By Tarrah Callahan
Darryl Hunt, who died March 13, was a long-time employee of the N.C. Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and a tireless warrior in the fight to end North Carolina’s death penalty. Tarrah Callahan was Darryl’s co-worker and, more importantly, his friend. This post appeared originally on NCCADP’s blog.
On Sunday, I looked around the room at Emmanuel Baptist Church with pain and joy at the more than 150 people who, with just a few hours’ notice, had rushed to Winston-Salem to honor Darryl Hunt. Person after person stood up to share a story or an experience about how Darryl had changed their lives. I struggled to come up with one story that encompassed Darryl, and I just couldn’t. There are too many layers of the complicated person that was Darryl Hunt.
He was the most genuine and authentic person I’ve ever known. His courage and commitment to being “a voice to the voiceless” was unrivaled. Every time I talked to him, he was putting up money from his own personal account to help anyone he could. When we found out that an execution date had been set for Troy Davis in Georgia, Darryl called me and said we had to get buses of students down to march in Atlanta for Troy. When it looked like we weren’t going to be able to raise funds to cover the buses, Darryl just called the company and paid for them himself. When I arrived at Emmanuel Baptist Church the following morning, I saw huge crowds of people waiting to get on the buses. On that Sunday, as on this past one, they showed up at the church with only a few hours’ notice. When it came to setting the agenda for the fight for justice, Darryl spoke and people listened.
To truly know Darryl was to acknowledge his complicated soul. He was wrongfully incarcerated at such a young age. He became a man in prison, without the benefit of free will to figure out who he was. But even without the ability to make the simplest decisions by himself, Darryl Hunt always knew exactly who he was. And he never wavered.
We would fight sometimes because I would get so frustrated at his refusal to take care of himself. We stood vigil for Troy Davis’ execution in Georgia just after Darryl suffered a massive stroke. As we waited in the excruciating heat, he would not stop to eat or take a break from the heat. Finally, after hours of pestering, we compromised and he agreed to drink some water and eat a Snickers bar. Darryl just couldn’t be bothered by the inconvenience of taking care of himself. He was on a mission to change the world and ensuring his own well-being was an afterthought.
At the same time, Darryl was a simple man who wanted simple things. He loved to sit in the yard and watch the deer. He loved to fish. He loved to watch the same old Western movies he’d seen so many times that he’d memorized them. Crowds, attention, fame – all overwhelmed and embarrassed him. He didn’t see himself as the rock star for justice that we all knew him to be.
We must acknowledge the systemic oppression that slowly crushed Darryl. So many of those close to him are blaming ourselves, wondering what we could have done to save him. How could a person who was so loved by so many feel alone? We must abandon this magical thinking. Darryl knew how much we loved him; he just couldn’t escape the emotional and psychological torture that were his reality. And finally, in the midst of horrific pain from advanced cancer, he succumbed to the wounds that he had been ignoring for so long.
The world will not be the same without Darryl. But we will not let his legacy die with his physical body. We will continue to fight for the reforms he championed. We will remind the world that “innocence matters.” And when we finally see the end of the death penalty, he will be with us to celebrate.