A Black teenager who was shot at three years ago while trying to ask for directions has graduated from high school early and will attend a historically Black college in Florida.
Brennan Walker graduated from Rochester High School in the Detroit suburb of Rochester Hills, Michigan, on Saturday, June 12, a little over three years after he was shot at by a white man he’d asked for directions.
“I think about the events every day, or every other day pretty much still,” he told Fox 2 last week.
Walker graduated from high school a semester early and will attend Florida Memorial University, a private HBCU located in Miami Gardens.
He was just 14 when he was nearly killed after missing the bus to school one April morning in 2018. Walker said that after he woke up late, he tried to walk his bus route to get to Rochester High School but got lost in the Christian Hills subdivision. He knocked on the door of 53-year-old Jeffery Zeigler’s home and a woman began yelling that he was trying to break into the house, Walker told WJBK-TV three years ago.
“Then the guy came downstairs and he grabbed the gun. I saw it and started to run. And that’s when I heard the gunshot.” Zeigler missed as Walker ran away. The incident was captured on a home security camera.
Lisa Wright, Walker’s mother, believes the incident was racially-motivated. “After watching the video and hearing the wife say ‘why did these people choose my house?’ I knew it was racially-motivated,” Wright told WXYZ-TV. “I don’t know what other ‘these people’ she could possibly have been talking about. He was by himself.”
The shooting made national headlines and Zeigler was sentenced to four to 10 years in prison. A police detective testified during the trial that when Zeigler was being questioned, he referred to the teen as “the colored kid” or “the colored boy.
Walker told Fox 2 last week that the traumatic experience had a significant impact on his mental health and school performance.
“After that stuff happened to me, I was in a pretty bad place as far as like, school work and mentally and emotionally. I wasn’t really there fully.”
Counseling and a positive support system at the Alternative Center for Education in Rochester helped Walker regain a sense of normalcy.
“Eventually I pulled myself together and I got through it,” he said. The teen went on to make great achievements at school, becoming president of the student council, and competing on the debate team and battle of the books, and was accepted to 11 different colleges
In explaining why he chose to attend Florida Memorial University, Walker said, “I kinda picked it just because I kinda wanted to be around more people of color.” He’s considering studying biology while away at school.
“I was a young mom, Wright said, reflecting on her son’s ordeal. “When I was 17 and carrying him, I had no clue who he would be today. To know that something happened to him and he still persevered gives me the confidence to know that whatever happens in Florida I am not going to be worried because I know he has the mindset and the skills to put it together. And he’ll be okay.”
Zeigler demanded a retrial in May 2020, claiming the court messed up the sentencing guidelines. The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in July that the sentencing should be revisited, but rejected the defense attorney’s claims that race was improperly injected into the trial.