The K&J Foundation honors the legacy of Kiara and Jameel Pearse, who died in an auto accident on Nov. 14, 2006, and promotes teen safety awareness. Husband-and-wife co-founders Brian and Yvette Pearse are passionate about sharing their experience and preventing further tragedies. Here, Brian tells us about the foundation’s origins and its ongoing efforts.
WHAT DOES THE K&J FOUNDATION DO? WHAT IS ITS MISSION?
We are a nonprofit whose mission is to save lives and prevent injuries through education. We educate on safe practices while driving and riding in a motor vehicle. We hope though education we can make a dent in lowering deaths and injuries in car crashes, the number-one killer of teenagers
WHEN AND WHY WAS IT FOUNDED?
In 2007, after the death of Kiara and Jameel, our only two children, to a motor vehicle crash, we initially established the foundation to give scholarships to Harrison County high school graduates. We try to award four $500 scholarships each year. Then we started giving talks to students and parents — telling our story to prevent others from suffering.
HOW HAS THIS ENDEAVOR BEEN A FITTING LEGACY TO KIARA & JAMEEL, AND WHAT IMPACT HAS IT MADE IN THE COMMUNITY?
I believe it has made a significant impact in the community, educating youth about the importance of using a seatbelt. Neither Kiara nor Jameel were wearing one at the time. They lost their lives too early and tragically. They were well-liked and good people. We honor them by telling their story — hoping others will remember how they lived and learn from their mistake.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE GREATEST THING YOU HAVE LEARNED OR GAINED BY STARTING THIS ORGANIZATION?
Telling the story is important; we possibly can save a life or help someone who has suffered our same circumstance. There is hope after losing a child. There is nothing better than when a young person tells us, “I was in an accident and was wearing my seatbelt because of what you said.”
WHAT’S NEW WITH THE K&J FOUNDATION? WHAT’S RECENT OR UPCOMING THAT YOU’RE EXCITED TO SHARE?
Recently K&J has been focusing on reaching younger children — the booster-seat riders. We had a partnership with a radio station in Alabama that was sponsored by State Farm Insurance. We actually did a few talks at schools in Alabama.
Our intent is to educate young car passengers about the importance of wearing a seatbelt to be properly restrained in a vehicle. COVID-19 has been a hinderance and brought that effort to a halt. Schools are not allowing visitors or large assemblies. When the time is right, we will continue that effort.
Recently we have contacted the Mississippi Highway Patrol and have some new initiatives planned. We have partnered in the past and want to reconnect and do more collaborations.
I think we want to target parents more. Parents play a vital role in young drivers’ behavior. Parents need to be more involved than just purchasing a car. For some parents, it’s a relief when a child gets a license. They no longer have to shuttle the child around. However, many do not realize the number-one killer of teens is motor-vehicle crashes. They need to monitor their children once they start to drive. Mississippi has GDL (graduated driving license) for a reason. Parents need to take that young, permitted driver out as much as possible so he or she can gain experience.