What Really Matters [Darryl King]

Hola mi gente,
About a week ago, a former colleague, Darryl King, passed away. Actually, he was more than a colleague he was also a friend. I missed his wake and funeral because of my job search and some freelance work I had to do. I’m bummed about that. And I must admit that in the past few years, we had slowly lost contact. Still, Darryl was someone special. This is how I remember him…

In Memoriam

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The first time I met Darryl King, we really didn’t hit it off too well. I was interviewing for the case manager position for a program Darryl had conceptualized and was heading, The Developing Justice in South Brooklyn Project. Julian Brown, someone I had met when I was training trainers for STRIVE, was really pushing hard for me for the position though I was a bit reluctant at first. In any case, right before the interview, Julian tells me, “Look, don’t worry about anything, you got this. Just don’t go talking too much.” I used to have a problem with talking too much during interviews.

I wasn’t that worried. Initially, I had my doubts about the project and I was fine where I was working. In fact, my boss at the time, Lizzette Hill Barcelona, was putting together

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Developing Justice: (from left to right) Kim Clark, Julian Brown, Darryl King, and myself

some funding so that she could better use my talents. So I went to these interviews somewhat reluctantly and not at all nervous. Still, Julian offered me more money and a chance to be at the beginning of something new where I could use my creativity and experience to create a case management model.

So what happens? Darryl and I get into a “debate” during the interview! He asked me a question about what I would say to a participant if he expressed a desire to become a lawyer. I responded that if the individual didn’t have a GED, that first I would encourage him to get a GED before I encouraged anything else. What Darryl heard was that I would encourage the person, which wasn’t what I said at all. So we went back and forth on that.

I walked away thinking, “Well, I won’t be getting that job!” LOL And, in fact, I found out that Darryl voted for some white guy who had never even been arrested, something I never let Darryl live down. For years, I always teased him about that! “Yeah, you were ready to hire some white dude over me, bro, get outta here,” I would remind him from time to time. And Darryl would bow his head and start laughing. We all laughed.

Darryl was good to me. He encouraged me to use my creativity and my strengths. Whenever I would come to him with an idea, he would patiently listen to me and usually his response would be, “So, what do you need to make that so?” And that’s the kind of person he was. He was always asset-based, man. He was about making it, whatever it was, happen. “How can we make that happen?” he would ask. Or, “What do you mean we can’t make that happen?” he would demand.

I remember once being at a meeting with Darryl, Julian Brown and our executive director at the time, Brad Lander (who’s on the City Council now), and we were talking about creating a leadership development workshop. The goal was to create a cadre of formerly incarcerated people with the intent of getting them involved in our organizing/ advocacy efforts. This was over 15 years ago, before anyone else was thinking in this way.

Truthfully, I was initially against the leadership workshop. What my people needed was workforce development training and jobs I argued, not volunteer work in organizing. How the people (“my people”) on my caseload could be expected to lead if they can’t even get a job, I reasoned. I lost the vote, 3-1 that day, but it was cool. Later, Darryl came to me and said, “What are you worried about? We’ll help you recruit participants and you’ll be the one running the groups.” Then he smiled. That was his way of telling me that he would support the creation of a leadership model that contained both — to a degree.

And that’s what I liked about him — he was always supportive. He was also generous to a fault. Darryl would literally give you the shirt off his back. I found this amazing, especially for a person who served 25 years for a crime he didn’t commit. I mean, I did a fraction of the time he served and I did what I was accused of doing. I was a low level drug dealer who sold drugs to support my habit. And sure, with the right lawyer and connections, I probably wouldn’t have done any time at all. Still, I sold drugs. Darryl had his whole young adulthood and more ripped from him for something he didn’t do. Whenever I would ask him how he managed to stave off the resentment and bitterness, his answer was that the only thing they couldn’t take away from him was his humanity. What a powerful message — a message he embodied.

One year, I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to book us as presenters for a four-day workshop at a national convention taking place in my ancestral home, Puerto Rico. He came into my office one day all excited and asked me, “Do you think you can translate two workshops into Spanish?” I nodded yes that I could given enough time. With a big smile, Darryl said, “Then get to working because we’re going to Puerto Rico to do workshops in English and Spanish!”

So, off we went to Puerto Rico, everything paid for, rooms at the Caribe Hilton, and doing workshops that totaled maybe four hours total. The rest of the time we spent under the Puerto Rican sun and doing some sight-seeing. At one point, he got pissed because I insisted that he couldn’t wear dress socks with sandals. LOL Darryl loved gambling and he disappeared until Julian and I searched him out. Oh yeah, we also were paid to do the workshops. For years after, Darryl, whenever we were going through a rough time, or having a difference of opinion, would say, “What other boss would get you an all-expense paid vacation to Puerto Rico and also make sure you got paid for it?!” and he would laugh. I created a video from the photos we took on that rip, but I can’t find it right now. I wanted so much to post it because he’s smiling in all the photos.

And that’s the thing that I remember most about Darryl: There was a lot of joy and we laughed a lot. Yeah, we worked hard and we were very conscientious about the work, but Darryl always had this sense of humor about it all. When he would see me stressing out, he’d call me into his office and tell me to take it easy. He would remind of where we came from and what we were doing. This spirit is what held that project together in the beginning. Later, both Darryl and Julian would leave the project to do other things and eventually I would become the project’s director. But I would never fail to mention Darryl’s name whenever I spoke at a conference or at a radio or TV appearance.

The last time Darryl and I hung out together was in 2011 or 2012 when we both were recipients of Citizens Against Recidivism awards. It says a lot about Darryl that when he saw

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Darryl (second from left) and I (fourth from left) accepting our Citizens Against Recidivism Awards.

me, he hugged and he beamed when I said, “How you doing Jefe.” That was my nickname for him, El Jefe and I could tell he used to like that. His health wasn’t too good and he had been going through some challenges, but he still was the same Darryl. His spirit was too strong, though he seemed weary. We promised each other we would keep in touch.

I wish I could say we kept in touch, but we didn’t. I miss him. I certainly could use his spirit now and maybe that is Darryl’s greatest gift. Maybe his legacy is that no matter what, no one can take away your humanity. Maybe his gift to the world is that the good things — the things that matter the most, can and must be done.

You did good Darryl. You’re still El Jefe.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

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