“Devine” Intervention: Khalil Turner’s Philadelphia Story

Written by Khalil Turner

Family is supposed to protect you. The safest place in the world is with your family…

Isn’t it?

That is what I was always taught… In fact, I internalized and deeply believed that message.

Then real life intervened!

What happens when your family becomes a threat to your safety and well-being? I was truly unprepared for the moment I had to really face that situation head on.
Never had I felt that my safety and well-being were at risk… Never, ever… My older siblings, however, have not always agreed.

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Khalil Turner and his extended family

About three years ago, I was just starting my freshman year at Sankofa Freedom Academy Charter School. Finally, I was a “big boy.” I was a High School student filled with anticipation and eager to begin my academic and athletic journey, when a report was filed with the Sankofa counselor. This report stated that my sister and I were being “mistreated” at home.

More specifically, my siblings felt so strongly that our health and general well-being were at-risk that they decided to formally intervene. It was that bad. Looking back, I realize I lacked a frame of reference, I thought it was normal. I thought everyone struggled like we did… But my older siblings knew better and they came to the conclusion that my family was unable to adequately provide for and protect us.

A call was made…

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Khalil Turner and his older siblings during his LOI signing ceremony

Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services (DHS) is the county child welfare and juvenile justice agency. Their mission is to provide and promote safety, permanency, and well-being for children and youth at risk of abuse, neglect, and delinquency. Unbeknownst to me, our living situation definitely fell under their purview.

So… One day they just appeared… DHS was at my front door…

I had no comprehension of the concept, so I never imagined that I was “at-risk.”
I remember the DHS case workers making detailed observations of our living conditions… They literally looked in every crack and crevice of our family home. Everything was closely examined. Then, they conducted exhaustive interviews of my family members and came to a conclusion that would alter the trajectory of my life.

DHS concluded that our needs were not being adequately met. We had to be removed from the only home we ever knew.

What?!?! Foster care… Huh?

Now I knew my mother was struggling with some dependence and related mental health issues, but I never for a moment felt abused or neglected. I was just living day to day… But DHS determined otherwise. Citing a lack of structure and a paucity of resources in the household, they decided we had to leave our family home, for our own good.

Real life crept up on me real quick… My friends are worried about homework and playing Madden or NBA 2K on PlayStation… I’m just beginning my freshman year in high school and suddenly dealing with change and adversity of a magnitude I never imagine.

Honestly, at times, it was too much for me to bear…

Angry and frustrated, I had an immensely strained relationship with the family that DHS wanted me to move in with. It just wasn’t going to work. This I knew almost immediately.

I wanted to be with family… I wanted to be with people I love… I wanted to be with people I trust… DHS wanted me to live with total strangers.

I was scared… Then God intervened.

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Kobe Devine (foreground), Dayna Devine and Khalil Turner

He made it possible for me to live with my friend Kobe Devine and his parents Dayna and Barry Devine. Actually, there was no real plan. It kind of just happened. I would stay with the Devines when he had AAU basketball tournaments. Kobe’s Dad was my AAU coach and, logistically, it was just easier to be there than to have them worrying about picking me up and dropping me off. Eventually, I just decided to stay and not return to the “foster home” where the relations were strained.

Again… I thank God!

The Devine family members were angels sent from above in my time of need. This I am sure of. Nonetheless, it was initially awkward, while I loved the Devines they were not my “real” family. I was a young, insecure and scared boy. But this family was beyond patient and understanding with me. After a few months, the love and support overwhelmed me, Kobe became my “blood” brother and his parents became my parents as well. They made sure I felt welcomed. They were always asking me if I needed anything.

Before I knew it, I felt safe… Again. Now… It should be noted that this process wasn’t easy!

After moving into the Devine home, my life changed in so many ways. For the first time, I experienced unwavering family structure. There were limits, there were boundaries, there were rules… And, they were rigidly enforced. For the first time, I had to consistently deal with consequences of my actions and decisions.

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Khalil Turner and Dayna Devine

The first few months were rough because I had never really been subjected to discipline and structure. Immature and ignorant, I tried to balk and disagree when Kobe’s mom, Dayna, imposed the family structure on me. I didn’t want to hear it… I didn’t like being held accountable. I didn’t want to suffer the logical consequences of my actions. I would attempt to argue with her.

I was immature and unable to fully comprehend the blessing I was receiving.

Now, I fully understand how wrong and misguided I was.

Over time, I became increasingly respectful and considerate toward others because Kobe’s Mom and Dad were respectful and considerate toward me. I realized that they were preparing me to enter the world on my own.

Dayna Devine was my mentor, my teacher and my surrogate mother. The lessons and encouragement were non-stop. Several times a day, she would talk to me about the importance of respect, obedience and discipline. Within a few months, I began to internalize these values. She really led me through the process of becoming a more mature, responsible and accountable young man.

Every night, I would think to myself: how can I become a better man? How can I avoid the negative paths that so many of my neighbors, friends and family members have embarked upon? Every night, I would think about making my Mom and Kobe’s mom proud… I wanted to make sure they didn’t have to stress about paying for me to go to college.

After everything my family has endured, I still wanted to look out for my mother because I believe that family is still first. With the Devines in my life I am blessed to have an extended family added to the equation.

Since I began living with Kobe and the Devines, I had no choice other than to go hard in pursuit of my dreams and everything I love. I was determined to make my mother happy. I wanted to bring a smile to Dayna Devine’s face. I wanted an opportunity to continue my education and play college basketball at the Division 1 level.

Basketball is my love and I recognized that I could leverage my athletic ability to access college. As I progressed through high school, with the guidance of the Devines, I was able to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I have tried to include Kobe every step of the way because he did not have to invite me into his family and his home. He is my brother and I love him. I thank him for helping me pursue my dreams and I will always stand with him as he pursues his dreams.

God had been incredibly good to me… Although I didn’t have a stable father in my life, I kept meeting men that were a positive and strong influence on me. Many men in the Philadelphia basketball community embraced me and helped cultivate my talent.

Then it happened…

I picked up my first Division 1 basketball scholarship offer from Hartford University. With this offer, it became tangible… It became real…

I could use basketball to attend college for free. There would be another offer… and another offer… and another offer…

No Sankofa student had ever received a Division 1 scholarship. This was huge for my school, my family, my friends and for me. More than anything else, it inspired me to work even harder. Receiving that first scholarship offer made me think that’s anything is possible. It also made me think about the support and protection I would need once I graduate from Sankofa. I chose Rider University because I know the Kevin Baggett (Head Coach), Dino Presley (Assistant Coach) and the other coaches will be there for me for the rest of my life.

As months and years went by, the drama of the DHS ordeal began to recede from the forefront of my thoughts. I began to truly believe that I was going to be something special in life. I was experiencing a great deal of success in the classroom and on the basketball court.

But, beneath the surface, the pain still lingers…

 

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Between his two mothers, Turner signs a Letter of Intent to attend Rider University

I recently signed a Letter of Intent to attend and play at Rider. After graduation from Sankofa, I will spend four years living, learning and playing on campus in Lawrenceville, NJ. But today I am still not living with my mother. Regrettably, she has not addressed or resolved her mental health and dependence issues to the satisfaction of DHS.

I love my mother, but I can’t focus on that right now I just have to keep working hard. I know she loves me and I pray she gets better soon. However, I am intensely focused on making both my biological and my extended families proud. These past few years have changed me. It was very hard at the beginning and has become a little easier everyday. I am happy that I have my good friend and brother, Kobe, in my life. I truly do not know where I would be at this moment if Kobe and the Devines did not accept me into their family. I know I wouldn’t have the protection and love that a family is supposed to provide.

I know I would not feel safe.

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Philly Ballers… Why NOT Rider?

Over the past decade or so, the Rider University basketball program led by Tommy Dempsey and subsequently Kevin Baggett has been very successful in landing local prospects. Arguably, the Rider coaches have recruited the Greater Philadelphia region more effectively than any other staff. At minimum, the Broncs have outperformed expectations on the recruiting trail.

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Mike Ringgold, Roman Catholic HS and Rider University

On the face of it, this makes no sense… Rider shouldn’t be able to get so many good local players. After all, there are some things just assumed to be true…

For example, it is expected that the frequency of top student-athlete commitments increases with higher Cost of Attendance stipends and other cash considerations. In other words, more money spent results in more frequent and higher ranked recruit commitments. While Rider offers a modest stipend to basketball players, Rider is NOT a High Major program and does not even field a football team. Financially, Rider cannot compete with big boys.

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Novar Gadson, John Bartram HS and Rider University

It is also assumed that the frequency of top student-athlete athlete commitments increase with better living arrangements. Private apartment style housing with single bedrooms and private bathrooms are preferred to traditional dormitory-style housing. Rider does NOT offer such luxurious accommodations.

The frequency of top student-athlete commitments increases with participation in a High Major or Power Conference (ACC, Big 12, Big 10, SEC, PAC 12 and Big East). Rider plays in the decidedly mid-major MAAC Conference.

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Danny Stewart, Neumann-Goretti and Rider University

The frequency of elite student-athlete commitments increases with higher numbers of NBA players from the college program. Rider has had one player, Jason Thompson, go on to play in the NBA.

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Jason Thompson, Lenape HS, Rider University and the NBA

Lastly, the frequency of top student-athlete commitments are supposed to increase with higher numbers of NCAA tournament appearances. Dempsey and Baggett have ZERO (0) NCAA tournament appearances. Baggett did win the regular season MAAC title and play in the NIT last season.

Despite their inherent disadvantages, Rider basketball coaches have convinced more than 25 area players to commit to playing for the Broncs in recent years.

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Junior Fortunat, Roman Catholic HS and Rider University

How? Why? What gives?

Based on my personal observations of their recruiting strategy over the past decade, I’ve come to some conclusions about the way Rider goes about the business of  recruiting.

They aren’t intimidated by bigger programs from bigger conferences. Rather than assuming kids will go with the biggest name, Rider coaches view student-athletes as satisficers — as young people who choose the option that will satisfy their needs and wants without putting too much emphasis on making sure they access every possible benefit and potential amenity.

The Rider coaches know their program is “good enough” and they make sure the kids and their people understand that fact.

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Nurideen Lindsey, Overbrook HS, St. John’s University and Rider University

This is a significant point for Rider basketball coaches. More specifically, Rider coaches have strong and trusting relationships with multiple AAU/grassroots programs and most area high school coaches. This allows the Rider staff to enlist these stakeholders to ensure complete unfettered access is granted during the recruitment process. This is especially helpful if competing programs offer significantly higher COA stipends and other cash considerations, upgraded living accommodations, play in a high major conference or has a much higher number of NBA players. Rider coaches rely, almost exclusively, on relationship building.

Although the Broncs have considerably upgraded the basketball facilities, Rider coaches still sell their family environment and commitment to graduating kids. When competing against Big 5, Atlantic 10 and CAA programs, they identify targets early in the process (10th and 11th grade), establish relationships with key stakeholders (parents, mentors, AAU/grassroots coaches and HS coaches) and enlist them to facilitate the informational flow to the targeted student-athlete. Then the focus becomes gaining widespread understanding and acceptance of the fact that Rider Basketball will satisfy their desire to get a college education and prepare them to play professional basketball.

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Tyere Marshall, Martin L. King HS and Rider University

Additionally, Rider coaches have incorporated an understanding of “frustrated behavior” into their pitch to the family and stakeholders. The list of area student-athletes that returned to Philadelphia after experiencing failure and frustration at Power 5 schools is extensive. Jaylen Bond struggled at Texas (Big 12) before he returned home to rebuild his career at Temple. Devin Coleman barely played at Clemson (ACC) before becoming a key member of some strong Owl squads. Likewise, Dalton Pepper was a deep reserve at West Virginia (Big 12) before emerging as a star at Temple.

City-wide the list long. Tyrone Garland started at Virginia Tech (ACC) before returning home to La Salle. BJ Johnson spent 2 seasons at Syracuse (ACC) before piling up more than a 1,000 points in 2 years at La Salle. Tasheed Carr was at Iowa State (Big 12) before returning play point guard at Saint Joseph’s.

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Anthony Durham, Abington HS and Rider University

In most cases, the stakeholders around a student-athlete are from the same low-income environment. They likely have similar uncertainties and fears. Rider coaches explicitly acknowledge the pattern. They note that for decades a significant number of Philly kids have chosen to attend high major programs only to return to Rider, La Salle, Temple and other local schools.

Rider coaches establish among the families, stakeholders and the student-athlete a firm understanding of the precarious nature of signing with high major programs in distant cities. The coaches at those high major programs do not necessarily have to come back to the Philadelphia area for additional players. If they do not give the targeted student-athlete a fair opportunity, there is no natural consequence for the program. If the student-athlete leaves out of frustration, the coaching staff does not have to answer to members of the community in the player’s hometown. Indeed, if there is competition for playing time between the targeted player and a player from the area where the college is located, the local player will likely win out.

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Stevie Jordan, Conwell-Egan and Rider University

The question becomes: Why take chance on a program with an unproven record of developing and educating players from Philadelphia?

Located in the leafy, safe and low-stress suburban enclave of Lawrenceville, New Jersey, Rider provides a nearby alternative to the urban setting of some area colleges. Moreover, with over 100 victories and 3 post-season appearances in 6 years, Kevin Baggett has built a highly competitive basketball program.

Rider coaches work diligently to ensure that student-athletes and stakeholders visit campus regularly to become familiar with life in the Rider program. They make sure the message is conveyed that all the needs of Rider student-athletes are met while at Rider and beyond.

Philly kids have been listening closely… See current freshman, Ajiri Johnson (Bonner/WeRone Hoops) and 2019 commit Chris Ings (Neumann-Goretti/K-Low Elite)… I strongly suspect they will continue to do so…