I puffed on the Cohiba triumphantly, and began to envision what takedown day would look like. I wanted to make a HUGE dent in the two criminal organizations we were targeting. A small splash would be inconsequential. We had to make a difference. We had to decimate the gangs and their leadership. And I had to prove to my Higher that I was the right guy at the right time to get this accomplished. Some at headquarters had worried I was too close to the young men in Newburgh; that my relationships with so many youngsters over the years there would result in a conflict of interest. I scoffed at their pedestrian arguments. I loved Newburgh and I loved the young men I coached. However, I hated bullies. And, having grown up as a white kid in a black neighborhood during the 1970’s in Decatur, Georgia, I had endured my fair share of bullying and payback, as they referred to it back then during the immediate aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement, for things that someone else’s ancestors did to someone else’s ancestors.
Therefore, I had dedicated a lifetime in the U.S. military and in the FBI, confronting bullies. And Newburgh’s biggest bullies were about to have their worlds turned upside down.
The next of my three meetings with “00” happened again by chance during that winter of 2009-2010. I had moved my basketball operations back inside the Newburgh Boys & Girls Club on Liberty Street once the snow had arrived and the frigid and bitter winds whipping off the Hudson River made outdoor basketball obsolete during the winter months. I had scheduled a workout inside the Club’s cavernous gymnasium, named after the Center’s founder, Glenn E. Hines. The walls were adorned as they are in most inner-city community spaces with paintings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., messages of hope, and tributes to scholastic achievement.
The Center’s director was a personal friend of mine, Kevin White. We both shared an abiding devotion to the young men of Newburgh, and Kevin always made certain to provide me the gym space to run my practices and share my message of “personal responsibility” and the avoidance of “victimhood.” Now that word is a loaded one: victimhood. The ‘hood is a perilous place, and many young men had their dreams and lives snuffed out by a bullet discharged from a weapon held by a young man who looked just like the victim. That’s an inconvenient truth. But it’s the truth, nonetheless.
But perpetuating victimhood was also to be avoided —- I had to also somehow reshape the narrative that so many of these young men had come to believe was gospel:
“You can’t make it. You’re from Newburgh, New York. You ain’t no good. Odds’re stacked against you, kid. And the System is designed to see to it that you fail. Embrace your futility. Accept that you’ll simply become a statistic.”
And in my head, The Game’s “My Life” plays on endless loop … in perpetuity.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat…
My quiet reflections, as I sat on the Boys & Girls Club steps with two of my young athletes, awaiting the wrap-up of a baby shower that the Center had booked in the gymnasium during the hours immediately preceding my pracice, were suddenly shocked out of their reverie…
“There he is,” one of my young kids, nicknamed “Stringbeanie,” announced in a stage whisper.
The second player, named “Singular” by his single mother, for his unique characteristics, nodded reverentially.
Who is the he they were referring to? I thought to myself.
And then, as the familiar muscled frame, trademark sagging jeans, and BLOODS red bandanna “flag” hanging from a rear pocket of one Anthony “00” Boykin rounded the corner, and our eyes met again, I held my breath. I stood up to unblock his path out of the main Liberty Street door to the Boys & Girls Club. My two kids continued to stare in wide-eyed awe. “Head into the gym and start stacking chairs,” I snapped to my boys suddenly, “Come on, hustle up.”
They turned and dashed in the direction of the gym, where the contracted baby shower was breaking up.
I glanced back in the direction that “00” had headed, but the street was dark and empty. Newburgh’s City Council was supposedly working on repairing the non-working street lights that littered many of its streets. But for now, “00” had vanished, the pitch-black emptiness having swallowed up the leader of the Newburgh BLOODS in the proverbial blink of an eye.
I turned and dutifully headed into the gym.
As usual, I began practice as I did every time we met at the Center.
I sat in a folding chair and posed questions to my youngsters who were seated around me in a semi-circle. I wanted to engage them in a dialogue before we started our session, and I typically selected a current topic to distill a life lesson or two from. But before I could begin, Singular turned to another of my loyal and talented players, a kid nicknamed “K-Breezy,” and attempted to whisper, “Hey, we saw “00” up in here tonight before practice.”
“Breezy” nodded in solemn acknowledgement and it gave me the point of entry the moment demanded:
“Hey,” I suddenly announced, “What do you guys know about Anthony Boykin?”
My sudden inquiry was met with blank stares.
“I mean, ’00.’ What do you know about ’00?’
“He’s the head BLOOD,” Stringbeanie proudly announced. “He runs Newburgh.”
“Runs Newburgh,” I shot back. “How’s he run Newburgh when he doesn’t have a job?”
The boys all giggled as fourth and fifth graders tend to do when confronted with an uncomfortable question.
I glanced over at Coach “Jeet,” my primary assistant coach, loyal partner, and right arm. Jeet had been an all-state wrestling champion for Newburgh Free Academy during the 1980’s. He had coached generations of Newburgh’s gridiron and basketball hopefuls. He WAS Newburgh; a proud and accomplished coach and mentor.
All he could do now, upon hearing the misguided admiration for “00,” was to slowly shake his head in grim resignation and take a deep breath. “Double-freaking-Oh runs Newburgh,” he muttered, still shaking his corn-row covered head. “You young men better figure out what’s up,” he snorted. “Before it’s too late.”
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