Awards
Justin loved Stayce. Every time she would visit she responded to him. She was patient with his endless questions. She also was genuinely interested in the things he liked to do. He took pride in showing her is artwork and his design projects. Whenever we would fly on United Airlines he would ask the stewardess: “ Who is the pilot? Is Ms. Stacey flying the plane? He was so proud of her. It was a blessing that we all got to witness her pinning by the Tuskegee Airmen in 2009.
“The best piece of advice Harris remembers came from ABC anchor Robin Roberts.
“I always tell people to find your passion and follow your passion with all of your drives and abandon, but most importantly, realize that God’s delays are not his denials. I went to a Black Enterprise women’s summit one year and [Robin Roberts] was the speaker. When she said that, it just resonated with me so well and I have used it in almost every single speech that I’ve given ever since,” Harris said. “I always try to give her credit for it, but it really means that in pursuing your goals, there may be stumbling blocks. I call it turbulence because I’m a pilot. There’s turbulence out there, but those stumbling blocks, in my opinion, really serve as building blocks to get you where you want to go. So don’t be deterred if there are delays in you achieving your goal. I think you become stronger for it.”
For you are the wind beneath my wings…” Bette Midler
Well, all of this is confirmation of how one can have an extended family. I met most of my cherished friends today at USC. They came to the rescue when we needed them the most 4 years ago. My CIA agents (my best girls) all got their training through our forged friendships developed at USC.
I have learned how sharing my life stories as I have emerged from this cocoon are the driving forces behind whom I have already started to become during this difficult journey from my chrysalis—a catalyst moving me toward finding my voice, and my wings, once again.
Justin, my butterfly, is now the wind beneath my wings.
Congratulations LIEUTENANT GENERAL STAYCE D. HARRIS You are our “Shero”. You can fly higher than an eagle with your Daddy as your constant wind beneath your wings.
Stayce my USC sister, keep flying high!! I will try too!
P.S. William Wang another USC Alumnus was also honored that night. He was an immigrant student from China. He attended USC as an Electrical Engineering student. He got his firs F grade ever in life in his EE 105 class. He did not know how to break the news to his mother. He told her the F stood for FIGHT ON!! He said he failed the class 3 times, had a 2.4 GPA and he later launched VIZIO HDTV’s. As he mentioned you can get one at a Costco near you!!!
An email popped up on my phone this past midnight. I was just getting ready to shut my eyes. It was from my brother Martel aka Marty. Today is his birthday and also the birthday of my nephew Burl III. I quickly read the heading on the email:
Phelan Hall to Be Renamed to Burl Toler Hall” April 7, 2017
Then I read the first sentence: “A group of students uses performing arts to promote social justice.” My heart skipped a beat. I thought of Justin, I thought of my Dad. What a posthumous honor to bestow on my Dad and our family.
How profound that it was unveiled in a performing arts manner befitting of something Justin, an honorable thespian in his own right and agent for social justice, would probably want to do. Justin loved visual and performing arts and he wanted world peace. Thankful Justin was able to follow all of his passions!!
Justin doing his many things with a passion!
Such a blessing that my Dad was able to see Justin act in his debut play in 1st play as the big bad wolf.
Justin was just like my Dad in so many ways. He spoke about his Grandpa in 2012. Justin passed away suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition while swimming on 2/22/13. He was 16 years old…
I called my brother, I said: “Marty this is a crazy story! I am so honored that a building will be renamed on the University of San Francisco (USF) campus from Phelan Hall to Burl Toler Hall. I told Marty I needed to read the rest of the story and I wished him a happy birthday.
As mentioned above, the original name of the building was Phelan Hall. It was named after a man James Phelan who was a US Senator, and San Francisco Mayor from 1897 to 1902. He also had a disturbing vision of “ being against Japanese and Chinese immigrants”. He also ran his reelection campaign on the slogan “Keep California White.” The students and USF community thought it was time to make a change and to be more reflective of an inclusive university.
Juxtaposed to his aforementioned man, I am proudly stating that my Dad was an upstanding man of character from start to finish. He came from humble beginnings and took advantage of the educational opportunities provided to him. He put family first. He stood his ground. He was inclusive. He helped and nurtured thousands of kids in the San Francisco Bay Area- that’s why there is a school named after him today. He did things right while not expecting any accolades. He was a lifelong mentor and “ community Dad”. One of his students in Junior High, Bill Yee, came to our house to deliver flowers shortly after my Dad died. He said: “ As a child of Chinese immigrants, he often got into altercations at school and had his lunch money taken and my Dad would give him $0.25 for his lunch money and my Dad never called his parents when he got in trouble.” Bill told me that he became a teacher because of my Dad. Bill recently retired after over 25 years of service.
Some of my Dad’s memorable quotes include:
• “Don’t let other people determine how you act.”
• “Do your best and your best will be good enough”
• “Do the right thing”
• “Children learn most of their first character lessons in the home”
• “If you can show me a man who has never made a mistake, I will show you a man who has never made a decision”
• “Treat people the way you want to be treated”
In print, his notable accomplishments have been:
• Member of the USF 1951 Dons Football and a College All-Star in Football
• Undergrad and Graduate degrees from USF
• In 1964 the NFL named him the first “Negro major league official in any professional sport
• First Negro ever named as a Junior High School Principal in San Francisco
• Police Commissioner in SF
• Benjamin Franklin Jr. High School renamed to “ The Burl Toler Campus” in 2006
• Cherished Husband of 40 years
• Father of 6
• Grandfather of 10
There are change agents rising up for various matters all over campuses throughout the world today. The students want their voices heard. They want civil rights and opportunities. Who doesn’t for that matter? Arts are being stripped from curriculums along with after school programs that could change kids lives in the right direction. Elite schools and parents are redirecting students away from taking visual and performing arts classes because “ They just don’t’ give you the GPA boost needed to be competitive”. Public schools don’t even provide vocational or creative opportunities for their students. Budgets do not even cover such things. People don’t talk to each other. People don’t stop to help one another. People do not listen. It is time to Stop to see what is going on. Look into the eyes of people you encounter. Listen to what others have to say. Climates are changing.
It’s the sign of the times.
The Dedication will happen on my Dad’s Birthday, May 9, 2017
My Dad did his best and his best was sure good enough.
Honored to be your daughter Dad. You and Mom taught us all how to do the right thing.
My Dad would be proud. I am sure that Dad, Mom, and Justin are looking down beaming with pride…
What a gift! It’s the Sign of the Times.
Justin wanted world peace and so do I!!!
Happy Birthday, Martel, Burl III, and Dad.
Check out “THE ’51 DONS” from Darshan Kembhavi on Vimeo.
By: Stevie Wonder
You know it doesn’t make much sense
There ought to be a law against
Anyone who takes offense
At a day in your celebration
‘Cause we all know in our minds
That there ought to be a time
That we can set aside
To show just how much we love you
And I’m sure you would agree
It couldn’t fit more perfectly
Than to have a world party on the day you came to be
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
I just never understood
How a man who died for good
Could not have a day that would
Be set aside for his recognition
Because it should never be
Just because some cannot see
The dream as clear as he
That they should make it become an illusion
And we all know everything
That he stood for time will bring
For in peace our hearts will sing
Thanks to Martin Luther King
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Why has there never been a holiday
Where peace is celebrated
All throughout the world
The time is overdue
For people like me and you
Who know the way to truth
Is love and unity to all God’s children
It should never be a great event
And the whole day should be spent
In full remembrance
Of those who lived and died for the oneness of all people
So let us all begin
We know that love can win
Let it out don’t hold it in
Sing it loud as you can
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
We know the key to unity all people
Is in the dream that you had so long ago (happy birthday)
That lives in all of the hearts of people (happy birthday)
That believe in unity (happy birthday)
We’ll make the dream become a reality (happy birthday)
I know we will (happy birthday)
Because our hearts tell us so (happy birthday)
In Loving Memory of Justin Carr, by Susan and Darrell Carr