Berkeley High alumnus with promising journalism career dies at 22
Brandon Bailey, a Berkeley High alumnus who graduated from Sacramento State University in May, died last weekend near Sacramento. He was 22 years old.
Bailey died Sunday in a jet ski accident on Lake Folsom during a family outing, according to his mother, Tanisha Wilder. The Placer County Coroner’s Office is still investigating Bailey’s cause of death.
To his friends, family and mentors, Bailey represented the best of Berkeley, a young man with a bright future as a sportswriter. Bailey, who her friends called “B”, often spoke of her roots in Berkeley.
“What he was doing now was just the warm-up for everything I know was going to happen,” said Matts Benson, who befriended Bailey on the basketball court at Willard Middle School. in Berkeley.
A recipient of Berkeley High’s Scholar Athlete Academic Achievement Award in 2017, Bailey was a standout linebacker on the football team. In college, he channeled his passion for football into reporting, joining The State Hornet as a sportscaster in 2020.
He rose through the ranks at the Hornet, eventually landing his dream groove: football. Bailey profiled star players and covered the Hornets’ rise to prominence in the Big Sky Championship. During his senior semester, he started a podcast called “Take Your Shot” with Hornet editor Jordan Parker and co-edited the newspaper’s sports section.
On May 20, Bailey became the first person in his family to graduate from college, crossing the stage in Sacramento State, a source of immense pride for him and his family. He had just started his first job as a professional journalist covering the San Francisco Giants.
Shortly after graduating, Bailey posted a photo of himself on Instagram, wearing a graduation cap and Berkeley sweatshirt, posing for a photo. The caption read, “I’m gonna be a legend out of my town, just give me some time 💫.”
Her sudden death shook her family and friends, sparking an outpouring of love for Bailey.
“It fills my heart, and I’m so grateful for the impact my son, so young, has had on so many people. And that’s also what hurts me the most because I feel cheated. He had so much more to offer,” Wilder said, fighting back tears.
Wilder described his son, who the family called “BB,” as mature from an early age, a role model for his four siblings, including his older brothers. He spoiled his youngest sister, showing her how a young man should treat her, buying her gifts on Valentine’s Day, “all those little designer handbags” and taking her to get her nails done, Wilder said.
Growing up, Bailey and her older brother, Marcé Stewart, were attached at the hip. “Wherever I went, he went,” Stewart said. When Stewart wandered off after high school, it was Bailey who helped his older brother get back on track. “He was so honest and it was brutal at times,” Stewart said. Bailey was pushing him, ‘What are you doing with your life? You are supposed to do more.
A childhood friend and high school football teammate, Yusuf Bey, was struck by Bailey’s death.
“Brandon, Lil B, if you listen to me, boy,” Bey said, speaking to his friend Thursday morning. “At Berkeley, we will miss you, we will keep your memory alive, we will carry on your legacy. I love your brother.”
Parker wrote on Twitter: “The State Hornet family has lost one of its best, and the pain and hurt I feel can never be fully repaired. This family can never be whole again because our brother Brandon has been removed too soon.
I spent the last two days thinking about @brandonbailey_b and what he meant to me most of the time my mind went blank or it felt like i was looking for a few perfect phrases but there is no word or words to fully describe how great this feels wrong. pic.twitter.com/pFjvpDyElg
—Jordan Parker (@jparkerwrites) July 5, 2022
Bailey’s mantra: “Heart comes before size”
Standing at 5-foot-6 and 138 pounds in high school, Bailey’s opponents on the court and the field towered over him. (Even at age 5, Bailey was kicked out of youth football league for a year because of his short stature, his mother recalled.) But his work ethic and passion propelled him to sporting success, which eventually earned him a starting position on the football team his senior year, earning all-conference accolades.
“Brandon’s mantra was heart over height,” said David Perry, who coached Bailey on the Berkeley High football team his junior and senior years.
It was an approach to the sport that all his coaches saw in him, even when he was young.
Bailey made the basketball team in sixth grade, coach Amarú Moses said, despite his size but “because of the amount of heart and effort and general joy he brought to his teammates and to the game”.
As a coach, “you’re looking for the biggest, the fastest, the biggest, the strongest. And what I love about Brandon is he beat all those odds,” Perry said.
In 2016, Bailey, the football team’s center linebacker, was voted unanimously to the all-league first team and won Berkeley High’s Varsity Athlete Academic Achievement Award. His father, Clifton Bailey, was constantly present at his son’s games, cheering enthusiastically from the touchline.
His teammate Bey recalls a “legendary” interception Bailey made during a game against rival Bishop O’Dowd. The team would go on to win every conference in its most successful season at the time.
Inspired by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Bailey was one of the players who led the Berkeley High football team to take a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality , a moment documented by Vice News.
“We kneel in defense of black oppression and police brutality. And with us with our arms locked, it shows that we do it as a team and that we are united in what we do,” Bailey, then a high school student, said in the video, explaining why he wanted to kneel with his teammates.
After graduating from high school in 2017, Bailey won a High Hopes scholarship before enrolling in Sacramento State.
A budding sports journalist
Bailey spent the summer before his freshman year at Sacramento State on the Berkeley High football field. Hoping to join the team and play for the Hornets, Bailey practiced with Coach Perry all summer, working out drills and refining his game.
Although he didn’t end up on the team, Bailey found a way to incorporate the sport he loved into a career. He majored in journalism, joining the masthead of the State Hornet and quickly earned a reputation as one of the Hornet’s most dedicated writers.
Compliment Bailey, and he’ll turn that into you, said State Hornet editor Magaly Muñoz. “He was like, ‘I’m only as good as the people around me that I surround myself with. I’m only as good as my editors.
“We’d say, ‘Brandon, you can stop being humble for 5 minutes. Just take the praise, bro. And he wouldn’t.
After graduating, Bailey said his work at the newspaper made him fall in love with journalism. According to his friend Bey, he envisioned a future in which he traveled the world and his family said he wanted to become a sports analyst.
Within months, he landed his first gig covering the San Francisco Giants for an online magazine, 4.0 Sports Media.
“Who knew this young guy from Berkeley, California would go this far,” Bailey posted on his Instagram after graduation. “First-generation college graduate with a BA in Journalism. Give all praise and glory to God for keeping me grounded and getting me through this journey.
Bailey’s celebration of life will be held at 11 a.m. on July 12 at the Covenant Worship Center in Berkeley.