Nicholas Naquan Heyward Jr. was born in Brooklyn on August 26, 1981, the first of two children of Nicholas and Angela Heyward. Nicholas attended Public School 20, where he was a B+ student. After graduating, Nicholas attended Nathan Hale Middle School, where he became an honor student and role model among his peers. An active member of the Church of God in Christ, Nicholas Jr. had very high expectations, and at 12-years old, had already decided to pursue a career as a doctor or professional basketball player, both of which were well within his reach. Nicholas spent a lot of time practicing and perfecting his basketball skills in the Gowanus Park and had just made the school's basketball team days before his death.
Nicholas's life was stolen long before he reached the heights of his potential.
When he was twelve, while standing in front of their building, Nicholas and his parents witnessed neighborhood police chasing after and arresting a young man. Nicholas Heyward, Sr. said that one of the cops then grabbed his son, pulled his gun out, put it to his son's head and cocked the trigger: "I informed the officer that Nicholas was my son and that he hadn't done anything and he was just out with us. The officer turned around and he pointed the gun at me and told me to mind my business." The cop arrested Nicholas Jr. After the 12-year old was released from police custody, he told his father that he was placed in a line-up and that one cop told him, "If you don't shut your mouth, I'm going to stick this gun up your butt and pull the trigger." Nicholas also informed his father that the officer had told him that he would not live to be 15.
On September 27, 1994, Nicholas Heyward, Jr., at 13-years old, was shot and killed by a New York City housing cop in the housing complex where he lived with his mother, father and younger brother. Nicholas Jr. and his friends were playing a game of cops and robbers in the stairwell of the Gowanus Houses, using plastic toy guns with bright orange-colored handles and tips. When Officer Brian George came upon Nicholas on the 14th floor stairwell, Nicholas dropped his toy gun, saying "We're only playing, we're only playing," but Officer George shot Nicholas in the stomach.
After a neighbor informed Nicholas's mother that he was shot, Angela Heyward ran up the 14 flights of stairs to where her son was, only to be told to stay back as they prepared to take Nicholas to the hospital and that she cannot even ride with him in the ambulance. Nicholas was taken to St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan (not the closest hospital to the Gowanus Houses), where he died eight hours later.
After a cursory investigation by his office, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes deemed the shooting a "tragic accident," asserting that Officer George did not violate departmental rules governing the use of deadly force. Because Officer George claimed to have "feared for his life" in hearing a "clicking" sound in the stairwell where Nicholas was playing, the shooting was ruled a justifiable homicide, closed and never brought before a grand jury, despite contradictions between the DA's report and Officer George's deposition.
Nicholas Heyward, Jr. touched the lives of many people, young and old. His message to the young was always to "stay in school and study hard and life would be easier." His message to the old was always: "teach me, I want to learn." Many in the community remember him.
In 1998, the Groundswell Community Mural Project, headed by Amy Sananman, and the youth of the community, designed and created a mural project in memory of Nicholas Jr. This mural still stands on Baltic Street, where a candlelight vigil is held every year on the anniversary of Nicholas's death.
In 2001, the Gowanus Park in downtown Brooklyn was renamed "Nicholas Naquan Heyward, Jr. Park" and serves as a permanent and inspiring memorial for the entire community, whose lives were touched by Nicholas's love and compassion and caring nature. The renaming of the park is a positive message to the youth, who should be shown love, be honored, and be respected.
A Day of Remembrance is held each year in the Nicholas Naquan Heyward, Jr. Park in memory of Nicholas Jr. on his birthday. Every year, many speakers and artists come with positive messages to the youth in the community of the Gowanus Houses, showing love and support for Nicholas Heyward Jr., his family, and the entire community. Basketball tournaments are held in memory of Nicholas, along with other positive activities for the youth of the community, including a toy gun exchange, where youth can exchange their toy guns for books or other toys.
Since Nicholas's death, toy guns have been removed from many store shelves and laws have been changed on the sale and distribution of these toy guns. After his death, the Nicholas Naquan Heyward Jr. Foundation was created in his honor. The Foundation is always looking for new ways to help our youth and keep them healthy and safe. This year, the Nicholas N. Heyward Jr. Memorial Foundation helped support the Brooklyn Summer HEAT Youth Employment Program (Best of Brooklyn). The general purpose of the Foundation is to save lives by creating a more positive and self-esteem-reinforcing environment, by providing assistance and youth-targeted programs focusing on the prevention of crime and substance abuse. Through the community programs and activities organized by the Foundation, Nicholas's spirit lives on.
The Nicholas Naquan Heyward Jr. Memorial Foundation, Inc. is a Certificate of Incorporation Under Section 402 of the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law.
Donate to the Nicholas Heyward, Jr. Memorial Foundation