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Tree planted in memory of Richland Northeast graduate

Published: Oct. 30, 2021 at 6:31 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Richland Northeast High School community came together Saturday for a tree-planting ceremony in honor of late 2014 graduate Justice Stewart.

While on a jog in June 2021, Justice was hit and killed by a car near Camp LeJeune in North Carolina. The driver, William Keith Genens, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and reckless driving in connection with her death.

Justice was a standout NJROTC leader at the school who graduated with $391,000 in scholarships for college.

“As I got to know her, I realized the sky was the limit. There was nothing she couldn’t do. And I mean that sincerely,” said NJROTC teacher Gary Daniel.

She graduated from Spelman College in 2018 with a degree in political science before moving on to Officer Candidacy School in the U.S. Marine Corps.

“What I wish others would know about Justice is a tough one,” said Colonel Kemper Jones of Camp LeJeune. “I think about it and I think about how amazing she was. Not only as a marine but as a human being, as a person. And she’s an example we should all try to live up to.”

One of only 70 female African American Marine officers, family, and friends say Justice showed leadership and excellent work ethic early in her high school career.

“She just was one of these young ladies that saw an opportunity and would go for it. She wouldn’t shy away from it,” said GEAR UP Project leader Linda Rayl.

Rayl says Justice always showed up to class with a smile and was someone that classmates could depend on as a support system and a friend.

Now, her memorial at Richland Northeast serves as a refuge for anyone to seek strength, inspiration, and comfort.

“This tree will provide for you protection, safety, and so many other things that we need as people,” said Justice’s stepfather, Woody Jones. “You’ll also find that what’s special about this tree are some of the things that are extremely special in Justice. She would provide comfort, concern, love, and strength to us.”

In her honor, Justice’s family founded the Empowering Justice Charitable Foundation that raises money to promote pathways out of poverty, and supports college ROTC programs.

Justice was also a talented poet and valued education.

There are scholarships in her honor, including one sponsored by Brookland Northeast Church announced Saturday by Youth Pastor Reverend Chavis Smith.

The scholarship will be available beginning in 2022 to

Richland Northeast female students planning to attend a historically black college or university.

For more on Justice’s story, visit her website.

To learn about her foundation and upcoming events in her honor, click here.

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