What do we do to to recognize the birthday of our late son? It’s a question my family and I have been asking and answering for 7 years. Thanksgiving always provides an opportunity to express gratitude for his life and the Christmas season offers an excuse to lay a pine blanket on his grave. These are paltry remembrances. This year, his birthday falls on Black Friday and coincidences with #BlackoutBlackFriday and #NotOneDime, boycotts for racial justice. I didn’t plan this timing, but today on Gabe’s 31st birthday, I’m excited to announce a new project that will honor his life and support some of his highest goals related to racial justice.
Jeff and I are launching a memorial scholarship fund for economically challenged youth, with an emphasis on African American boys. For me, this work goes hand in hand with the mental health, suicide prevention, and neurofibromatosis work I’ve done since his death in 2008. So, our scholarship will be unique in that it will also set aside funds to provide mental health and/or other support services to scholarship recipients.
What we’ve been doing
For several years, Jeff and I have partnered with Compassion International to support a young man who is growing up in Tanzania, the country of Gabe’s paternal lineage. We’re committed to seeing this partnership through until Jeremia is grown. This year, we’re also partnering with Generation Hope to provide financial support to a teen parent who is working to finish her college education. We’ve also been supporting the work of Aslan Youth Ministries and Westside Christian Academy, organizations run by people we know and respect who tirelessly devote themselves to bettering the lives of economically challenged youth at the Jersey Shore and beyond.
Westside especially has a place in our hearts. Gabe volunteered there when he was in high school and the school’s director, the Rev. Elmer Jackson, was his sponsor when he was inducted into the National Honor Society at Long Branch High School. In his letter of support, Rev. Jackson said, “Gabe is one of the finest young men that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. His work ethic is inspiring. Our organization and students (who actually stand up and cheer, if they get the chance, when Gabe arrives) are the better because of him.”
What we plan to do
All our efforts—from mental health and suicide prevention activism to supporting neurofibromatosis research to providing financial support for the educational goals of economically challenged parents and children—are done in honor of Gabe. So, it makes sense to consolidate these activities into one unified effort.
Why a special focus on African American boys, aside from the fact that their educational prospects are especially compromised? As Gabe’s college friend Dave Woo said in an email, “Nothing would better honor Gabe’s memory and his commitment to justice and education than a memorial scholarship for African American boys. He was always acutely aware of his position as an African American man at a predominantly white institution like Wheaton College. Although he never intended to become a spokesperson for his race, he willingly engaged his peers on issues of race and challenged them to question their assumptions.”
How we’ll get there
Over the next year, we will work through the legalities of launching this fund. Our goal is to officially launch on November 27, 2016, Gabe’s next birthday. I also envision an annual Black Friday Birthday campaign to grow the fund. (How much better would that be than just laying a blanket of pine on his grave?)
For now, we are unofficially launching with a memorial donation to Westside Christian Academy. I’m also opening a savings account to pay for the establishment of the scholarship fund. Special thanks to Dave and Grace Woo for the first donation to this fund! If you’d like to support our efforts, I invite you to make a memorial donation to any one of the organizations I’ve linked to in this post. Please let me know if you do! Or, email me through the contact form for more information about how to help us launch the scholarship. I’d love to hear from some of Gabe’s friends, especially those who contacted me in the months after his death to share how he inspired their passion for racial justice. On that note, I’ll end with this challenge from Gabe.
Yo, I been here too long in compromising silence;
sitting here, all sick to hear
of all the war and violence.
Blood has been shed, just to get some oil;
more blood was shed right here on my own soil.
I can’t forget watching them doing it;
mad tears, two towers and the plane that flew
With snipers on TV and snipers in vid games;
snipers in school cause kids callin’ kids names.
From pervert minds to our children’s eyes,
blood and sex don’t bother kids; they too desensitized.
As movies and music just get worse and worse,
our social condition just gets hurt and hurt.
They say they copy life from how it seems,
but with nudity and cursing,
innocence has become a dream.
Before they’re ready, kids get their maturity;
only 12 years old, with 10 years of purity.
I see young minds corrupted every day;
you see me every night on my knees
Look, I got no problem with media that’s graphic;
just don’t sell “R” movies to a
We need to become one unified nation;
kids minds are important;
they need preservation.
You need to be careful, even just a little B;
don’t rap about just anything ’cause you got
Anyone can flow about bitches and hoes,
but I try to spit knowledge so the
I want you walk away like, “That ain’t right”;
I want you go home and not sleep at
I’m not just another rapper spittin’ his own
I’m concerned with the children
and seeing how they’re raising.
People pushed too far, yeah, you got
what you want;
you’ll soon be on your face prostrate
[© GGS 9/11/03, all rights reserved.]
Please note: Due to the wonderful response this post received from friends and family, it has been updated to invite gifts to establish the scholarship fund.