Seven years ago, a young poet from North Bergen was killed at the age of 22 by a drunk driver. Yet, even in death he is able to help others.
Oct. 10 will be the third anniversary of the Elevation Walk in honor of Peter T. James, which is organized by his parents. The event raises money for the Elevation Project, which each year gives a $100 scholarship to a graduating student from Our Lady of Libera School and makes a donation to a non-for-profit organization. The North Bergen VFW Edward McDowell Post 2648 was chosen to receive the donation this year.
“I never want my son to fade to black, so we try to do something good.” – Gloria James
In the past, funds have gone toward the Alzheimer’s Association and Opportunity Project, a not-for-profit that helps patients suffering from traumatic brain injuries.
Ms. James delayed the walk from its usual date in May until October, hoping that the time would give everyone an economic “breather.”
She asks that attendees, who walk 10 blocks through Peter’s neighborhood, donate $1 per block. The walk starts at 10:30 a.m. in front of James’ house on 44th Street, continues up 44th Street across the park, and back down on 46th Street on Bergen Turnpike before returning to the house for refreshments.
For more information, email James at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (201) 348-4209.
Born on July 5, 1980, Peter grew up with a love of words.
“He was very taken with dialogue in movies,” said James. “He would recite the dialogue of entire movies when he was 2…it was amazing to watch, so I thought he was going to be an actor.”
Peter continued to write, and in his teens he became interested in rap music. He joined the group Actions of the Supernatural (ASN), which released a promising CD.
After Peter was instantly killed by a drunk driver on Jan. 19, 2003, it took his parents a little over a year to clean out his bedroom.
When they did go through his things, they found 20 notebooks of his writing. Then in 2004 they found another 15 more books in a grammar school backpack. After that, James found more writing in one of Peter’s sketch books.
In his writings he used his artist name Elevation, hence the name of the charity.
“Living on Paper Streets” and two other compilations have been published and archived at the Poet’s House in New York so his writing will be around forever, said James.
“We continue to bring him back out into the world each year,” said James.
She continued, “In one of his books [he wrote], ‘A simple man with something to say is the perfect masterpiece.’ He truly believed that the everyday, average-class working persons were the heroes of the world. I myself never want my son to fade to black, so we try to do something good.”
Raw talent turned heads
Since publication of his work, Peter has been recognized twice by the VH1’s Save the Music contest, and a Denmark composer has created a tribute hymn. One of his friends, Joe Burns, produced a CD by fusing his poetry with more updated hip-hop.
English poet Mark Hillman said that he met James through Peter. James had written Hillman asking him to read her son’s poetry.
“I just really got taken by the story of what she’d been through and I thought what he wrote showed signs of real talent. It reminded me of someone really starting to write and raw talent really about to burst,” said Hillman.
Hillman became friends with Peter’s parents and said that James, along with Peter’s story, has become a “genuine muse” for his own work.
Simultaneous walk in England
Hillman said that he supports James’ walk and takes a small part in it himself. This year Hillman and a small group of people will also walk in England at the same time the walk in North Bergen begins.
He said the 20 or so people who will donate a few pounds have no connection, other than being moved by the story and wanting to reciprocate by walking for Peter and the goodness his writing represented. Hillman said that Great Britain and the U.S. pull together in difficult circumstances and that this charity is a “micro version” of that.
In addition to their English friends, alumni and teachers from Our Lady of Libera School will join James, who has taught there for 23 years.
“We will constantly bring him back out into the world and keep his love for his neighborhood alive, which he loved so much,” said James.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.