Purcell Pearson scholarship: Family, fraternity to carry legacy

The senseless killing of a young Milwaukee man in February has left a gaping hole in the hearts of his family – but through their grief, they have set out to continue his legacy. 

Loved ones describe Purcell Pearson as fearless and selfless, determined to create change from a young age.

"From the time he was born, I knew there was something special about him," said Stephanie Johnson, Pearson's mom.

Purcell Pearson

For Johnson, some days without her son are harder than others.

"Unfortunately, there will never be justice, because justice would be him being here," Johnson said.

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A shining light in her life, there was no limit on what Pearson could achieve. Intent on helping others, the 22-year-old's future was bright.

"I just watched him blossom," said Johnson.

The UW-Whitewater graduate was a beloved member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, president of its Zeta Iota chapter and 2019 campus homecoming king.

Purcell Pearson

A voice for the Black Student Union, Pearson created a campus police officer liaison position.

"I was extremely proud, I am still very proud of the man he was," Johnson said.

On Feb. 6, near 23rd and Wisconsin, Pearson was shot and killed.

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Prosecutors said Ismael Moreno and Tyrell Joseph – both 17 years old – arranged to purchase designer glasses from Pearson but didn't pay. Surveillance shows the teens driving away with Pearson holding onto their van until someone inside opened fire.

Joseph was arrested this summer in Michigan. Moreno remains on the run.

"Every day, I miss my son. But I know that the person my son was, he would want me to not dwell in the pain," said Johnson. "He would want me to turn that into something positive."

Stephanie Johnson

Johnson said her family and Pearson's fraternity brothers have been working with UW-Whitewater to create the Purcell Alex Pearson Achievement Scholarship – celebrating his light and carrying his legacy forward.

"We have to push through it for him, that’s what he would want," Johnson said.

To celebrate Pearson, the Scholarship Committee is inviting the public to Johnsons Park between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept, 5 for a community event. Local vendors, games, face painting, bounce houses, snow cones, food, a live DJ, musical performances and poetry will be featured. 

Purcell Pearson

Sunday also marks what would be Pearson's 23rd birthday. 

More than $11,000 has already been donated to Pearson's scholarship fund. His friends and family hope to bring that total to $25,000 in order to reach endowment status.

To make a donation to Pearson's scholarship fund, visit the UW-Whitewater Foundation and choose your gift amount. Then under 'Designation,' select the 'Purcell Alex Pearson Achievement Scholarship.'

Pearson's family is also creating a nonprofit called Pure and Phocused. Through the organization, Johnson said they will set out to inspire future leaders and entrepreneurs.


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