Earlier this July, our beloved brother, friend, and advocate Derrick Chandler passed away. An avid activist as well as sports fan, Derrick had been a part of the Housing Works’ family since the early 90s, where he touched nearly every person he met.
In 2009, we ran a community story about Derrick where he discussed his past and how it led him to Housing Works. He spoke of a past where he was either at “one of two places: Tompkins Square Park, where he shot drugs and slept, or Riker’s Island jail, where he was sent if he got arrested for stealing to pay for his drug habit.” He credited Housing Works and the support he received for helping him turn his life around.
During his time at Housing Works, many of us witnessed his strength, tenacity, and dedication to fighting for what’s right, and knew from the first time that he picked up a bullhorn that his role as Housing Works’ New York State Issues Organizer fit him like a glove.
At his memorial on July 8, 2013, Housing Works’ community members gathered to remember Derrick and his passion for justice, life, and equally, the New York Mets. Derrick’s two sisters spoke of their brother and how they cherished his humor and dedication to his family. His partner’s daughter, Ms. Cutler, told the room about how her first impression of Derrick was someone who was gruff and mean, but as she got to know him better, Derrick’s softer side began to show.
Charles King, Housing Works’ President and CEO, remembered how he wasn’t even aware Derrick and Ella were together, and only figured it out at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico when the two were snuggled up together underneath a blanket. He said, “I just thought they were cold!”
A number of Housing Works community members, both past and present, shared stories about Derrick and the true strength of his character. Charles closed the memorial by reading the Bible’s Psalm 91, the same Psalm he read at his late partner’s—Keith Cylar—funeral, and which he dubbed the “Psalm of the AIDS Warrior.”
Below are some of the stories and memories shared at Derrick Chandler’s memorial. We share them here in memory of Derrick’s passion, charm, and fighting spirit. Derrick, you are very missed.
“One of my favorite memories of Derrick was doing the C2EA [Campaign to End AIDS] walk in 2005 where we spent 21 days together. We ended up making gag certificates and Derrick got the ‘Pack Rat’ award because he always seemed to have exactly what you needed. I loved spending that time with Derrick and he just keep everyone going and he was just the backbone of the trip.”
-Robin, Housing Works’ Data Manager
“I came to Housing Works in 1992 after being released from prison, and I met Derrick around 1995. We both shared a lot of the same experiences and he became my friend. I always remember thinking how resilient he was. I know he’s in a better place now. He was a warrior and he’s left a torch for us to carry.”
-Elvin, Housing Works’ PDC Sorting Center
“Derrick and I were both in JTP [Housing Works’ Job Training Program] and we spent a lot of time together. Derrick will always be big to me because of his advocacy work. He was so diligent and dedicated to it and his legacy to Housing Works is priceless. Hopefully we can keep fighting because he was a fighter too.”
-Trumont, Housing Works’ PDC Driver
“I met Derrick nine years ago, and he was my friend and colleague. How many times we had a disagreement I could count on one hand and still not finish all five. He was burley, outspoken, and he knew his stuff, whether it was city, state, or federal work. He taught taught me so much: short-cuts on computers and everything, but he also taught me to stand my ground and to speak up, and he would tell me, ‘Felicia, don’t let anything get you down, just keep going.’ What made my mornings was when I would come into work and Derrick would be playing the Four Tops and singing and dancing, and I will miss that tremendously. He was a very thoughtful and kind individual, but he told the corniest jokes. I remember that the day before World AIDS Day we were going to do a banner drop, and it was so cold and windy. Derrick saw that I was cold and gave me the gloves off of his own hands. I am going to miss his music, his support, and his friendship.”
-Felicia, Housing Works’ Advocacy Peer
“I have a big mouth, and when I first came to Housing Works Derrick taught me how to use it for good. On the trips to Washington, DC he would tell me how I have rights and if I fought for these rights then I would be heard. I remember Derrick always making sure that I was at the front of the group so I could help shout! I always said ‘okay’ to Derrick and at the last big rally, he told me to be in front of the line because I had the biggest mouth, and he showed me that together we can always be heard.”
-Dolores, Housing Works Client
“I have two memories of Derrick that I want to share. The first was when Andrew (Coamey), Derrick, and I went to a Mets game. Now, I hate the Mets, but it was Derrick’s first game—he had never been before in his life and it was really special for him. And man, at every inning, maybe every pitch, Derrick was standing up, yelling and cursing out the umpire while everyone else was seated. People turned around to ask us if he could calm down, but I had a great time because he had a great time.
The second thing I want to share is that Derrick was so committed to everything he did. I remember on our 21-day trip to Washington, DC, it was pouring rain on nearly everyone of those days, and Derrick bought a white haz mat suit, and he made a comment on how we must have looked in the middle of Maryland, wearing those suits. He had a great sense of humor. I am going to fight because Derrick fought for his life and that’s what it’s all about.”
-Jose, Housing Works’ Intake Coordinator
“Derrick moved into Stand Up Harlem House as soon as it opened, and they had a ritual up there where Charles would host a Christmas Eve party. And I showed up, and Derrick was there and he came over and told me he had a present for me, and he left and came back with a Jacksonville Suns Tom Seaver jersey for me, which was just amazing, since he knew how much someone like me would appreciate this gift. And I remember thinking that for someone whose life was so chaotic at that time, to give a gift to someone else is just so amazing.
Derrick and I had a special relationship. When I was in the hospital a few years back, I wasn’t in good shape, but the morning after I was admitted, I hear this ruckus outside my hospital room, and I hear someone say, “I’m his friend! I’m his brother from another mother!” and in comes Derrick with a Sports Illustrated, a New York Post, and a cup of coffee, which I wasn’t supposed to drink. And aside from my girlfriend, Derrick was one of the very first people to come and visit me. I’m going to miss him tremendously.”
-Andrew, Housing Works’ Chief Financial Officer
“I knew Derrick from the East New York location, and one time, I was late to catch a bus going up to Albany. I saw the bus about to pull away and I started running toward it, and Derrick was sitting in the front of the bus and he sees me, and he tells the bus driver to stop. And so I get on the bus and he said to me, ‘I should have left you on the street!’ I told him the train was having troubles but he told me I should have left an hour earlier then! And once we were in Albany, I was hot and I was tired, and Derrick looks over at me and says “What—did you think you were going to have fun? We’re here to work!” (Signs hymn in tribute to Derrick).
-George, Housing Works’ client
“When I close my eyes and think of Housing Works, Derrick would have to be one of the first images that comes to mind. Derrick always chose to fight for the underdogs, and that’s true of his advocacy.”
-Matthew, Housing Works’ Chief Development Officer
“I met Derrick in 1995 and I also knew his wife, Lynette. He was the pillar of the Harm Reduction group; he was always on time and he always helped me cook. I remember one time we had nothing to feed the group, so Derrick helped me make some soup by cutting vegetables for the broth. He was also so dependable. He was a sweet, kind, and lovely man.”
-Linney, Housing Works’ Chief Operating Officer for Health Services
“Derrick was one of the first clients I ever met, and I met him because Housing Works was doing a photo project of clients and where they lived. And not shortly after I met him, I saw him outside of the Bookstore and he was having trouble breathing and it was really hot that day. I stayed with him and it kept getting worse so I called for an ambulance, and when the medics got there, I keep peering over their shoulders to make sure that Derrick was receiveing good care, and after a while they decided to take him to a hospital, and so I started to climb in the ambulance but they wouldn’t let me in. And while this is happening, Derrick, who can barely breathe, says, ‘No, that’s my cousin!’ And what’s interesting is that after I left Housing Works we became Facebook friends, and after every few months he would send a message to check in on me. And one day I said, ‘It’s so great that you check on me,’ and he said, ‘Well you checked on me that day and I’ll never forget that.’
-Chris, former Housing Works’ employee
“Derrick was my neighbor in Flatbush, and my partner in social justice. Derrick was always the most adamant drummer of social justice. Whether I was conducting oral arguments on a case or closing statements, I could always count on hearing him say from the audience ‘Amen,’ or ‘That’s ridiculous!’ He made me a better lawyer and a better person. Words are insufficient, and I will miss him dearly.”
-Armen, Housing Works’ Senior Staff Attorneyblog comments powered by Disqus