the late Justice Reginé Stewart

by Curtis Caesar John

Amid the brutal murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the young Brunswick, GA man gunned down by three white, racist men in 2020 while out for a run, there are other numerous, often untold, stories of Black men and women murdered while just really living their lives.

Another of these controversial and tragic stories is that of Justice R. Stewart.  On the evening of June 27th, the Marine Corps first lieutenant, serving out of Camp Lejeune, was out on an evening run in Pender County, NC when she was struck by a vehicle operated by drunk driver William Genens and killed at the young age of 25.   

Having just left a bar, according to WECT News, the District Attorney’s office says that “Genens pulled over after the crash and tried to wave down passing drivers.  Homeowners that lived near where the crash happened heard the collision and went out to speak to Genens. “The homeowners informed Genens that he should call 911, but he refused and instead called his adult children to get assistance for himself,” District Attorney Ben David said in a media release.”

Even with that gross violation, as the investigation failed to gather enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Genens was impaired when he hit Stewart, he pleaded guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless driving. His punishment: only 120 days in jail and a 16-29 month suspended sentence.

Had it been proven in court that he was impaired, he would have received a higher charge and a more severe sentence.

But Stewart’s family will not allow her memory and legacy to go unnoticed.

On March 27th, both in Columbia, SC and Jacksonville, NC outside Camp Lejuene, runners gathered in honor of 1st. Lt. Justice Stewart to participate in the For the Love of Justice 5K.  We gathered to finish the run she didn’t have the opportunity to finish. The race was also organized for an equally important cause:  to raise funds for scholarships for the Empowering Justice Charitable Foundation (www.EmpoweringJustice.org), established in October 2021 to honor Justice, embody the selfless service and servant leadership she was dedicated to, and support organizations that promote pathways out of poverty.

After the race, I chatted with Justice’s mother Tia Savage Jones to discover more about the scholarships honoring her beloved daughter. Tia remarked, “Justice was a 2014 graduate of Richland Northeast High School in South Carolina. She was the recipient of multiple scholarships after high school totaling $391,000 and went on to graduate from Spelman College. [Our foundation] is proud to offer scholarships and awards in honor of 1st LT Justice R. Stewart. Staying committed to our mission of providing pathways out of poverty and empowering youth, our foundation collects the net proceeds from hosted events and gives back to the community, a gesture which minutely defines Justice’s character.”    

A tender moment between Justice's younger sister Faith and mother Tia during the video presentation following the race
(photo by JEDI Runner Photography LLC)

Tia continues, “One scholarship, in particular, is called First Lieutenant Justice R. Stewart Legendary Leadership Award. The criteria were established to embody Justice’s leadership qualities. Establishing these scholarships and grants will open doors that were once closed to some due to lack of funds or the fear of adding another financial burden to family members. As a family, we experienced first-hand how education provided a pathway out of poverty for us.

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