The many works of North Bergen native Peter James spin the tale of a young man growing up in urban New Jersey, who strove to capture the community he loved so much in the written and spoken word.
A promising young rap artist, who was killed at the age of 22 by a drunk driver, lives on through his poignant lyrics thanks to the efforts of his parents Gloria and Charlie James.
The pair published two books of their son's work, with a third on the way.
"I just thought this was something Peter would have wanted," said Gloria James. "He worked so hard on his art and we thought it was time to bring him back into the world."
In addition to the publications, the James' family is hoping to inspire the next generation of lyricists, writers and artists through their newly established charity The Elevation Project.
"It's a place where artists, musicians, and writers can all be supported by each other," said James. "That is the main priority for The Elevation Project."
On Saturday, April 21, the first annual fundraiser, The Elevation Walk, will be held at 10 a.m. starting off at the James' home and going through Peter's neighborhood.
"I was looking for something to keep him present," said James. "That's when the charity came to mind."
The walk will raise money for the non-profit organization Opportunity Project, which helps patients suffering from traumatic brain injuries.
In addition, a $100 savings bond will be awarded to a graduating music or writing student of Our Lady of Libera School in West New York.
"We're starting off here at Peter's home because he loved his house and he loved his neighborhood," said James. "That is what he wrote about; life outside these doors."
The walk will start off at the James' house on 44th Street and Grand Street. Walkers will then go up 44th Street across the park, and back down 46th Street to the Bergen Turnpike and back to the house for some refreshments.
"We're walking ten blocks and asking for a $1 a block," said James.
The man behind the lyrics
Born in Hoboken on July 5, 1980, Peter Thomas James grew up in North Bergen with a love for writing and the spoken word.
In his teens, Peter showed an interest in rap music, and began to compose his own musical style.
He eventually joined the group Actions of the Supernatural (ASN). The group's first CD compilation showed tremendous promise. Unfortunately tragedy struck on Jan. 13, 2003.
On the way home from a party, Peter and childhood friend Joseph Potente got into a friend's car, and were struck by a drunk driver just six block away from home.
Potente, also a member of ASN, suffered severe and irreparable head trauma. Peter died instantly.
"It took us a little over a year to go into his room, and one day as we were going through his things we found 20 notebooks," said James. "It was all the poetry that he had been writing."
Amazed by the profound depth of their son's writing, which they were not familiar with at the time, the James felt this was a gift to share with the world.
"It's hard because you don't always want to share everything, but it was a nice way to bring him back," said James.
In 2004, the family released his first collection of poems and lyrics entitled "Living on Paper Street," which encompassed his ideas of living and growing up in this busy urban area of New Jersey, as well as his views on life, homelessness, and life after death.
Eight months after the publication in 2004, the James found Peter's grammar school book bag with ten more notebooks of Peter's work, which detailed more personal and in-depth writings and included multiple mentions of the word Elevation; Peter's artist name.
"They were like finding little treasures," said James. "They were little bits of him that he had left behind."
A third and final installment of Peter's work is due to come out in May. The books have been published by Xlibris and are available now at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and Borders.com.
A walk to remember
Since the publication of his works, Peter James' work has also been recognized twice by VH1's Save the Music contest, and has been featured at the famed Poet's House in New York. A composer in Denmark also played a tribute hymn for Peter last March.
In addition, English poet Mark Hillman has befriended the James family, and brought recognition to Peter's work across the Atlantic.
"He is such an established poet," said Gloria James. "I sent him a letter asking him to read Peter's work. He has now written over 30 poems about Peter."
"There is something about Peter's work which compels you to sit up and take notice," said Hillman. "Sometimes you find the poetry, sometimes the social commentary and of course those prophetic lines about his own tragic circumstances, which nag at the mind until you delve in again and discover great strength, humility, and almost a teaching somehow."
In honor of Peter, Hillman will lead a group of people in England on their own walk, which will be occurring at the same time as the walk in North Bergen.
Expected to join the James' family are about 60 people including: Monique Bass of MSNBC, Joe Burnz, CEO of Last Breath Entertainment, and Mayor Nick Sacco. In addition, many alumni and teachers from Our Lady of Libera School, where Gloria James has taught for almost 22 years and Peter was once a student, will march.
"I don't know how many tears are going to fall, but we are going to try to keep it as happy and upbeat as we can," said James.
For more information on Project Elevation or to make a donation, send an email to email@example.com. Jessica Rosero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org