Breonna Taylor was going to be somebody. That was obvious to her teachers and administrators at Western High School when she was a student there from 2008 to her graduation in 2011.
“Bre was brilliant,” Western High School math teacher Leah Dix-White said. Dix-White was speaking in the library of Western, with other teachers who had come together to share their memories of Taylor, less than a week after a grand jury’s decision not to indict any officers for charges directly related to her death.
“She had a math mind. She had a beautiful mind,” Dix-White said. Math was Taylor’s favorite subject, according to her teacher. Dix-White said even as a younger high school student, Taylor would help seniors with their work.
“That was such a sign of maturity and resolve to be able to help upperclassmen,” she said. “She was a light.”
Taylor could also be counted on to have teachers’ backs if class got rowdy, or if they were worried about a lesson falling flat.
Jennifer Fuchs, now assistant principal at Seneca High School, was a relatively new teacher at Western when she had Taylor in her social studies class.
“I was still trying to get my wings, so to speak,” Fuchs said. “If you had a question for the class, you knew you could count on Breonna. She might not definitely know the answer, but she was going to be confident enough to put herself out there.”
Fuchs would use skits to engage students in class. Many students were reluctant to participate, but not Taylor, Fuchs said.
“Breonna was definitely not a student that shied away from being in the spotlight,” Fuchs said.
“I knew she was going to be somebody,” she said.
Taylor’s teachers saw her becoming a teacher or social worker because of her passion for helping others, and interpersonal skills. Stephanie Holton is Western’s youth service center coordinator, connecting students with wrap-around services and counseling if they need it. She said Taylor would often find students crying in the bathroom, and bring them to Holton’s office.
“She was just such a helping and a giving spirit,” Holton said.
She was also full of joy. Former Western Assistant Principal Nureka Dixon can’t even hear Taylor’s name without hearing her distinctive giggle.
“You had to hear her giggle to truly understand,” Dixon laughed.
Dixon said Taylor was at nearly every school game and dance, and always surrounded by friends.
“School was very important to her. And so she took an active, positive role within the building. She was a leader in the building,” Dixon said.
Dixon’s memories of Taylor’s dedication to her education are evident in Taylor’s own words, left behind in a scrapbook she made during her senior year, and obtained by the New York Times.
“Graduating this year on time is so important to me because I will be the first in my family to accomplish this,” she wrote in it. “I want to be the one who finally breaks the cycle of my family’s educational history. I want to be the one to finally make a difference.”
Dixon has been an educator for 23 years, and has seen thousands of students come through the doors of Western High School, and Seneca High School, where she is assistant principal now. She’s connected with many students, but Taylor left one of the deepest impressions.
“There are those students that just stick out, and they stay with you because they have a place in your heart. And she was just one of those people,” Dixon said.
Taylor went on to study at the University of Kentucky, and then became an emergency room technician in Louisville. On March 13, she was shot and killed by Louisville Metro Police Department officers while they were executing a “no-knock” search warrant on her home. They were looking for evidence in a drug investigation of Taylor’s ex-boyfriend. But according to police records, no drugs, or other evidence connecting her to drug trafficking was found at her apartment.
Taylor’s face and name have since become synonymous with uprisings around the country calling for racial justice and police accountability. Her image has appeared in memes, on billboards, on social media and magazine covers. Dixon said it’s been hard to watch unfold.
“She’s not just a name and a hashtag. She’s not just a picture on a billboard or a magazine, or something that is for a moment relevant to pop culture or to people,” Dixon said. “She was a real person that touched each of our lives very deeply.”
After the grand jury’s decision, Dix-White took to Facebook to write a letter to Taylor. A copy is below:
I’m writing in hopes that I can express and myself maybe heal or deal with my own selfish grief, anger and pain. No one deserves their life to end in the way your life did. Period. For the past six months, I have asked myself how could this have happened to you, Bre?
My heart breaks thinking about school days. You were the sweetest person. Helpful and kind. I could always count on you to help others with their work. Your smile and laughter and class is what I remember most. You were a helper, a dear friend, the three amigos, a caring big sister, a daughter, an angel, and so much more. Your family and friends adored and looked up to you, as I did.
How do we continue without the light of your presence? It just hurts. The world needs to know that you were so loved and cherished. Not just a face for this movement. Every time we say your name, see your face, it reminds us of what happened to you. So today as I sift through my selfish emotions, I choose to remember your love and smile, and not let naysayers tarnish your name. I will spread love to all who will listen and share my truths.