The Skee’s Way Foundation, a Bayonne non-profit, was formed in the wake of the untimely death of Djimon Burroughs last year. Born in 1998, Burroughs lived in Bayonne practically his entire life.
Better known as “Skee,” Burroughs led a life full of love, loyalty, and laughter. Skee stood for “Seek Knowledge in Everything and Everywhere,” and he embodied that every day with a warm smile on his face.
In 2017, Skee moved from Bayonne, New Jersey to Williamsport, Pennsylvania for a change of pace. There he met Keema Sessoms and fell in love, having a daughter named Meraki Burroughs in 2019.
However, Skee’s life was cut short in a tragic car accident in 2021. While he may be gone, those who were impacted by Skee’s life have set out to do good in the neighborhood in his name.
Skee’s Way Foundation
Amir Lewis, better known by his moniker Vena Vechi, is a member of the foundation who first moved to Bayonne in 2009 from Newark. He was very close with Skee, who used to live on West 18th Street, and described his loving nature in an interview with the Bayonne Community News.
“He was a great person,” Vechi said. “He was a person of love and respect. He was a person who gave back and built up the community. And that’s what we’re about 100 percent.”
The foundation seeks to honor Skee by doing one of the things he was most known for, giving back to the community. There is also a online petition to rename West 18th Street to Skee Way, with both of these things contributing to the name of the foundation.
“We’re about giving back to the community,” Vechi said. “This is about the Skee’s Way. There’s not just one way, but many ways of giving back and building up the community. The people out here, we’re not just average guys standing out here on the corner doing average things that you see in the community and on television.”
Vechi added that another important aspect of the foundation is to change the perception of the men who are a part of it. Some people may have wrongfully placed pre-conceived notions about the members who regularly stand on the corner of the street near where they live, especially considering the context of Bayonne’s past.
“We’re not what everybody thinks,” Vechi said. “So we’re trying to change the views of the community, and let the police and also the people see that we’re about giving back.”
Contributing to the neighborhood
The Skee’s Way Foundation does a lot for the neighborhood. The members regularly clean the streets of the community from around 16th Street to 20th Street along Avenue C, with the most recent cleanup being on June 20 with another earlier in the month.
“We’re about giving back,” Vechi said on June 17. “Last week we gave back to the community with a community clean up. This week we’re helping in partnership with DRIP Gelato giving back for Juneteenth by providing free gelato to the children.”
The foundation was also key in providing the services of DJ Bobby B for the Juneteenth block party as well as the free gelato for kids. In addition to the clean ups, and the recent Juneteenth collaboration with Black in Bayonne, the foundation also hosts its own annual block party.
“Last year we had a successful block party,” Vechi said. “This year, we’re going to do a block party part two, where it’s going to be giving back for back to school. We’re going to be giving out book bags, school supplies, and other essentials.”
The 2022 block party is tentatively set for that area of Avenue C for the first or second week of August, but plans are still being finalized. Additionally, the foundation has other upcoming events planned for the future.
Vechi continued: “I’m just trying to do my part and show the community that we are better people and we’re more than just people standing out here. It’s all about giving back to the community. That’s why I’m so thankful for people like Nico and everybody that’s partnered with DRIP Gelato and helping us and giving us that insight so we can give back to the community and let them see what we have to offer.”
Men on a mission
Terrence Adams, better known as his moniker TEA G, is another member of the Skee’s Way Foundation. He was also close with Skee, and described to the Bayonne Community News how his passing brought the community back together.
“He was a positive, always giving back type of guy,” he said of Skee. “He lost his life in a tragic accident last year in March. Ever since then, that brought a lot of us back together at a time when the block was broken up and everybody was to ourselves. It brought everybody back together, because we lost someone so close to us.”
Now, the foundation seeks to better the neighborhood for everyone in Skee’s name. TEA G stressed the familial nature of the foundation.
“This is all family-oriented,” he said. “We’re all kids that grew up together. We’re all literally brothers. It’s a brotherhood. It’s more than just people thinking were friends, we’re literally family-oriented. Everyone is together.”
TEA G added that he involves his kids in the clean ups and other activities to provide a good example.
“I had my kids out here when we were doing the community clean up,” he said. “I had them helping. My eldest daughter had her picker and she was cleaning up with us the whole time. It’s a family thing. That’s why I’m bringing my kids, to see that her daddy takes care of and gives back to the community that he’s a part of. I want her to see that I’m cleaning up the community so that when I tell her I want her to be better than me and to do something, that she sees that I’m actually out here and what I’m doing.”
Another member of the foundation, Dub Cz, echoed how Skee was a pivotal part of the community: “He was very warm and welcoming, and really loving. If you grew up around here or lived around here, you knew who he was. He was very important to the community. He provided a lot for people, for the kids, and the elders. He was just a great person. We represent him and we’re here for him.”
The idea of the non-profit is to continue to do good on behalf of Skee, keeping him alive through these actions.
“We don’t want anything from this,” Dub Cz said. “We’re doing this for him and carrying on his name and things he would have done or provided if he were here himself. Everything we do is for the kids. We want to make the community happy. We want to make everybody happy and have the same understanding that we have. We’re here to live here just like everyone else. We don’t want an unsafe environment. We want to make it where everybody feels comfortable. We want everybody to feel comfortable and come by and say hi to everybody and bring their kids. We’re the type of people to go inside DRIP and buy everyone gelato. Or we’re going to stand out here with toys and give them out.”
Collaborating with Black in Bayonne
Camille High, a co-founder of Black in Bayonne alongside Clarice High, Shaniqua Borders, and Rashad Callaway, praised the Skee’s Way Foundation in an interview with the Bayonne Community News.
“Everytime I see them, they’re doing something,” High said. “They’re feeding the homeless, getting the drug addicts off the corner. Last week they were out here cleaning up the block. Every day they help.”
High said it was important to highlight the good work that the Skee’s Way Foundation does to change people’s misconceptions.
“These men are more than meets the eye,” High said. “We have to change the perception. As we move as a culture, we talk about Black and Brown people being multi-faceted. This is us being multi-faceted. This is us doing the work. You only see what meets the eye until you actually have a conversation.”
According to High, Black in Bayonne collaborated with the Skee’s Way Foundation to help make the Juneteenth block party at DRIP Gelato free for children in attendance.
“Hosting events such as these allows us the opportunity to connect with the people and serve the people,” High later added. “DRIP Gelato and Cafe has become a centralized safe space for Black and Brown people to get more than gelato and sorbet. It has become a community hub for us to connect with many that people feel aren’t work extended a helping hand too.”
High said the collaboration occurred after Borders reached out to the Skee’s Way Foundation on behalf of Black in Bayonne.
“Shaniqua Borders reached out to gentlemen of the Skee’s Way Foundation to see if they wanted to collaborate on this event,” High said. “Black in Bayonne work aims to promote an understanding of and respect for diversity, equity and inclusion issues faced by all Black and Brown residents within the city of Bayonne. That word all includes the men that stand on the corner. While collaborating with the gentleman, Black in Bayonne along with Assemblyman Sampson were able to discuss the issues that they face, discuss resource they need and most of all create an ever-lasting bond.”
Assemblyman Sampson empowered by his roots
Black in Bayonne were not the only ones who offered praise for the Skee’s Way Foundation. As High mentioned, also at the block party at DRIP Gelato, Assembly William Sampson, representing Bayonne in the 31st Legislative District.
Sampson, affectionately referred to as Nico by members of the foundation, also offered nothing but kind words for the foundation and the men behind it. He met with the foundation on the corner of West 18th Street and Avenue C, in front of the Bayonne Community Action Project where he lived when growing up.
“This is what I do it for,” Sampson said. “Everything that I did when I ran for office, I did it for people who look like me, to give them an opportunity and let them know they can do it the right way. I’m out here with my brothers that are out here giving back to the community. So when I stand next to them, you see me, you see them. Nobody is out here doing anything they’re not supposed to be doing, especially if they’re with me. I empower them every day, and show them the ropes and the way that they can be whatever they want to be.”
While Sampson said that he works to empower men in the community like those of the Skee’s Way Foundation, he noted that they also inspire him.
“I stand on these brothers and they give me hope, they give me strength,” Sampson said. “They’re looking at me and it empowers me to show them the way. That’s why I do it. Every single day I do it for my people. It’s about opening the door for the kids… Because it’s not about me, it’s about them and i’s about my community. And that’s what I do it for.”
High concluded: “We are excited about what the future holds for the men of the Skee’s Way Foundation. Not all superheroes wear capes; some wear tattoos.”
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.