University celebrates life of Justine Bernard on her 20th birthday

“Purple today, purple to stay.”

On Sept. 23, The Bucknall Theatre was adorned with purple, and family, friends and members of the university community wore butterflies to honor and celebrate the life of Justine Bernard on her birthday. Purple signified Justine’s favorite color and butterflies embodied her symbol.

On June 2 of this year, Bernard died as a result of a tragic domestic assault while visiting a friend in Atlanta, GA. Her mother, Hazel Crichlow, expressed her gratitude to the university community for hosting this celebration and supporting her during this time.

Crichlow said that this gathering is “what an ethic of love and care should look like… the unity displayed is an all-inspiring thank you.”

A reception for friends and family preceded the celebration, hosted by the Undergraduate Student Government Association (USGA). USGA President, Sofia Martinez, introduced the vigil, saying, “It is with great sadness that I welcome all of you here today, but it’s wonderful to see when a community gathers.”

Crichlow later shared a similar sentiment by quoting former U.S President General Ford. “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

Martinez also said, “I’ve been told that Justine envisioned for herself a future of change; one of equity and justice in a way I know we will see her lead these changes by the lives she has touched.”

By all, Justine was described as intelligent, determined and empathetic. She was said to have a big heart and was known to dedicate her time to helping people around her.

Director of Athletics and Recreation, Sheahon Zenger, said that after speaking to Justine’s mom, he knew that Justine “was a fighter, a future doctor of psychology, if not more. A woman of great character. And empathy paid great attention to detail as a young girl, someone who would visit nursing homes, and saved lunch money to buy clothes for those less fortunate than her.”

Crichlow explained that in high school, Justine organized fundraisers for cancer patients, volunteered to work for the elderly, danced in nursing homes, donated to the homeless and tutored students with special needs after school.

Living through love and activism was something natural to Justine; her mother said, “She saw the world through a unique lens: always loving.”

Bernard’s academic advisor, Rosemarie Lillie Macias, attested to her academic promise, saying that her passing is a tremendous loss for the field of forensic psychology and that she would have undoubtedly been an excellent psychologist.

Macias also honored Bernard’s innate qualities, saying “Justine has realized some of the most valuable human abilities: gratefulness, compassion, warmth. Justine grew into a strong woman you would enjoy being around and be fortunate to teach and work with. She will be deeply missed.”

Prayer was led by the University Campus Minister, Marty O’Connor, who quoted Proverbs 3: 5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight in all your ways, acknowledge our God, and our God will make the paths straight.”

This verse was mentioned again by Crichlow, who said that the loss of her miracle child and her mother is difficult but will not break her, for she knows her faith has another plan for her.

Crichlow encouraged the audience to leave with their own purpose to continue in honoring her daughter’s passion for advocacy and justice, as well as her kindness, humility and compassion.

Her mother said that thanks to her daughter, she has turned into an activist to contribute to her daughter’s unfinished work.

“I urge us all to imagine a world governed by ethic, of love and kindness. Devoted to restoring, repairing and transforming fear and injustice, ” Crichlow said.

Fransheli Ventura and Madison Manzo, two friends ofBernard, spoke at the vigil and led the crowd in singing Happy Birthday.

“It was an absolute pleasure being friends with someone as outgoing, funny, hardworking, reliable, and organized as Justine,” said Ventura.

Manzo similarly motivated attendees to take a lesson from this heartbreaking loss, and strive to move forward to help others in the future. She did not find it coincidental that purple happens to also represent Domestic Violence Awareness. Manzo shared that the Domestic Violence Crisis Center hotline is 203-853-0418 and is located in Norwalk, Conn.

At the closing of the ceremony, Dean of Students Ophelie Rowe-Allen led a moment of silence, and Martinez, on behalf of the USGA, gave Crichlow and their family purple flowers to celebrate Justine’s life.

Justine’s mother urged the community to donate to Justine’s Scholarship Fund—$20 on her 20th birthday—to keep her vision alive, exercise agency in one’s life and support the making of healthy decisions along the way.

“Remember, twenty can help plenty,” she said.

Grief counseling is available through the University of New Haven’s Counseling and Psychological Services Office by calling 203-932-7333.