On Thursday, June 10, classmates, friends, family, teachers, staff and the community gathered outside of Challenge Preparatory Charter School in Far Rockaway to remember Justin Wallace. He was remembered as a son, a brother, a classmate, a scholar. A kind, caring, respectable boy who loved cars, video games and his classmates. A boy who shared his books with friends and who brought gifts to his teachers. A boy who had a bright future ahead of him, but that was all taken away as he became a victim of gun violence. Justin Wallace would’ve celebrated his 11th birthday on June 8. He would’ve celebrated his graduation from fifth grade this month. Instead, the community gathered to mourn his loss rather than celebrate his life.
Challenge Preparatory Charter School founder and CEO Rev. Dr. Les Mullings led the vigil in front of the school Justin attended. “Justin should’ve been able to celebrate his birthday. He should’ve been able to graduate with his friends and fellow classmates. Because of recklessness, because of guns on our streets, because of people who don’t care, he was taken from us,” he said to the crowd, before a prayer was led as guests in the crowd lit candles in Justin’s memory.
In addition to remembering Justin, Dr. Mullings and others brought up the change needed to ensure that there isn’t another incident of what happened to Justin. “Every time it happens, we react, and then we get a Justin again, and it happens again, and we react, and we get a Justin again. It’s become normalcy. There is nowhere on God’s green planet, nowhere in a civilized world do you have this kind of gun violence happening but here. Why do we allow this to happen? Justin’s life should be a catalyst for change. We need to get the guns off the street. We need to stop the trafficking of guns from other states to New York City. The lives of our children are at stake,” Dr. Mullings said. “Why aren’t we marching the streets? If an officer killed someone, everybody would be out on the street. Why aren’t we as outraged about young 10-year-old lives killed by another young African American man? Black lives matter—all ways around. We should be as equally outraged today. We should be mad as hell, and we should show it and demonstrate it so the world will know we are serious about stopping this madness.”
Justin Wallace’s mother, Aretha Wallace, strongly stood before the crowd, with her daughter, Takeshi at her side, and shared her heartbreak over the loss of her son. “No words. No words. But all the support that we have been getting, I'm just grateful to see everyone coming out. I raised my son to be the perfect young man for any woman that was going to be in his life. I didn’t know I was going to bury my son. I taught my son to bury me. I didn’t know that this is what I was going to have to face in my life but for some reason, God gives and he takes. He’s my angel,” Aretha Wallace said, adding that her husband, who had discovered Justin’s body after he was shot on Saturday, June 5, was going to be there but broke down.
She thanked the police for being there for the family through this tragedy and the arrest of suspect, Jovan Young on Tuesday, June 8, and said she gathered the strength to be there on behalf of the other children in attendance. “It’s so hard but we have to come together. Life is a journey and none of us know where tomorrow is going to take us. For these kids, we have to stand together as a team," she said.
Some of Justin Wallace’s young peers also bravely spoke before the crowd. One friend, Tyler, said, “When I found out what happened, I was just coming from a farm, and I was having a great time. My mom sat me down and told me what happened. I was devastated. He was such a nice friend. And it’s not fair. He had a future ahead of him. And he didn’t even reach adulthood. It’s not fair.” Another young classmate said while she didn’t know Justin well, his death hit hard. “Even though I didn’t know him, I couldn’t help but think, that person could have been me. I could have been that person that was shot and dead.”
NYPD Chief of Community Affairs Bureau Jeffrey Maddrey spoke of being there for the family and the pain all are feeling over this loss. “We shouldn’t be standing here right now. We have to come together for the community for the loss of an angel,” he said. He mentioned Deputy Commissioner Kevin O’Connor, who had walked from Harlem to the vigil in Far Rockaway that day—21 miles—stopping at spots where a victim died due to gun violence. “We are suffering as a community. This gun violence scourge is happening everywhere, and we need to stand up and come together because we cannot lose another Justin. We cannot lose our babies. Stop the violence? No, stop the silence. When do we step up and say hey, we’re not going to allow this on our corners. We cannot be scared of our own children. Far Rockaway, I’m here with you. We can no longer be silent. We have to step up, speak up and make sure our children live,” Chief Maddrey said.
Some of Justin’s teachers such as Ms. Pearson and Ms. Baker also spoke about Justin and how his loss hits hard to home, as mothers and teachers. They both shared that Justin would often bring them gifts, showing how much he cared for them. “Justin Wallace is the type of scholar that makes you want to teach,” Ms. Baker said.
The vigil ended with Principal Nicole Griffin cutting the strings to balloons that were tied to the stairs during the vigil. “These balloons are for us to smile because Justin, he’s still with us. Justin to you, we dedicate these balloons as you look down on us smiling, knowing that as we move forward, we are going to be those steppers who are going to make a difference,” she said.
Dr. Mullings ended saying, “Justin Wallace, his name will be a name that will spark change,” and mentioned that a Justin Wallace Foundation is going to be established to help students achieve the dreams that Justin had, and to stop gun violence.
By Katie McFadden
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