Darryl King, 1948-2016
Somehow, he did not let bitterness destroy him. Despite brutal injustice and suffering – 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit – Darryl King kept his spirit, his smile, his will to change the systems that wronged him and many others, and an earnest desire to do good in people’s lives.
Darryl was born in Brooklyn in 1948, drafted in 1967, and served two years in the U.S. Army. Not long after being honorably discharged – down on his luck, without a job, having fallen into drug use – he was wrongfully arrested and convicted for a murder he did not commit.
During his time in prison, he earned his GED and a Bachelor’s degree from SUNY New Paltz. He became a leader, taught inmates with disabilities, opened a law library, and served as commander of his prison's chapter of the American Legion.
And he met Edwina King – first as a student interested in learning about justice – who he married on August 29, 1992. They were a blessing in each others’ lives for the last 24 years.
Through a work release program, Darryl worked with NYS Parole Commissioner Phillip Coombe Jr, and then with NYS Senator Joseph Galiber, with a focus on helping other prisoners get access to education, services, and work release.
When Ibon Muhammad introduced Darryl to me in 1995, she told me: "This is a great guy who's been wronged, and he also knows about property management. You should hire him." She was right that he was a great guy, who had been wronged, and that we should hire him at the Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC). He didn’t really know that much about property management. But what he lacked in technical skills, he made up for in compassion. It might take an extra day or two to fix a leaky faucet … but it came with some extra time for that tenant’s son or daughter who was facing a hard time.
Still, Darryl really hadn’t come to FAC to manage apartments. From his first day, he was advocating for people who been in prison. He pushed us not only to change policies that discriminated against individuals who had been incarcerated, but to make it a priority to house and support them. He organized a Criminal Justice Working Group, led by people with histories of incarceration, to guide FAC’s work in this new area.
That work led to FAC’s Developing Justice program (thanks to some courageous philanthropy by Gara LaMarche and Helena Huang at the Open Society Foundation; Gara later spent a several-month sabbatical helping review and strengthen the program, and by Bart Lubow at the Annie E. Casey Foundation). Through Developing Justice, FAC – a community development corporation, with a focus on housing and jobs – rose to the role of supporting the re-entry of recently released prisoners back into their communities. Over the years – with staff including Julian Brown and Eddie Rosario, and with help from volunteers and leaders like Brian Colon – it helped hundreds of people find housing, jobs, and a supportive community. Many participants got involved in advocacy as well, fighting successfully to reform the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws. Under Darryl’s leadership, Developing Justice served as a national model for how CDCs (which have, in too many cases, put up barriers to re-entry) can help confront the injustices and irrationality of mass incarceration. You can read more about the program here and here.
In recent years, Darryl’s health declined, but he kept pushing forward. He was still working to be exonerated, and get his name fully cleared, long after he was off parole. He and Edwina kept their partnership strong until the end, taking a vacation to the Poconos this fall, even when he was in a wheelchair.
Darryl’s funeral was on Friday at Masjid Khalifa in Bedford Stuyvesant, a community that Ibon Muhammad introduced him to, and through which Ibon and Edwina helped him achieve his final rest. We plan to have a memorial service for him in February.
He is survived by two of his three brothers, Dennis and Lawrence (their brother Eric is deceased), his sister Heather Miller, many nieces, nephews, grand nieces and nephews, cousins, two step-daughters (Shemila and LaToya), one grand-daugther (Tysani) and one grandson (Mekhi), son-in-law (Tyrone), nephew-in-law (Derrick), brother-in-law (Kelvin McElroy) and first cousin (Yvonne). By his chosen family, Mujaheid, Barbara Bethel, and Ibon Muhammad. And of course, by Edwina.
Darryl held our son Marek at his naming ceremony. Meg and I can’t imagine a better force for redemption and courage. We are sorry to lose him – too young, robbed of his best years and too much of his health by racism and injustice that still so deeply pervade our city and our society. And I regret that I didn’t find more time to spend with him in recent years. But we were blessed by the time we had with him.
If he could find a way – through his unjust suffering – to work for change, to always look for a way to help, and to keep that smile, then we can continue our far easier struggles, carrying his memory, his example, and that smile closely with us.