After 36-year-old Durrell Palmer, was fatally shot Monday morning over an online altercation, some community members are taking steps to ensure Palmer's legacy lives on.
Palmer was gunned down at a Pensacola convenience store by a man he had allegedly been feuding with online, but for most of his life, Palmer was known for building up and supporting others in the community.
Sentiments from local leaders came quickly pouring in on social media after the news of Palmer's death spread, as many praised various community projects he organized over the past several years. Some of the most notable including his Thanksgiving turkey giveaways, Easter egg hunts, job fairs and iconic Black Lives Matter mural stretched across A street following George Floyd's death in 2020.
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Palmer also received an award in 2021 by Pensacola Branch 5124 of the NAACP for "outstanding contributions and excellent service."
One of Palmer's high school teachers, Melondy Neal, said Palmer cared deeply for Pensacola while still wanting others to have a better experience than he had growing up.
"I think that when you live it, you know what needs to be done," Neal told the News Journal on Tuesday. "He knew, during the Thanksgiving holiday, what it felt like to not have the things that people take for granted, so, he gave out food. … He knew what it felt like not to have that kind of support, not to have good role models. He was able to become that which he knew his community needed."
'He wasn't able to represent his son today'
After making the decision to get married young before leaving for the military, Neal said Palmer's priorities shifted. He set out to "become a man" for his wife, for his children and for the people in his neighborhood.
Neal became one of the first to hear the news of Palmer's life, like his graduation from Pensacola Junior College or the birth of his first child. Neal knew that Wednesday marked the long-awaited day of Palmer's son walking across the stage to graduate high school.
Friends of Palmer, like Gregory Thornhill Jr., were left to fill in for Palmer as his son took the stage.
"It was important to 'stand in the gap' for my friend because his life was taken and he wasn't able to represent his son today," Thornhill wrote in a statement. "Showing up today was a sign of unity and strength. His wife and children were there, and we stood together. Because Durrell was a 'together' type of person."
Neal said that to his wife and children, Palmer became everything she thought he would be when he was a teenager and just "figuring it out."
"If I have one word to describe Durrell Palmer — it is a 'man.' He stood up in every way of the word," Neal said. "He was a man in his community. He was a man in his family. He died a man. And that, in itself, to me, is a legacy."
Protecting Palmer's legacy was so important to friend Chris Graye, that Graye raced to the crime scene the day of the incident to ensure there would be no confusion by law enforcement on the quality of man Palmer was. A husband, a father and a hard worker, that is the story Graye told all who would listen.
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Hard-worker to give back even further
He was such a hard worker that Palmer was at Graye's home the morning of his death for a painting project, leaving his supplies out with the false assurance he would quickly return, Graye said. Now, the spilled-out paint grows stale.
Palmer worked tirelessly to build up his business, Maintenance Engineered, where he spent countless weekends and started at 4 a.m. on the weekdays. Graye witnessed Palmer's dreams manifest in small milestones, like having the ability to purchase a nice vehicle after his first major paycheck, Graye recounted.
At the time of Palmer's death, clients were starting to learn his name, and he was starting to reap the longed-after sensation of finally "making it," Graye said.
"You see him working on Saturday and Sunday, he's answering phone calls, and he's doing what he has to do. Last year, all the doors were closing in his face. And it took a full year for, you know, some of the doors to open," Graye said.
However, even with his growing success in his maintenance business and steps toward becoming a contractor, Graye said Palmer was determined to build a profitable business to allow him to give back even further.
Businessman and philanthropist Quint Studer, founder of the Studer Community Institute, wrote a letter of recommendation on behalf of Palmer a mere two months prior to his death to endorse him for a Leadership Pensacola class. It was a step he said Palmer desired and felt would bring him closer to his goal of becoming a contractor.
"(Durrell) was raised in a low poverty area here in Pensacola that has since grown to higher cost homes being built," Studer wrote in his recommendation letter. "Durrell figured he needed to help the people in the community that couldn't keep up with life. In 2019 after finishing college for engineering, a part of his heart thought it was time to give back."
'Everybody called him the Moses, but he was like a young Malcolm X'
Graye echoed how Palmer was on mission to position the underprivileged in the community for success.
"He always talked about building houses downtown. ... He looks at all these big corporations that build these big skyscrapers and this man is from here. And all he wants to do is build a house. All he wants to do is fight for his community," Graye said.
Studer said he sees young talent move away from Pensacola constantly, while Palmer planted roots and was aiming to help inspire and start-up other minority entrepreneurs in the area.
Neal said Palmer was nicknamed "Black Moses" because even while escaping poverty himself, he was going back into his community and bringing others out with him.
From serving on various drug task forces and programs for troubled teens, Neal said she understood the courage it took for Palmer to enter back into the social networks that he had outgrown.
"They knew that he had not always been on the straight and narrow, but the fact that he was able to turn his life around and go the complete opposite way made him into a role model," she said. "I can see him as the Black Moses. He didn't leave his community. He came back to get those who were still suffering."
Graye said to him, Palmer as a Moses figure meant projecting a spotlight on some of the people of Pensacola who have been historically overlooked.
"Everybody called him the Moses, but he was like a young Malcolm X, because he didn’t mind speaking the truth," Graye said. "He was always putting the Black community first a lot of times when we would get the backseat. So, Durrell always put us in the front line. Always helped us fight our battles."
Thornhill wrote how Palmer would step in, emotionally and physically, for people who needed it.
"Durrell was our 'Moses' because he did all he could to lead us to the promised land," Thornhill wrote in a statement. "He was the voice for us who couldn't talk and oftentimes the legs for us (who) couldn't walk. ... He was never selfish. He made it and wanted to see others make it."
Carollyn Taylor, candidate for state House District 2, described the need for leaders to rise up and initiate change in their communities. After meeting Palmer when working on the Black Lives Matter mural, she knew Palmer was one of those people.
"He was, in my opinion, a pillar and an example in a community that a lot of people looked at, especially the Black community, as a success story," Taylor said. "I think with him, it was so unique because you really need representation from your community to help other people on the right path. I know that specifically, with young Black men, he was a role model. And think that that was important for him to be in that role."
Neal said she plans to continue to advocate to end gun violence in Pensacola and bring awareness to the lives that have been lost.
Palmer's death reignited an idea she had years before to create a street museum, where black and white photographs of young Black people killed in Pensacola in gun violence. Those interested in helping Neal can contact her at 770-374-2517.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Pensacola activist Durrell Palmer remembered after shooting at Circle K