Local nonprofit awards book scholarships to area students

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UNION, NJ — David’s Shoes, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing gun violence within black communities and redirecting young lives, held its 13th annual book scholarship luncheon on Saturday, July 23, at the Galloping Hill Caterers in Union. Nine local young men, either already in college or college bound, received $750 each, which the nonprofit earmarked for school book purchases. 

David’s Shoes, an Irvington-based organization, was founded in 2006 by Elaine Lane after her 18-year-old son, David, died in 1998 as a result of gunfire. His shoes were displayed at the luncheon alongside those of other young victims. The organization founder was in attendance at the luncheon. 

The master of ceremony was Johnnie Brooker, an East Orange resident and Marquette University sophomore majoring in journalism; he was one of the nine book scholarship winners. He introduced Evelyn Stanley, who offered a prayer of healing and libation.

“We pour libations to God, Mother Africa, the great civilizations of Africa, our ancestors who died during the great passage, the four winds and all those scattered, the unborn and the children killed,” she said.

Stanley told her audience of 60 that 193,000 children have been killed by gunfire in America since 1963. This figure, she said, far outnumbers American deaths in the Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars. She then asked those dining to turn their attention to the place cards at the centers of their tables. On the cards were the names of children who had lost their lives because of gun violence. A benediction was offered by the Rev. Andre Coffee, pastor of the First Timothy Baptist Church in Newark.

In a brief interview, Lane said she feels that her son is part of the success of David’s Shoes.

“It had to be,” she said. “I remember during the beginning of my healing, there was David; I could hear him saying, ‘Mom, you have to give the guys a chance.’”

Stacey Abdul-Qawi, the secretary/treasurer of the organization, who was listening in, interjected her thoughts. She felt that what David was saying to his mother was that, although young black men listen to rap music, with its images of violence and shootings, that did not make them bad people or even violent. Lane agreed with this.

In addition to Brooker, the remaining eight scholarship winners are Tyrrell Redwar, of Irvington, a junior at Lincoln University; Zaire Johnson, of Matawan, a Montclair State University sophomore; Emmanuel Ogbonnaya, of Newark, a New Jersey Institute of Technology senior; Francis Kanwanya-Nwajueboe and Cyrus Thomas, both from Irvington and NJIT seniors; Isaiah Mullings, of Newark, a freshman at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia; Esron Holder, an Irvington resident and freshman at Rutgers University–Newark; and Hentoff Moneus, of Irvington, an NJIT freshman. 

The David’s Shoes Educational Service Award was given to West Side High School Principal Akbar Cook Sr., who made national news several years ago by opening a school laundromat for students in need. The David’s Shoes Community Service Award was given to the Rev. Stephen Webb, pastor of the New Life Christian Church in Bloomfield.

Among the scholarship winners, Holder said his Irvington High School guidance counselor suggested he apply for a David’s Shoes scholarship. He said the applicants were judged on their leadership qualities, community service and a final interview.

“I’m a motivational speaker and create YouTube videos,” he said in an interview with this newspaper. “I also do volunteer work and go to pantries and hand out food and set up church events.”

The event’s keynote speaker was Jermaine Jones, of Irvington, a motivational speaker, author and founder of Brothers Making a Difference, a support group.

Jones said he often fought depression and has even thought about killing himself. In time, he understood that life is pain, but also faith and passion. Jobless, he applied repeatedly to Amtrak and was eventually hired as a baggage man. He was promoted to conductor, assistant station manager and station manager. He used a football analogy to account for his success.

“You see the halfback run for a score, but you don’t see the fullback who made the block for him,” he said. “Live a life of service. No matter how high you climb, bring someone with you. The point is to plant seeds that outlive you. Keep your heart and motives in the right place. And remember to pin flowers on people while they can still smell them. Don’t wait until the flowers are around their casket.”

He addressed Lane directly and told her to keep planting David’s Shoes seeds. In conclusion, Lane thanked everyone “for pouring a little of yourselves into this.”

Photos by Daniel Jackovino

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