Final Gift: Slain Brooklyn teacher’s aide Ethan Holder saves 6 lives
Parents Roy and Beverly shed light on gun violence, organ donation and continuing their 19-year-old’s legacy through a new foundation.
Editor’s note: This article is published in partnership with The 74, a national nonprofit education news site.
New York City teacher’s aide Ethan Holder fell victim to gun violence while walking home from school in October, collapsing in front of a neighborhood deli with injuries that would prove to be fatal.
The 19-year-old educator is now being honored by families across the country for his final act of service: Saving the lives of six strangers across four states through organ donation.
“He always gave himself, and this will be the ultimate giving,” Ethan’s father, Roy Holder, 52, told The 74 of the family’s decision for him to be an organ donor. “We have parts of him living, walking, loving and breathing in other people. So really, it wasn’t a difficult decision. It’s the spirit of who he was,” Roy said.
Black Americans make up 28.5% of candidates awaiting organ transplants — the largest group of minorities in need. Yet according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, only 12.9% of 2020 donors were Black.
A spokesperson for LiveOnNY, a nonprofit organ procurement organization, said that Ethan saved the lives of six people in their 40s through 70s in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Michigan.
“LiveOnNY is humbled and honored to be the stewards of these precious gifts on behalf of Ethan and his family so that he and others may Live On,” said LiveOnNY president and chief executive officer Leonard Achan in a statement.
Growing up in a family of educators, Ethan always loved the idea of teaching and planned to continue his education after graduating from Kingsborough Community College to become a classroom teacher, said Roy.
“I taught when I was his age until I was 24. My mother was also a teacher and my father was a principal,” Roy said. “When my father passed in 2019, I think [Ethan] felt like it was his legacy to be an educator and it would make us proud — and it does, it absolutely does.”
Ethan, who worked with nonverbal autistic children from kindergarten to second grade, was admired as a natural-born educator by his colleagues at Brooklyn’s Public School 771K, a school for children with special needs.
“When we spoke to people he worked with, they expressed how well he interacted with his students,” Roy said. “Like I said, he wasn’t working for the money. He was working because he wanted to.”
Roy and Ethan’s mother Beverly John-Holder, 54, also talked about their son’s death, having allegedly been targeted by another 19-year-old.
“You have to control the guns themselves. How does it get into the neighborhoods,” Beverly said, emphasizing that Ethan had no criminal record.
“I’m a realist and I don’t know if the U.S. will ever get rid of their guns,” Roy said. “Guns are going to exist, but children don’t have to pick them up. Children need options. They need alternatives. They need hope. They need love. They need care.”
Outside of the classroom, Ethan was passionate about writing and performing his own rap music.
“It’s something he put aside when he started working with kids. However, his teaching job made him just as excited, and it made my heart proud to know that he found his purpose,” Roy said.
Roy plans to continue Ethan’s passion through The Music of Ethan’s Heart, a foundation dedicated to funding educational resources for public schools — particularly those that plan on cutting music immersion therapy for autistic children.
“We did a fundraiser called The Music of Ethan’s Heart where we raised $18,000. We had $12,000 to go to the school he worked at…[and] the other $6,000 is being used to start the foundation,” Roy said.
“We’ve got pretty ambitious and lofty goals, but the fact that we’ve been able to get support from our community shows how much they loved our son and the work he was doing,” Roy said.
As Roy and Beverly reflected on Ethan’s legacy as a life-saving hero, they emphasized his abundance of “emotional intelligence.”
“He treated himself the same way he treated others — with respect and care and without judgment and limits,” Roy said.
Simply put, Beverly said, “He would be proud.”
Joshua Bay is an editorial fellow at The 74. He most recently graduated from Georgetown University with an M.A. in educational transformation with a concentration in advocacy and policy; he is also an alum of the University of La Verne. Joshua previously served as a staff reporter and assistant editor of the San Dimas Community Post, a hyperlocal print and digital news organization covering the Los Angeles area.
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