Jeremiah Grant, 8, was fatally struck by a red Jeep traveling westbound on Columbus Drive on Saturday, Oct. 28. He was a member of the Honey Bees Double-Dutch team who had performed on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
After he was hit by the Jeep, Jeremiah was transported immediately to Jersey City Medical Center by Emergency Medical Services, where he was pronounced dead at approximately 5:05 p.m.
The tragedy hit a nerve in the community partly because it occurred in a part of the city already concerned about high speed traffic, and partly because Jeremiah had become a model of success for the local community.
Hosted by Jersey City Stands and Safe Streets JC, the vigil – at the request of the Grant family – also honored the memory of the 12 people who died as a result of accidents this year in Jersey City.
Two weeks ago, two other boys died in Jersey City after being hit by an alleged hit-and-run driver.
During the ceremony, some public officials spoke about the issue – especially regarding nearby Grand Street, which various groups have been seeking to have reconfigured in order to reduce the speed of vehicles.
“This has to stop,” said Councilwoman Joyce Watterman, who as a local pastor, also gave a prayer during the ceremony. “This has to end here.”
She said the council will need to step of enforcement and revisit plans for reconfiguring streets such as Grand Street to make them safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other drivers.
The reconfiguration was proposed by JC Bikes last year and endorsed by a number of neighborhood associations. Grand Avenue is particularly dangerous because it provides a direct link between the exit from the New Jersey Turnpike to the waterfront. But as the tragedy with Jeremiah proved, Columbus Drive is also a high risk street as cars speed through the traffic light at Grove Street.
“I would approve reconfiguring this street [meaning Columbus],” said Councilman Daniel Rivera, who was also in the crowd. “But I have my concerns about Grand Street.”
He said with the hospital located there, he feared that the change – similar to one imposed on Observer Highway in Hoboken – would create a traffic jam near the entrance to the Jersey City Medical Center, putting additional lives as risk.
Mayor Steven Fulop, Council President Rolando Lavarro, Councilman Chris Gadsden, Councilman Richard Boggiano, and other members of the City Council -- as well as candidates in the upcoming election -- also took part in the ceremony. They spoke of the boy and his accomplishments, and paid their respects to the boy’s parents.
Always in their hearts
Jeremiah, best known as "Prince Bee,” was seen as something of a superstar. The Honey Bees (which stands for Helping Others Now, Empowering Yourself), is a nonprofit organization dedicated to motivating and positively re-directing Jersey City kids through the sport of Double Dutch.
Members described Jeremiah as a very talented and lovingly-precocious boy.
“Jerry was very competitive,” one of the team members said. “But he was like my little brother.”
“He had a silly personality. He used to argue, and make jokes, but he was always in my heart,” another said.
“He wanted to be a principal,” Honey Bees coach Takeria Clark said. “He would have been a good one, too. He made sure everybody did their homework, even if he didn’t do his own. Then he would go back to basketball. He loved basketball. But he proved the boys can do Double Dutch. He even taught the mayor how to do Double Dutch.”
Jeremiah was a member of an H.O.N.E.Y Bees Double Dutch program team that became the world champions at American Double Dutch League 44th International Competition last June.
Clark said the program started as an effort to engage kids in Audubon Park, and they went onto become world champions.
“Jerry did it all over national television,” she said, describing the team as a movement. “Nobody ever thought we would get this far.”
Jessica Hellinger, a candidate for council in Ward B, called Jeremiah one of her kids.
“I’m involved with the Honey Bees and they are all my kids,” she said.
The ceremony, led by community activist Michael Billy, read off the names of the 12 traffic victims.
Among the musicians that played in tribute to the boy was Walter Parks, a Jersey City resident who served the lead guitarist for Woodstock legend Richie Havens. Havens, until his death, was also a resident of Jersey City.
Several hundred people crowded the plaza to pay their respects, many holding candles. A Honey Bee team also performed Double Dutch as a tribute to their fallen comrade.
Unlike other rallies held here over the last few years to signify national tragedies, the crowd remained respectively quiet, standing silent throughout most of the hour-long ceremony under the glow of a rising moon.
There was no room for rages against some national entity, only tears and hugs, not just among the family members, but the extended family that included the Honey Bee team members. Many sat quietly, tears rolling down their cheeks as they clutched candles in Jeremiah’s memory.
“This is very sad,” said Watterman. “And to think, just yesterday, this plaza was filled with happy kids celebrating Halloween.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.