© 2022 | WUWF Public Media
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
850 474-2787
NPR for Florida's Great Northwest
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Local News

Community mourns activist Durrell Palmer

Durrell Palmer.jpeg
Rachael Pongetti
Courtesy Photo
Durrell Palmer at the site of the Black Lives Matter mural. Palmer grew up in Pensacola and fought to make his community better.

Durrell Palmer wanted to make Pensacola better.

A native of the city, growing up around “A” Street where he would later arrange for artists to paint the Black Lives Matter mural on the road, Palmer was one of the first few to make demands of the city, said activist and organizer for Dream Defenders Hale Morrissette.

“He was ringing the alarm,” she said.

Palmer, who was 36, was shot and killed during an argument at Circle K on U.S. 29 on the morning of May 23.

Since his untimely death, the community he rallied for has been rallying around his legacy.

Palmer was an entrepreneur with his business Maintenance Engineered. He gave back to his community by organizing job fairs and he started the annual Bunny Hop where kids and their families were treated to an Easter egg hunt and giveaways. In the winter, he organized a ham giveaway for hundreds of families.

“Feeding families was a source of pride for him,” said Morrissette. “He really was a man of his word.”

Pensacola City Councilwoman Ann Hill admired Palmer's work, having witnessed the joy he brought to kids at the 2019 Bunny Hop.

“Pensacola is so diminished by his lost,” she said in a statement on her Facebook page.

Black Lives Matter

After the murder of George Floyd, Palmer was active in the peaceful protests at the "Graffiti Bridge." The day Morrissette led the protest to close traffic, Palmer was standing beside her. He then organized artists to paint the Black Lives Matter mural across A Street, the neighborhood he grew up in.

Last year, he received an award for “outstanding contributions and excellent service” from the NAACP Pensacola Branch 5124. But it’s the finished mural that he was most proud of. After his death, dozens gathered at the mural for a vigil.

“This will always be one of my trophies,” Palmer wrote in a Facebook post.

David Schwartz
Courtesy photo
Hale Morrissette speaks at a vigil for Durrell Palmer.

When the mural was vandalized, Councilwoman Teníade Broughton said she remembered Palmer didn’t want to paint over the tire marks. Instead, it would be a reminder of the work that needed to be done he told her.

“He loved A Street,” said Broughton. “He was focused on community uplift. Neighborhoods like Attucks Court, Morris Court — low-income communities — were his target audience. He wanted to find ways to pull from his neighborhood; he wasn’t interested in making a difference through the established power structure.”

It’s not the same street Palmer grew up on. Now, home prices have risen, new generations of people have moved in. But activists don’t want his memory to be erased.

“With the area getting gentrified, we feel a push to protect the mural now,” said Morrissette.

As an activist, Morrissette said Palmer would always challenge her to keep going, to keep pushing dialogue and actions forward. He knew how to work across divides and could talk to his neighbors just as easily as he could talk to city government or law enforcement.

“He was an amazing example of how to connect with the community,” she said.

Palmer got to live the “American Dream,” so to speak, marrying his high school sweetheart, building a business, and setting an example for his children. His son, Dy’Kendrick just graduated from Pine Forest High School.

Morrissette said Palmer and his wife “were just a ball of sunshine.” It was a life that others would aspire to.

“They were the examples of love, of family — of everything I needed to see,” she said. “He was a sense of hope for me. He meant so much and was exactly what progress could be.”

A wake-up call

For someone who fought so hard to make his community safer, Palmer’s cause of death is a sense of “sad irony,” said Broughton.

“This was the thing he was trying to prevent,” she said. “He stood against this type of violence. That’s why his life’s mission was so valuable.”

Broughton first met Palmer when he was a teen and she was a tutor in the College Reach-Out Program (CROP) at the University of West Florida. Around 2018 they reconnected when Palmer reached out to learn more about community involvement which led to his outreach events.

“The last photo he shared on Facebook was one of us from the Bunny Hop,” she recalled. “And then I got a phone call the next day that he was gone.”

Teníadé Broughton and Durrell Palmer, far left, at a Bunny Hop event.

Palmer’s death comes at a time when not just Pensacola, but the entire country is constantly mourning lives lost to gun violence.

“We keep having these impactful losses more and more,” said Morrissette, mentioning the death of coach Carla Williams who was gunned down during a workout at Pensacola Fitness on Tuesday. “As an organizer, I’m trying to see what different programs we need. What does prevention look like? What does aftercare look like?”

Durrell’s death is a wake-up call.

“I think it’s going to click for a lot more people now,” she said.

As a social worker, Morrissette said she’s been looking for ways to continue the work of her friend while facing tragedy.

“I’m still processing it all,” she said. “How do I best honor their lives? What I’m going to do is go harder by developing resources. They help push me to go harder."