New York Times

Daniel Laske, a ‘Social Justice Warrior,’ Dies at 21

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

At 21, Daniel Laske was on the cusp of a career, one in which he planned to combine his devotion to medicine with his love of politics. He wasn’t quite certain what that would look like. But he was studying political science at Hunter College in Manhattan and working as a medical assistant at a CityMD urgent care center in the Bronx, all with the goal of making the world a better place.

Mr. Laske tested positive for Covid-19 in February, his father, Darius Laske, said in a phone interview. This was surprising because Daniel, who had a condition that made him prone to infections, had been hyper-cautious about the coronavirus, so much so that he had always worn two masks. After falling ill, he told his family that he had only a slight fever and muscle fatigue. Not to worry, he said.

Daniel died the next day, on Feb. 26, at his mother’s apartment in the Bronx. Though the medical examiner did not determine the official cause of death for some time, he told the family, “Covid definitely had something to do with it,” Darius Laske said.

Daniel Jason Laske was born on Jan. 8, 2000, in the Bronx with a disorder called congenital neutropenia, which meant he had low levels of the type of white blood cells needed to fight infections. Doctors gave him less than a year to live.

Daniel defied their expectations every year. He learned to give himself regular injections of a drug that stimulates the growth of white blood cells, and since the age of 16 he had not been sick.

His parents separated when he was about 10. After living in the Bronx with his mother, Joanne Cordero, who works for the New York City Parks Department, Daniel went to live with his father, who had moved to Herndon, Va., near Washington, and who works as a supervisor in federal law enforcement.

Daniel blossomed at Herndon High School. He wanted to serve in the military, as many in his extended family had, but his medical condition prevented that, so he joined the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. His greatest pride was wearing his uniform; he set aside an hour every weekend just to shine his shoes.

He also volunteered at the local elementary school, helping students with science and math homework.

After graduating from high school with honors in 2018, he attended Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and was accepted into a prestigious summer research program, where he studied bioinformatics.

In his sophomore year, he joined the student government association, fell in love with politics and helped low-income families in Richmond find housing.

“My son wants to be a doctor, but he sounds like a social justice warrior,” his father said.

Daniel then switched his major to political science and transferred to Hunter. He said he wanted to return to New York because his mother needed him and because he wanted to fight poverty in the Bronx, where he thought he could do more than in Richmond.

“That’s not your problem,” his father told him, hoping to keep his son closer to home in Virginia.

“Then whose problem is it?” Daniel asked, as his father recalled the conversation.

He started at Hunter last fall during the pandemic, taking classes online while working 12-hour shifts for CityMD. He loved the job, especially talking to people who came for help. “Being professional,” he told his father, “doesn’t mean you can’t be personal.”

In addition to his parents, Daniel is survived by four sisters, Carla, Hadyn, Leslie and Madison Laske, and his stepmother, Fanny Laske.

“He defied the odds, and he did so much,” his father said. “And he was just at the beginning.”

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Bourbiza Mohamed. Writer and Political Discourse Analysis.

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