Two days ago, 23-year-old Abraham Joshua’s life came to an abrupt end when he was struck and killed by a truck at Harrison and 22nd streets. He was on his way to work from his apartment in Japantown, riding, as he usually did, a scooter to teach science at Mission Preparatory School on York Street.
“He’s one of my favorite teachers. He made jokes,” said Lynda Ocampos, a seventh-grader. Joshua was to be her homeroom teacher next semester.
The Mission campus closed on Thursday for a day of reflection. Nearly 3,000 miles away in Princeton, where the young teacher only recently finished his undergraduate degree, friends were stunned. Joshua — or Abe, as they called him — was at the center of it all. He was one of those people who saw a friend in a crowd and lit up, hugged them, made them feel special, said several of his friends from Princeton and high school.
“He always thought of others before himself,” Jamison Mercurio, a Princeton friend wrote in an email.
Danny Guo, another friend, wrote about Joshua’s keen intelligence, but added that he was also “down-to-earth and hilarious … he was always someone you could talk to … ”
Friends said Joshua was surprised by how much he liked San Francisco. He went to the Lupe Fiasco concert, and devoured petti di pollo at Limoncello’s and garlic pie with chicken at apizza on Fillmore. He made new friends and connected with others from the Princeton alumni network.
He was the ideal roommate, his friends said, going to the gym, watching UFC on TV and cooking a few favorite and easy meals a week; egg tortillas, salmon and chicken.
After completing his two years with Teach for America, Joshua planned to go to medical school. He would soon apply to his dream school: Weill Cornell Medical School, a prestigious tuition-free school in New York City. His friends said he talked about finishing his medical degree and then opening his own clinic, probably a telehealth startup where patients could see doctors online.
“There’s just not a lot of black doctors out there that are in the medical field, the workforce. So I think he definitely also wanted to add to that, just to make a change in the community,” said a friend, Imani Mulrain.
An immigrant story
The Joshua family fled Eritrea to escape the 1998 Eritrean-Ethiopian war, friends said.
Joshua was born in Texas on Nov. 25, 1998, the son of a radiologist and a pharmacist. Four years later, his brother, Samson, was born.
Changes in his parents’ careers prompted the family to move from Texas to Washington D.C. and then Morgantown, West Virginia. They arrived in the quiet, hilly university town when Joshua was about 10 years old.
As the new kid in town, he was bullied a bit in middle school, but he didn’t let it get him down. Instead, he carried on the family’s tradition of strong academic performance and made it into the school’s advanced classes and gifted students program. Of all his subjects, he particularly liked science, according to a high school friend.
Joshua spent 2012 to 2016 at Morgantown High School, a highly diverse school ranking fourth in the state. There, Joashua’s caring and outgoing personality made an especially strong impression on those around him.
“Even though he became popular, and I didn’t, he continued to help me, like he didn’t care about those social hierarchies,” said James Deng, one of Joshua’s longtime friends who had a hard time in high school because he was a “nerd.”
“Abe was an incredibly important figure in my life,” Deng said.
He was also important at home. While both of his parents were occupied with work, Joshua’s bond with his younger brother grew, his friend said. Joshua cooked for Samson and helped him with his homework. In turn, Samson saw Joshua as a role model, according to the friend.
Joshua had his own role model, his advanced-placement chemistry teacher, Joe Melia. The 2016 Science Bowl state championship, which Joshua and his teammates won under Melia’s coaching, was an especially important bonding experience for the students. Joshua began to seek advice from Melia on how to plan his future. In fact, his admiration for Melia, coupled with the joy he derived from teaching math as a substitute teacher when he was in high school, was part of the reason Joshua became a teacher, a high school friend said.
In high school, Joshua also acted as the music director of the show choir and, from then on, singing and dancing became an integral part of his life.
In 2016, Joshua attended Princeton University and studied chemistry, materials sciences and engineering. He led a typical Princeton life: He spent days and nights in the libraries, wore the same tan jacket most days, watched “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” to relax, ate high-protein foods and found friends for life from the 200 upperclassmen in his eating club.
He spent some time learning Chinese, and his knowledge peaked in the summer of 2017 when he stayed six weeks in Beijing to participate in a Chinese language and literature program. According to Greg Umali, Joshua’s friend and fellow student of Chinese, one of Joashua’s favorite sentences was: “Your brain is a toilet.”
At Princeton, Joshua joined at least eight societies. These included the Black Arts Dance Company and Old NasSoul Acapella. In the former, he confidently performed his signature “old man swag,” much to the audience’s satisfaction. The latter is Princeton’s premier R&B and Soul acapella group, where Joshua, a tenor, played piano during rehearsals and sang Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”
“He loved singing that,” said Ameya Hadap, one of Joshua’s best friends in college. “He had a little riff that he would sing at the end of his solo, that he didn’t let anyone else sing, because it was his, in his own way. I still hear him singing that right now.”
“It just sounded like he was putting his heart into it, you could feel the passion,” James Deng said.
On Thursday evening the acapella group at Princeton gathered to sing some of their friend’s favorite songs.
A decision to teach
During the first year of the pandemic, Joshua returned to Morgantown to live with his family, which formed a social bubble with Deng’s family. The two frequently worked out together. Eventually, Joshua managed to deadlift 335 pounds for a set of five.
Growing up in a relatively wealthy family in heavily white West Virginia, Joshua’s life wasn’t always straightforward. “It almost was like that he didn’t feel like black enough to be in black spaces. But obviously, he didn’t really fit into white spaces either,” said Umali.
Friends said that Joshua’s racial consciousness remained a driving factor in his decisions. After cycling through career options while experiencing the uncertainty of college graduation, in August, 2021, Joshua became a seventh/eighth-grade science teacher at the Mission Preparatory School as a Teach for America corps member. For him, it was a chance to give back to the community at a grassroots level.
Even Joshua was surprised at how much he enjoyed interacting with his students and living life with a stack of papers to be graded, according to a friend who knew him at Princeton and visited his home last September. He wanted to pass on the inspiration he had received from his AP chemistry teacher and eventually become a role model for his students.
On March 2, shortly after 7 a.m., while his roommate was still asleep, Joshua left his room, one decorated with posters of impressionist paintings, depicting ships and towns.
As he generally did, he boarded a scooter and headed to work.
“He was a shining light to everyone who knew him and he will be dearly missed,” said Deng.
The Mission Preparatory school has organized a scholarship fund in Abraham Joshua’s honor.