Conflicted with emotions of joy and sadness, a 46-year-old mother from the Bronx became the inaugural recipient of the Kalief Browder Memorial Scholarship — an award created to honor the short life and tragic death of the former Riker’s Island inmate.
On Tuesday, Beverly Emers was awarded $5,000 — a full year’s tuition — to attend Bronx Community College, the New York Daily News reports.
“I’m excited and grateful, but it’s a lot of mixed feelings,” Emers said at a press conference. “And the reason I say that is because of why the scholarship was created.”
Kalief Browder was just 16 years old when he was arrested and charged for allegedly stealing a backpack. Browder awaited trial for three years at Riker’s, where he experienced traumatic brawls with other inmates, violence at the hands of corrections officers, and mind-numbing time in solitary confinement. Browder’s situation garnered national attention after footage was released of a prison officer throwing him to the ground.
Charges against the young man were ultimately dropped in May 2013, The New Yorker reports. Upon his release, Browder enrolled at BCC.
But the trauma experienced during his time at Riker’s proved to be too much. Browder, 22, committed suicide with an air conditioning cord on June 6, 2015, just days before he was set to appear before a judge on new charges, the New York Daily News reports.
“The last time Mr. Browder had a case in Bronx County, it took them three years to dismiss the charges, and that’s why he’s no longer with us,” Paul Prestia, Browder’s attorney, asserted at a June 2015 hearing.
According to the BCC website, the Kalief Browder Memorial Scholarship was established to commemorate his life and support students “who are working to transform their lives after incarceration.”
Emers stood beside Browder’s mother, Venida Browder, as she accepted the award Tuesday. The Bronx mom has spent time behind bars herself. She served six years in prison, most of her stays stemming from drug-related charges, the New York Daily News reports. Since turning her life around and enrolling in school, Emers has achieved a GPA of 3.8.
“There was a time that I was stuck because I had the stigma of having been formerly incarcerated,” Emers said. “People wouldn’t give me a chance. Now I feel like there’s nothing you can’t do.”
In the midst of celebration, there was a tinge of bittersweet emotion. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said scholarships are important, but he wishes there wasn’t one bearing Browder’s name.
“The fact is Kalief lost his life as the result of horrific cruelty and neglect that should have never happened,” Diaz said. “Unfortunately this is a situation that is all too common in the Bronx, the borough that I call home.”