Thursday, November 30, 2006

“For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required.”

Luke 12:48

Every now and again, it’s incumbent upon us to make a list and check it twice. Not to sit in judgment, but to simply call it as we see it.

His airness, Michael Jordan, made the top of an earlier list for coming to town and turning his back to the children of this city who, having spent millions on his overpriced sneakers, couldn’t depend on the deep-pocketed sports “hero” to help bolster hoops facilities. Sir Michael’s effective marketing campaign pounded the minds of the impressionable ballers in the ‘hood to “be like Mike” and buy his Nikes.

The better marketing message would have been along the lines of the Miami Heat’s Dwayne Wayne, who rolls up to a neighborhood court, hands out basketball equipment to the youths and tosses the keys to a spanking new Lincoln Navigator to the coach. His message: “My dream is to leave the world better than I found it.”

Michael Jordan’s dream came true because of his blessings from God and because adults supported and encouraged him along way. He and other phenoms could learn a few things from such athletes as Venus and Serena Williams, whose commitment to the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center in Washington is unwavering. Examples on the gridiron side of the give-back-to-the-community equation include former Washington Redskins standouts Darrell Green, founder of the Christian values-centered Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation, and Charles Mann and Art Monk, cofounders of the Good Samaritan Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated for more than a decade to teaching youth the importance of excelling in school and being community do-gooders — regardless of their socioeconomic odds.

In the championship boxing world there’s … um … hmm …uh. There’s an awfully long list of area champs who should be doing more — a lot more.

Hasim Rahman.

Maurice Blocker.

Sharmba Mitchell.

Ray Leonard.

Eric Aiken.

William Joppy.

Keith Holmes.

They are champions in the ring. They all started out as local boys in whom adults vested time and money to grow them into men who became successful boxers.

Their names are recognizable to anyone who has any interest in boxing — whether promoters of the sport, writers who cover and comment on the sport or are a mere fan, like me, who appreciates the mental and physical toughness it takes to go mano-a-mano, pound-for-pound.

The champs in that list — and champs on any list — didn’t get there alone. Muhammad Ali, “Sugar” Ray Leonard, George Foreman and the actor Russell Crowe (“The Cinderella Man”) had Angelo Dundee. Floyd Patterson and Mike Tyson had Cus D’Amato. Local boxers William Joppy, Sharmba Mitchell and Hasim Rahman had Adrian Davis, a native Washingtonian and himself a former Golden Gloves champ.

The list neither begins nor ends with boxers, of course. The flip side includes organizations that remain a little too removed from their respective missions to support “the community.” At the top of that list are the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission and the Boxing Information Center. A 7-year-old nonprofit, the Boxing Information Center, which is based in Washington, claims its mission is to provide a “link between today’s youth and boxers of the past, present and future.” Wish that it were more involved, especially with neighborhood recreation and learning centers, and Samaritan organizations like Round 1 Youth Boxing and Fitness Center in nearby Brentwood, Md., where girls and boys are taught that boxing is but one means of keeping fit and earning a living.

Take Dominic Wade. Dominic is 16 years old and has been struggling in school. His parents keep him on his toes and his Olympic potential is obvious, his trainer, Adrian Davis, told me. Now imagine other Dominic Wades, young boys who could have Sharmba Mitchell showing them the ropes. William Joppy as a mentor. Maybe even Hasim Rahman as a gym sponsor. Mr. Davis and his wife, Brenda, are even dreaming a big dream for area youngsters: The Golden Gloves ought to return to their rightful home — Washington, D.C. Sounds like a great idea with golden opportunities (and a future column), too.

Dreams. They don’t always come true — like for the children who learned the hard way that Jordan sneakers didn’t mean they were going to “be like Mike.”

The holiday season is upon us. Do what you can.

It’s unsportsmanlike not to give. Doesn’t matter what your current station in life is. These are golden opportunities for both the past and present legends to step up, give back and grab a youth by the hand.

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