On Sept. 12 in Brooklyn, working families from the Bed-Stuy neighborhood eagerly lined up on the corner of Malcolm X Avenue with their children in anticipation of Donna Heyward’s annual back-to-school supply drive. The supply drive, organized by Heyward with support from the Party for Socialism and Liberation, attracted dozens of parents from the community. PSL was on hand to pass out free PPE, snacks, toys, donated winter coats, and school supplies and backpacks for the upcoming school year.
According to Donna Heyward, her late husband began organizing the supply drives after the death of his son as a way to serve the needs of those in the community. Heyward, Sr. was a leader and mentor to many in the movement against police brutality.
“[We’ve] been doing this for 26 years, since [my husband’s] son got killed by a police officer in ‘94,” explained Heyward. “I started [helping] 20 years ago…with my husband. He passed away in 2018, and I’ve been continuing that since he passed away.”
After collecting supplies, parents stuck around to socialize, eat, and dance. Friends of the family grilled and served hot dogs and hamburgers, and kids painted colorful pictures at a nearby art station table or chased each other in the parking lot with their new toys. The event stretched into the late afternoon, as a DJ showed up to play music for dancing attendees. By evening, Heyward had brought pans of fried chicken, greens, rice, macaroni and cheese and pasta salad to serve hungry guests. Spirits were high as the supply drive was also a celebration of both Heyward’s 60th birthday, and what would have been her 5th wedding anniversary to her late husband Nicholas Heyward, Sr.
Family’s history in the movement against police murders
Nicholas Heyward, Sr. became a vocal advocate against police brutality after NYPD officer Brian George shot and killed his 13-year old son, Nicholas Heyward, Jr. in 1994. George had responded to a 911 call reporting a man with a gun in Gowanus Houses, the Brooklyn public housing complex where Heyward lived, and shot the teenager in the stairwell while he was playing cops and robbers with a group of friends, “mistaking” his toy rifle for a real weapon.
Then-Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes ruled George acted in self-defense, blaming Heyward’s “realistic looking” toy gun, and no charges were filed against the officer. Heyward, Sr. fought for the rest of his life to seek justice for his slain son, and successfully urged Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson into reopening the case in 2015. However, after a year-long investigation, Thompson’s office decided against prosecuting George. Heyward, Sr. passed away in 2018 of cardiac arrest.
As PSL organizer Kerbie Joseph shared in Heyward, Sr.’s memory, “There is a love, a support that Nicholas gave that could never be put into words and never needed to be explained. He just had those things for all of us, whether or not you contributed to his 24-year struggle for justice for his stolen son or not. If he was able to fight alongside you in any struggle, he would and he did.”
The supply drive ended up giving away school supplies and backpacks to more than 80 children. The support and community building comes at an even more crucial time as teachers and families also fight back against an unsafe school reopening in New York.