Durrell Palmer remembers after filming Pensacola at Circle K
After Durrell Palmer, 36, was fatally shot Monday morning during an online altercation, some in the community are taking action to ensure Palmer’s legacy continues.
Palmer was shot in a Pensacola convenience store by a man he allegedly had an online feud with, but for most of his life Palmer was known for building and supporting other members of the community.
Sentiment among local leaders quickly poured in on social media following news of Palmer’s death, as many praised various community projects he has organized over the past few years. Some of the most notable, including his Thanksgiving turkey giveaways, Easter egg hunts, job fairs and iconic ‘Black Lives Matter’ mural spanned A Street following the death of George Floyd in 2020.
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Palmer also received an award in 2021 from the 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 about Pensacola while wanting others to have a better experience than he had growing up.
“I think 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 not having the things that people take for granted, so he donated food… He knew what it felt like not having that kind of support , not to have a good role models. He was able to become what he knew his community needed.
“He couldn’t represent his son today”
After making the decision to marry young before leaving for the military, Neal said Palmer’s priorities changed. He aims to “become a man” for his wife, for his children and for the people of his neighborhood.
Neal became one of the first to hear all the news about 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 crossing the stage to graduate from high school.
Friends of Palmer, such as Gregory Thornhill Jr. had to replace Palmer as his son took the stage.
“It was important to ‘stand aside’ for my friend as his life was taken and he was unable to represent his son today,” Thornhill wrote in a statement. “Showing up today was a sign of unity and strength. His wife and kids were there, and we stuck together. Because Durrell was a ‘together’ type person.
Neal said that to his wife and children, Palmer had become everything she thought he would be when he was a teenager and “just got it.”
“If I have one word to describe Durrell Palmer, it’s a ‘man.’ He stood up in every sense of the word,” Neal said. “He was a man in his community. He was a man of his family. He died a man. And that, in itself, for me, is a heritage.
Protecting Palmer’s legacy was so important to his friend Chris Graye, that Graye rushed to the crime scene the day of the incident to ensure there would be no confusion from the forces. about the quality of the man Palmer was. A husband, a father and a hard worker, that’s the story Graye told anyone who would listen.
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Hard worker to give back even more
He was a hard worker, Palmer was at Graye’s the morning of his death for a painting project, leaving his supplies with the false assurance that he would return soon, Graye said. Now the spilled paint becomes stale.
Palmer worked tirelessly to grow his business, Maintenance Engineered, where he spent countless weekends and started at 4 a.m. on weekdays. Graye saw Palmer’s dreams manifest in small steps, like being able to buy a nice vehicle after his first big paycheck, Graye recounted.
At the time of Palmer’s death, clients were beginning to learn his name, and he was beginning to reap the long-awaited feeling of finally “succeeding,” Graye said.
“You see him working on Saturdays and Sundays, he answers the phone calls and he does what he has to do. Last year, all doors closed in front of him. 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 his steps to becoming an entrepreneur, Graye said Palmer was determined to build a profitable business to allow him to give back even more.
Businessman and philanthropist Quint Studer, founder of the Studer Community Institute, had written a letter of recommendation on Palmer’s behalf just two months before his death endorsing him for a Pensacola Leadership class. It was a step he said Palmer wanted and one he believes would bring him closer to his goal of becoming an entrepreneur.
“(Durrell) was raised in a low poverty area here in Pensacola which has since grown to build higher cost homes,” Studer wrote in his letter of recommendation. “Durrell felt he needed to help people in the community who couldn’t keep up with life. In 2019, after finishing his engineering studies, part of his heart felt it was time to give back.
“Everyone called him the Moses, but he was like a young Malcolm X”
Graye echoed how Palmer was on a mission to position the underprivileged in the community for success.
“He always talked about building houses downtown…he’s looking at all these big companies building 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 constantly sees young talent moving away from Pensacola, while Palmer puts down roots and aims to help inspire and start other minority entrepreneurs in the area.
Neal said Palmer was nicknamed “Black Moses” because even while fleeing poverty himself, he returned to his community and took others with him.
After serving on various drug task forces and programs for troubled teens, Neal said she understood the courage it took for Palmer to re-enter the social networks he’d left behind.
“They knew he hadn’t always been on the right path, but the fact that he was able to turn his life around and go the opposite direction made him a role model,” she said. “I can see him as the Black Moses. He did not leave his community. He came back for those who were still suffering.
Graye told him that Palmer as a Moses figure meant shining a spotlight on some of the people of Pensacola who have been historically overlooked.
“Everyone called him the Moses, but he was like a young Malcolm X, because he didn’t shy away from telling the truth,” Graye said. “He always put the black community first many times when we got the backseat. So Durrell has always put us on the front line. Has always helped us fight our battles.
Thornhill wrote how Palmer would step in, emotionally and physically, for people in need.
“Durrell was our ‘Moses’ because he did everything he could to lead us to the promised land,” Thornhill wrote in a statement. “He was the voice for us who couldn’t speak and often the legs for us (who) couldn’t walk…He was never selfish. He did it and wanted to see others do it.”
Carollyn Taylor, candidate for State House District 2, described the need for leaders to stand up and initiate change in their communities. After meeting Palmer while 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 many people, especially the black community, considered to be successful,” Taylor said. “I think with him it was so unique because you really need a representation of your community to help others on the right path. I know specifically with young black men he was a role model. . And I think it was important for him to be in that role.”
Neal said she plans to continue advocating to end gun violence in Pensacola and raising awareness of the lives that have been lost.
Palmer’s death rekindled an idea she had years earlier to create a street museum, featuring 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.