In his recent “State of the County” address, Michael Page, the chairman of the Durham County Board of Commissioners, used the title of Charles Dickens’ book “The Tale of Two Cities” to drive home what most know, but don’t discuss in such stark terms.
What Page said was poignant, powerful…and incredibly sad. Page spoke of “two distinct realities” in Durham: areas of success and prosperity, and areas that are “home to embedded poverty, blight, economic disenfranchisement, crime and an unbreakable sense of hopelessness.”
There are more than two realities, of course, but Page’s description of some parts of Durham is mostly true. Mostly. I don’t think hopelessness is unbreakable. The human spirit is stronger than steel.
Page issued a call to action for Durham as a whole, similar to what Mayor Bill Bell did in his “State of the City” address this year, when he made reducing poverty, neighborhood by neighborhood, his focus.
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Bell pointed to poverty statistics from the census for some areas around Grant Park and Durham Tech. He said the data shows half the residents there live in poverty, and nearly 80 percent of children do.
Nearly 80 percent.
Sense of purpose
That brings me to NCCU’s men’s basketball coach LeVelle Moton. Moton and two of his Eagles players, soon-to-be-college graduates Jeremy Ingram and Poobie Chapman, were at the same meeting downtown where Page gave his speech last week.
Chancellor Debra Saunders-White and Athletic Director Ingrid Wicker-McCree were there, too and the group was honored for the spectacular hoops season the Eagles enjoyed, and for the inspiration their excellence and commitment provides the whole community.
Moton was asked to say a few words. The coach, now a hot candidate for other universities, spoke softly, humbly and briefly. He said that his grandmother always told him, “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you figure out what you were meant to do.”
It’s a slight adjustment on the famous Mark Twain saying, and it was perfect for Moton in describing how he felt about coaching young men, and grooming them for life on and off the court. He’s been doing that for years in this area … being a mentor. Ingram and Chapman spoke, too, and could not have been more moving in their own ways. Lots of gratitude to everyone who supported and supports them.
When I heard Moton give his grandmother’s version of the Twain words, with two truly impressive young men standing behind him, I realized I didn’t need to fast forward and actually see Michael Page’s speech. I’d already read the text, and that was enough.
It turned out that LeVelle Moton, Jeremy Ingram and Poobie Chapman had just shown how a sense of purpose can simulate someone to reach for a productive and meaningful life. Eagles all.
If I were Commissioner Page and Mayor Bell, I’d be putting Moton and his team leaders on billboards all over the city and county – and especially in troubled areas – not because they made it into March Madness for the first time, but because they are humble, directed and devoted. I don’t know the struggles any of the three may have overcome to become who they are now, but I’m quite sure they could motivate other young men seeking to find hopes inside their hearts.
At the commissioner’s meeting that night, Moton also mentioned that his one-year old was home from the hospital that very day. Many of you have no doubt heard that the head coach’s son suffered some serious burns to his face just as NCCU was gearing up to play Iowa State in what would become its final game of the year.
The photo accompanying this column says more than any elected leader could say about life, how lives unfold, and how children gain self-esteem and learn the tools to believe in themselves and battle through adversity. No matter where they live or how hard things are.
LeVelle, Jr., safe in the strong arms of his father. On second thought, maybe that’s the image that needs to be on the billboards all over Durham. No words needed.
You can reach Tom Gasparoli at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-219-0042.