B-Side Blog: Escape From The Hood

Sometimes the light out of the tunnel is further away than one expects (Colin Boyle photo)

For many, track & field can be an escape -- an escape from life's problems, stress, and even the "hood."  For  many years youth across America have used the sport to get a better life and a college education. The hood has the trappings of drugs, alcohol, violence, and poverty. Those blessed enough with talent in track and field can use that talent to escape. A problem many have is after they have escaped, the hood gets offended and starts to tug, pull and encourage those athletes to return home.

The escaped athlete has become one that others look up to and want to be like even inspiring younger youth that they too can make it out. The hood is then split at the same time.  It's both happy and upset that one made it out. 

Several weekends ago, T Jones sent me a text message that Roosevelt Davis, 21 of E. St. Louis had been shot and killed. I didn't know him personally but met him at the 2016 state meet after their 4x4 relay had handled business. He reminded me of and had the swag of the great Harlan South (Thornton HS) of the early to mid-80s. If the baton was in his hand, it was a wrap. I was bothered by the news and had to watch comedy shows on YouTube to try to block out this tragedy. I had heard that he had escaped from the hood and went to college for track, and had planned to return after a break back home. All I could think of was why?  Why after you had escaped do you come back? A lot of it is family, kids, homesick, or ... it's the voice of the hood calling you back. 

Sometimes falling down is a positive sign needed in order to succeed

When I was in 7th grade, my parents told me that I needed to get a scholarship because they didn't have the money to send me to college. College is much more expensive now than it was then. I knew without that scholarship, there was no escape. If you don't get out, the chances of getting a job are not good and the streets of the hood being to call your name. Gangs, drugs, and alcohol lead to jail, prison or the cemetery. All of those are bad options.  I did get that scholarship to the University of Nebraska. Jackie Joyner, Al Joyner, Dawn Harper, to name a few from the track of E. St Louis, did the same. There are a number of ESTL athletes who have escaped the hood in other sports like Laphonso Ellis and Cuonzo Martin in basketball. I hate to see youth lose their life, especially the ones with God-given talent to escape. 

Years ago, I lost a high school teammate. One night after a Thanksgiving basketball game during my sophomore year of college, I went and chilled at McDonald's with all my Nebraska gear on; sporting my conference meet diamond ring. My former high school teammate, turned gang leader spotted me. If he wanted you dead, you were dead. He walks up to me and looks around to make sure nobody was around to hear what he was about to say. He asked me how school and track were going. Then he says, 'Man I wish I had stayed in college like you and ran track. I blew it!' I was in shock. He then says, 'Man keep doing what you're doing and represent.'  My escape had a gang leader wishing he were in my shoes. It would be our last conversation as he was found dead a few years later in an alley. I still remember the conversation. 

I don't know how many times throughout the years when I was coaching I have said to an athlete "Do you know why you're going to have problems against ESTL?" Because they aren't just running for medals and state titles. They're running for a reason, to escape from the hood. They're running for a better life, and you're just out here running." It's hard to beat someone with that kind of extra motivation. 

The family has lost a loved one, but the coach, whether its school or club, is crushed. They're left sometimes with the greatest question." What could I have done or said to prevent this?" Could I have said something?" I wrote in my 2016 BSide "Just Stand" a story about one of my former sprint stars who didn't listen to all the warnings of the streets. He was given the talent to escape, got caught up and is now in prison. Many times, we the coaches have given the important message of staying out of trouble, keeping your grades up and hanging with the right crowd. The same the message is said every year to every team and athlete whether they are stars or not. We try to save them all and many we do, some we can't. We hurt just the same when the situations come and are never quite the same. We eventually move forward with our recovery and start all over again. We continue to preach the same message to any athlete that will listen. 

I am asking everyone to pray for Roosevelt's family and friends. My message to the coaches and athletes at ESTL is to dedicate the rest of the season to Roosevelt. Athletes listen to the message of your parents, teachers and coaches... and Escape!