DeJohn Ward was a fearless young man who hoped to be an underwater welder. Six years after losing the Marysville teen to suicide, his family aims to better the lives of other young people through a new scholarship.
The Love Don’t Judge scholarship, $2,000 to be awarded to a member of Marysville Pilchuck High School’s class of 2021, adds to a youth program Sabrie and Steve Taylor founded in their son’s memory in 2019. That program, a safe Saturday night drop-in place for teens at the Marysville Boys & Girls Club, hasn’t operated for the past year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
They’ve called that effort Love D.ont J.udge — with the initials intended as a tribute to their son DeJohn “DJ” Ward.
“If we could change things for just one kid, it would be worth it,” said Sabrie Taylor, whose son was 19 when he committed suicide at the family’s Marysville home Feb. 14, 2015.
“Love Don’t Judge is about accepting every kid, regardless of race or economic status,” she said. Suicide “doesn’t discriminate.”
According to online information about the scholarship, the Love Don’t Judge organization is “built on the memory of our son/brother DeJohn Ward.”
The organization’s Facebook page shows photos of Love Don’t Judge sweatshirts Sabrie Taylor said were sold to raise money for the scholarship. It tells how the family “took it upon ourselves to create a safe space for young adults and teenagers who might be going through a hard time or simply need a positive space to be.”
“It’s something for our youth our son didn’t have in Marysville — a place for teens,” Taylor said. With the help of friends, the Taylors launched the free, Saturday evening drop-in center nearly two years ago. At the time, they told The Daily Herald they chose the site because DeJohn and his younger sisters, Oshinaye and Veronika Taylor, now 21 and 19, spent so much time at the Marysville Boys & Girls Club as kids.
Even with the pandemic, the group has found other ways to help. Its Facebook page has Halloween photos of costumed kids at a Love Don’t Judge drive-through event outside a Marysville grocery store.
And Taylor, 44, said they plan to start up again with a Love Don’t Judge roller skating event for kids ages 12 and older 4:30-6:30 p.m. April 24 at the Marysville Skate Center, with masks and limited capacity. “We’ll start small,” she said.
To apply for the scholarship, Taylor said, a student must be a class of 2021 member at Marysville Pilchuck High School and have a cumulative grade point average of 2.5 or higher. “Kids with a 3.0 have lots of opportunities,” Taylor said. The application asks for two letters of recommendation, a 300-word essay and a high school transcript. A group involved in the organization will make the selection, Taylor said.
The $2,000 award will go “to a deserving student who may be going through financial troubles, still wanting a bright future,” says the online information about the scholarship.
For suicide victims, any future is destroyed. Families live with the pain forever. “It doesn’t ever go away,” Taylor said.
Wendy Burchill, Healthy Communities Specialist with the Snohomish Health District, said suicide is the leading cause of death for youth ages 10-17 in Snohomish County, and the No. 2 cause of death for people ages 15-24.
On Nov. 18, 2020, the Snohomish Health District released what it termed a Health Alert titled, “Public Health Advisory: Increased Suicide Risk.”
“Since August of 2020, there have been four student suicides in Snohomish County reported to public health,” it said. “These tragedies appear to be unrelated to one another and are an increase from recent months and from the same period last year. Local data and disaster research suggest that suicide rates throughout our population may rise as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.”
Burchill said by email that the alert used “students suicides,” not youth suicides, taking into account students who are 18 but would not be considered in youth data counts.
During a Snohomish Health District online meeting last July 22, Burchill reviewed youth suicide statistics. She reported that from 2014 to 2019, there had been 35 in Snohomish County — 24 males and 11 females.
For Taylor, giving hope to young people has become “my whole purpose” as she holds tight to memories of her son.
“He was fearless. He was goofy. He was a kid that wanted to be rollerblading down staircases,” she said.
DeJohn, she said, was on a championship youth football team with the Marysville Kodiaks. He later suffered a concussion, which kept him from playing football, his mother said. Trouble followed, and Ward spent time in juvenile detention — where he was introduced to welding, a possible career path.
“He was a big tall kid, 6-foot-3. That kid — everyone wanted to be around him,” Taylor said.
DeJohn Ward’s son, DJ, was born four months after his father died. The little boy, now 5, spends many weekends with his grandparents — he calls them Gigi and Papa.
“He definitely keeps us on our toes. And he’s the spitting image,” Taylor said.
Julie Muhlstein: firstname.lastname@example.org
Love Don’t Judge Scholarship for an MP student
A new Love Don’t Judge scholarship of $2,000, to be given in memory of Dejohn Ward, will be awarded this spring to a member of the Marysville Pilchuck High School class of 2021. Applications are due May 21. Information: lovedontjudgescholarship.com
More information about the Love Don’t Judge effort is on Facebook: www.facebook.com/love.dont.judge1
Help in a crisis
The Snohomish Health District suggests these resources:
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
• 24 Hour Care Crisis Line (VOA) 800-584-3578
• Care Crisis Chat 24/7 www.imhurting.org
• Catholic Community Services (mental health) 425-257-2111
• Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County 425-252-2873
• Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
• Crisis Connections: 866-427-4747
• The Trevor Project: 866-488-7386 www.thetrevorproject.org
• WA Listens (for stress related to COVID-19): 833-681-0211