It’s about 8:10 pm on Saturday, February 18th… I’m in my car headed to the Liacouras Center on the campus of Temple University. My Big Bro Perry Clark is in town. He does color commentary for ESPN broadcasts of American Athletic Conference (AAC) basketball games. Tulsa is in town and they are scheduled to face Temple the following day at 2:00 pm in one of few remaining AAC matchups. Tulsa has a shoot around scheduled for 8:30 pm – 9:00 pm.
Clark likes to attend the shoot arounds to talk to the coaches and key players to get a feel for the team’s emotional state. He leans heavily upon his 4 decades as a college coach to deftly probe the coaches and gain some keen insights he will share with ESPN viewers during the broadcast. I usually meet him when he comes to town and we talk a LOT of Temple basketball and end up at one Philadelphia’s finest dining establishments. Expense accounts come in handy from time to time…
I am eager to get to Temple for this particular shoot around because one of my favorite college coaching buddies, Yaphett King, is on the Tulsa staff. This will give me an opportunity to pop up on King and welcome him to the City of Brotherly Love.
Then my cell phone rings…
It’s Kamal Yard, Founder and Director of the Philly Pride Basketball Club. I talk to Yard several times and week and frequently multiple times in one day. So, I think nothing of it and answer the call…
“What up Mal?”
“Mannnn… How you think Blue and ‘em gonna deal with this?”
Those that have known Temple Head Coach Aaron McKie since his schoolboy days at Gratz know that his nickname is “Blue.”
My mind starts to race… What da fuck is Mal talking bout now?
“I’m on my way to Temple as we speak, I’ll be there in a few minutes… What happened?”
“Youngbuls shot a Temple cop in the head at 18th and Montgomery… They said it was high caliber weapon… Really bad Bro.”
Now I understood exactly what Yard was asking me… For the past ten years or so, he has been one of the few people that I have engaged in ongoing conversations about the dramatic rise in rampant indiscriminate violent crime, degenerating cultural values, declining academic performances and how they impact and ultimately circumscribe the ability of area college sports programs to recruit elite athletes.
Yard gets it… His Philly Pride colleague, Amauro Austin, gets it… K-Low Elite’s Lonnie Lowry gets it… WeRone’s Terrell Myers gets it…
Sometimes, it seems that Temple’s diehard football and basketball fans don’t get it…
Earlier this season, there were loud rumblings on Temple’s message boards about moving on from McKie. There’s been a constant drumbeat of complaints focused on his “recruiting” and his supposed inability to land the top area prospects.
When Yard asked, “How you think Blue and ‘em gonna deal with this” he was posing a very specific set of highly relevant questions all at once.
Allow me to deconstruct his query… Yard was asking, “With a Temple cop bleeding out on a street adjacent to campus, how is Coach McKie supposed to get kids to choose Temple over Rutgers, Maryland and Penn State?”
He was questioning, “With a seemingly endless string of savagely barbaric murders on or proximate to the Temple campus, how is Coach McKie supposed to get kids to choose Temple over Seton Hall, Villanova, St. John’s and Georgetown?”
As a father, a Temple supporter and basketball lifer, Yard was searching for a perspective that provided a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
I had no answers for him…
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that Temple has worked tirelessly to quell fears among current and prospective students and student-athletes since the brutal murder of Samuel Collington, a 21-year-old senior at the university, over a year ago. Yard, Austin, Lowry and I know through first hand interactions and conversations that students and student-athletes are afraid and parents are afraid for their children’s safety.
Through it all, we have encouraged top local players to seriously consider the Owls when selecting a college destination. Indeed, Yard, Austin and Philly Pride have sent Scootie Randall, Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, Ramone Moore, Ryan Brooks and current sophomore star Zack Hicks to play on North Broad Street. Lowry’s best player, West Catholic’s Zion Stanford, is already in the fold for next year. I worked hard in conjunction with Carl Arrigale, Pat Sorrentino and the rest of the Neumann-Goretti staff to help Hysier Miller understand the benefits of playing for the sixth winningest program in the history of college basketball.
We all love and respect Temple basketball… We all want to see the Owls return to the heights they experienced under Harry Litwack and John Chaney.
Nonetheless, with his pointed query, Yard was asking if and how it can be done under the existential conditions prevailing on and around North Broad Street.
He was asking an important, damn good and very fair question.
It’s safe to assume that this question has been consistently and carefully pondered by Temple Trustees, Senior Administrators and Department Heads over the past few years.
One can see that Temple clearly understands that they have a serious problem with the way campus safety is perceived. In an attempt to assuage the prevailing perception, Temple President Jason Wingard and his family will relocate to a Temple-owned property on North Carlisle Street between Norris and Diamond streets in spring 2023. The Wingard family will relocate from Chestnut Hill, one of the toniest Philadelphia neighborhoods, to a row home is located in the middle of a North Philadelphia street just a block from campus.
It’s a very strong symbolic move. “As a leader, it is crucial to take action that supports strategic priorities,” Wingard said. “For my family and me, this is a move that we have thought about carefully. It is aligned with institutional and personal values, and we are excited!”
But… It’s not enough… It’s no close to sufficient…
Since talking with Yard, his question has consumed my thoughts. I still have no answers. A least none that make any sense…
Five, ten, fifteen or twenty years ago, I would have delved into crime, employment, education and income data in search of a plausible hypothesis. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that we are dealing with profound immorality and wickedness, in many instances like the murder of the Temple police officer one can only conclude that the killer was a manifestation of pure evil.
This young man, raised in an affluent suburb, is truly evil. He woke up yesterday and explicitly sought to do harm by planning to commit some morally wrong action with no prompting from others. This evil young man tried to carry out this plan with the hope of causing considerable harm to others. This type of evil reigns far too often in far too many circumstances in Philadelphia and many other American urban centers.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to counter the argument that we are witnessing a clear division between good and evil. More and more it seems that evil is winning.
While it may not provide an immediate solution to the conundrums faced by Temple’s leadership, I want to pose a strategy that may stem the tide a bit and certainly will not make matters worse.
Faith-based institutions must become much more involved.
Congregating for an hour or two one a week to worship God is a positive thing that urban communities should not forgo. Even if you are cynical about church, one has to acknowledge that gathering every week to consider higher purposes in life is better than not doing it at all.
We are well past time to admit a simple fact… By any reasonable measure we have lost the ethical cores or centers that held our communities together. The consequences of that include almost daily assaults with high caliber assault weapons resulting in 50, 60 even 80 shell casings strewn across Philadelphia streets and sidewalks. The consequences include an honorable and peaceful senior citizen beaten to death with with traffic cones by seven teenagers. The consequences include five teenagers, one just 13 years old, carjacking a congresswoman in Philadelphia.
The consequences include two gunmen firing 64 shots with four different weapons at five Roxborough high school football players walking off the field killing a 14 year old. The consequences include over 500 homicides in each of the past two years in Philadelphia. The consequences include well over 1,000 carjackings in Philadelphia in 2022.
I have no desire to position myself as some sort of sanctimonious fraud. I don’t know how to lay out a convincing case for gathering at the church, mosque, synagogue, etc. I do want you use whatever time I have left to tell young men and women, especially young Black and Brown people how to avoid the road to hell. I don’t want to do it because I view myself as a moral authority. Indeed, for most of the past half-century I have been a sinner of the highest order.
I do it because I don’t want young Black and Brown boys and girls to burn in hell.
With Yard’s questions still on my mind, I attended an inspirational and uplifting service today New Kingdom Baptist Church in North Philadelphia. Pastor Daniel Jackson led a prayer for slain Temple Police Officer Christopher Fitzgerald. I then drove a mile or so to the Liacouras Center, where there was a somber moment of silence for Officer Fitzgerald. During the post-game press conference, two Temple players and Coach McKie were asked to comment on the murder.
Plainly stated, the specter of Officer Fitzgerald’s murder hung over today’s activities like an exceedingly heavy and dark rain cloud.
I came home and discovered that Officer Fitzgerald was my cousin’s cousin. He was my cousin by marriage.
I don’t know how Blue and President Winguard are going to deal with this… Nor do I know what they they should do…
I will, however, be in church somewhere next Sunday. It couldn’t possibly hurt if more and more young people joined me every week. Seriously… I don’t want them to burn in hell like the young man that took Ofc. Fitzgerald’s life last night.