BY GABRIELLE GUZ
Jayden Grant, an 11-year-old boy, had just stepped out of his barber shop in Crown Heights, ready for his fifth grade graduation the next day, when he was hit by a stray bullet on Schenectady Avenue. But that devastating incident didn’t stop him from receiving his elementary school diploma two weeks later.
Grant graduated from New Bridges Elementary School on July 8, during a ceremony held at Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park, surrounded by his family and friends, teachers, neighbors, city officials, anti-gun violence advocates, NYPD first responders and hospital staff.
“At school, determination is usually in the context of students’ academic courses — you know, keep reading, try that hard math problem. You work hard and you never stop trying. That’s what determination is all about,” said Kevin Bowles, principal of New Bridges Elementary School. “But in these last couple of weeks, Jayden has shown us determination on a whole new level, in a way in which he never had to do. He is a model of what it means to be strong and fearless.”
According to Grant’s grandmother, Bessie Watson-Grant, doctors said that if he does not regain sensation in his lower body, he might not walk again. Despite such a prognosis, she remains hopeful Jayden will be moved to a rehabilitation center soon. She says that he has been doing better lately, and that his spirits are high.
Brooklyn North Assistant Chief Joseph Campbell said he is “humbled by the resilience and positivity of this strong man.” He continued, “You and your family have had an impact on me, and I am sure that your impact will continue to ripple through our community.”
Rev. Kevin Jones, a representative from Save Our Lives, an anti-gun violence group, presented Grant with a survivor’s award. Jones told Grant that when he first saw him in the hospital, the Monday after the June 20 shooting, he promised that all of New York City would have Grant’s back throughout his recovery. Jones said he was happy to see all that love and support come to fruition at the well-attended ceremony.
New York City Community Affairs Commissioner Marco Carrion added, “Jayden, on behalf of the mayor, myself and the other 8.4 million people in the city, we love you and have your back. Whatever you need, we are there for you. We know that you are never going to give up because your future is starting now.”
Another speaker, Hydra Mendoza, deputy chancellor at the Department of Education, told Grant that she was “so happy to be here on behalf of our Chancellor Richard Carranza,” but more than that, she was there as a mother of a son.
“We don’t know each other, but I just adore you, and I am so proud of you,” she told Grant. “I want you to see how much love is in this room.”
Mendoza continued, “As you graduate from fifth grade, you demonstrate that success depends on holding tight to a goal that you want more than anything in the world.”
Kenneth Gibbs, president and CEO of Maimonides, said that while he is grateful to celebrate Grant’s graduation, he looks forward to seeing him graduate from the hospital soon — “as in going home,” he emphasized.
“It is a privilege working with you. This is what makes our work meaningful. And your character and spirit is what it’s all about,” Gibbs said. “There’s a great power within you, and I hope that as you grow, you discover it and trust it.”
In anticipation of large medical expenses, Grant’s elementary school community has started a GoFundMe page, but according to family and friends, it will take more than that. It will take a strong, unrelenting village to raise him.
“To Jayden’s family, we know that this journey has not been easy,” said Bowles. “But know that we’ll be there for you, now and always.”