Justin’s Legacy

Michael Sugerman

The sudden death of Justin Carr ’14, who died of cardiomyopathy during swim practice Feb. 22, has led the administration to convene a panel of medical experts to consider a detection program for heart defects in student athletes, President Tom Hudnut said.

“We are going to see if we can maybe be leaders in that field as we have been with concussions and other things,” he said. “This would certainly be a lasting impact.”

Head of Upper School Audrius Barzdukas said the panel will identify potential ways to screen and test students to make participation in sports safer.

Carr’s death has prompted not only further study of the ailment that may have killed him, but also support for his extracurricular loves: the visual and performing arts.

“I want to be able to give back to those less fortunate than me by creating an after school program in neighborhoods where kids are not exposed to the visual and performing arts,” Carr wrote in January for a summer program application.

His family has set up the Justin Eugene Carr Memorial Fund for this purpose. Susan Carr said that Harvard-Westlake students might be able to volunteer for those programs.

A group of Carr’s friends and members of the Black Leadership Awareness and Culture Club sold turquoise “Smile for Justin” bracelets, baked goods, and BLACC garments (designed by Carr) in the quad March 4 and 5 to support the fund.

Three weeks after his death, Carr is still, as Hudnut put it, a “ubiquitous” presence on campus.

Chanell Thomas ’13, who sang in Chamber Singers and competed on the swim team with Carr, helped pull Carr out of the pool when he became unresponsive during practice. Now, she not only wears a “Smile for Justin” wristband, but also a heart-shaped locket with a lock of his hair inside.

“I feel like he’s always with me,” she said. “I know that his body isn’t here, but that locket is my physical proof that he hasn’t left me and he is still taking care of me.”

Posts calling for world peace on Carr’s behalf have swarmed social networking sites, prompting the formation of a Facebook group bearing the name, “Justin Carr Wants World Peace.”

Carr’s father, Darrell Carr, sparked this movement at his son’s funeral service at All- Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena on March 2. At only 4 years old, he said, his son asked God to “help us achieve world peace.”

“What if right here, we start a world peace movement?” Darrell Carr asked a congregation of over 1,600 mourners. While he acknowledged with a laugh that his methods of spreading the word by “putting a sign on the front lawn” might be “dated,” he told the younger people in attendance that with social media, anything is possible.

“Put it on Facebook and a thousand people will see it,” he said. “Just think about it. Let’s take this idea and run with it. Let’s do it in Justin’s memory.”

Susan Carr added that people can start making a difference by living in the same “inclusive” way her son did.

“He really wanted everybody to just be respectful,” she said. “He just wanted genuine inclusion that didn’t have stipulations attached to it. People tell what they wish they would’ve done or wish they could’ve known this great kid. You never need to wait until it’s too late to include somebody, or to tell them you care.”

Upper School Dean Pete Silberman shared similar lessons from Carr’s life in a speech at the funeral service.

“I’ve read that there’s a 500 billion to one chance that we’ll even exist on this planet,” he said. “I thought of Justin as a kid that always lived as though he’d won the universe’s lottery.”

Silberman asked all those in attendance to take two lessons from “our young renaissance man.”

“One: never underestimate the power of being good to each other,” he said. “Two: you all have a remarkable opportunity to change the future that you will inherit. So in Justin’s honor, don’t wait. Do that today.”

Carr’s active kindness and sense of humor were also themes present at the March 1 candlelight vigil in Feldman-Horn Plaza.

Director of Student Affairs Jordan Church said Carr teased him about a poster in his office of Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali in black turtlenecks titled “The Greatest.” Church said Carr joked about adding a picture of himself in a black turtleneck at the end of his senior year so that he would not be forgotten after he left Harvard-Westlake.

“I think I will [add the picture],” Church said. “To me, he is one of the greatest.”

The vigil featured a number of musical performances by Carr’s friends, including the Jazz Singers with whom he sang.

As the sun began to set on the vigil, candles were distributed and lit, and those in attendance sang “Amazing Grace.”

Before Carr’s family left the vigil early to attend a private rosary in Pasadena, his younger cousins – who nicknamed him “Juju” – released two balloons in his favorite colors, brown and turquoise.

“Juju, we love you,” they said as the balloons floated off into the distance.

Choir director Rodger Guerrero, whose students performed at the vigil and the next day at Carr’s funeral, said, “Justin challenged me to be a better teacher, musician and student. He was going to be just a first-rate vocal musician his entire life. That set of abilities was pretty spectacular, and I do mourn the loss of the music that was going to be created. He ran faster than everyone else, he was more spirited than everyone else. He was a mustang on the free range.”

Hudnut called Carr’s death “a profoundly sad experience. Whether your initial reaction is denial, or anger, or depression, you’re just left with a feeling of immense, intense sadness,” he said. “There’s a hole in your life that will never be filled.”

However, he added, “Just as we must mourn his passing, we must rejoice for his having passed our way.”

**Additional reporting by Sydney Foreman, David Lim, Noa Yadidi and Elana Zeltser