Gwendolyn Woods, mother of 26-year-old Mario Woods who was shot and killed by police on Dec. 2 in the Bayview, tearfully watches graduates walk down the room during the Five Keys Charter school graduation at St. Mary's Cathedral on Wednesday, January 20, 2016. Five Keys is the first charter high school in the nation to operate inside a county jail system, it was launched in the San Francisco County Jail in 2003. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Mario Woods posthumously awarded high school diploma

Before Mario Woods became a martyr for the Black Lives Matter movement through his death at the hands of San Francisco police last month, he was working toward a high school diploma from Five Keys Charter school.

On Wednesday his mother Gwendolyn Woods accepted a posthumous diploma for her son inside an event hall at St. Mary’s Cathedral, where he became a member of the largest class to graduate from Five Keys since the school started at County Jail in 2003.

“This is bittersweet,” Gwendolyn told reporters. “He should be here. He should be getting this and it reminds me of when I would say to him, so much potential ahead of him, I just don’t know, God had something great for him.”

Woods was shot and killed by five officers Dec. 2 in the Bayview while carrying a knife that police suspected him of stabbing someone with. Since then, the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition has called for the firings of Police Chief Greg Suhr and officers who shot him, as well as for an independent investigation into the shooting.

Woods had served time in County Jail on robbery charges but was turning his life around when he was killed, his mother said. Woods had earned his GED and last March began to work toward a high school diploma at HealthRight 360 — a community program that Five Keys works with — where he remained until his death.

“He deserved to be happy and this was one of those things where he was beginning to realize all of his potential,” said Gwendolyn. “Drivers license. His jobs. His first bank account he had gotten. He should be here. I just miss him.”

Five Keys is a sheriff’s department-led school that began with seven students more than a decade ago. But Executive Director Steve Good said it has reached its largest class size yet this year, with 85 students including Woods graduating.

Tyson Amir, a Five Keys teacher, said during his speech at the graduation ceremony that Woods was a student in his math class twice in 2009 and 2010.

“The first time he was with us he wasn’t really with the program,” Amir said. “But what I saw was he had this amazing potential — brother was smart.”

The second time around, Woods earned a B+ in the class, Amir said.

“I should be standing smiling right beside him watching him walk off with his diploma,” Amir wrote in a poem he read during the ceremony. “But Ms. Woods, she lost a son. Others lost a family member or a friend. Me, I lost a student. May we never lose our love for him.”

The audience held a moment of silence for Woods at Amir’s request. Gwendolyn took the stage once to receive the award, tears welling in her eyes, and walked off with a bouquet of flowers and diploma in hand.

“I hope his legacy will be that not another young person or old person for that matter will just not die,” she later said.

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