Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dark Places for Shining Stars: Part 2

Michelle Alton
My friendship with Maurice "the Authentic" Hayman began serendipitously on a hot Summer's day in Center City Philadelphia in 2010. He was a Hip-Hop performer doing a free midday concert in "Love Park." I was a clinical researcher on my lunch break--with camera, of course. It wasn't until a year later that I learned that this talented, brilliant young man was on a lifelong quest that would take him down a path that not even he could have imagined. Learn about Maurice's life and his relentless efforts to help Inner City youngsters understand that they can be SHINING STARS.

I'm tagging along on this journey for a while. Please join me here as the story, "Dark Places for Shining Stars" unfolds. In Part 2, we begin to learn about Maurice and the "Authentic Minds College Fair" that he organized in "Brewerytown," North Philadelphia.

Thanks for stopping here to see the latest post. I'd love to know what you think of the "Relentless Pursuit" series. Please leave a comment below for the author or email me with your suggestions on what you'd like to see on this blog. Also, PLEASE click the green SU icon at the bottom of this post to recommend the blog to Stumble Upon members. It will dramatically increase the "exposure" of our authors' work.

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 Michelle Alton
(Click Here to read Part 1) 
Part 2:
Welcome to Brewerytown, Philadelphia! (by Michelle Alton)

What I did not know as I prepared to drive to Philadelphia on June 11 and--would not learn about until the next week--was that in the early evening hours of June 9, Maurice had had a strange and scary encounter. On that Thursday evening, as he was leaving the Public Library on Locust Street in the posh Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, he heard a man’s voice holler, “Hey, Yellow Shirt!” Maurice is always dressed impeccably, and prides himself on doing his own laundry and ironing. He was wearing a crisp pale yellow polo shirt. But he kept walking. “Hey, Mother F—ck’r!" Maurice kept walking.

In the next moments he was grabbed, hands yanked behind him, face smashed against a stone wall. He heard himself being cursed at and a crude voice callng him names laced with repetitions of the adjective above and others and all ending in “Nigger.”

No, he was not being mugged. He was not being robbed. He was being arrested. But for what? He would be abused verbally and physically for another 15 minutes before the officer told him what crime he was being nabbed for committing. Maurice had calmly refused to be taken anywhere until the cop provided the information. It seems a purse had been snatched in the neighborhood by a black man wearing a yellow shirt. It did not seem to matter that the perpetrator had also been described as being tall and husky. Maurice is about 5’ 10” tall and weighs about 150 pounds. But as mentioned above, on Saturday morning I had no knowledge of this bizarre event having occurred.


On June 11, I decided to drive myself to the “Authentic Minds” College Fair that Maurice had organized.  Despite having worked in downtown Philadelphia for six months, I had no idea how to use public transportation to get myself to Brewerytown. But Maurice assured me that there was plenty of street parking in the neighborhood. My trip was uneventful, and I found myself arriving at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center (the "REC") a full hour before the event was to begin.

(Click on photos to enlarge in a new window)
Girard Avenue, North Philadelphia.  The Center City skyline is partially visible inthe distant background.

I parked along the curb, adjacent to a playground surrounded by 10-foot chain-linked fencing. Instantly two passers-by, observing that I didn’t seem to “fit in” there, came to advise me to park the car closer to the curb. I was about 10 inches away and my SUV was sort of hanging out onto the street, where trucks might roar by and knock off a mirror or a fender. My helpful advisor took it upon herself to fold the mirror in for me and then I re-parked. We chatted for about 20 minutes and then I took my leave to walk the block to the “REC’s” main entrance.

Basketball at the "REC"

There were groups of people congregating on the sidewalks, and I received several welcoming greetings from people who had been strangers to me until I walked into the gym that was to be the site of the College Fair. It was now only 30 minutes before the starting time of the event, but there were only three people setting up a booth inside. The gym was not air conditioned, nor were there any ceiling fans. The only breezes would come from two doors that would be left open all day. I was glad that I’d brought two bottles of water. I was going to need them because there would be no refreshment concessions  at the fair.

I went back outdoors to wait for Maurice to arrive. It was MUCH TOO HOT inside the gym. I stood there looking a bit lost for a minute or two, before a man sitting on a folding chair near the doorway asked me if I wanted to sit down. He was a stocky, middle-aged black man, with his cap on back-to-front and several key teeth missing. His black and white tee shirt had “Golden Gloves Boxing 2010” stamped on it.

“Yes, that would be great,” I quickly replied. He went inside and came back with another folding chair. “Where do you want it?” I said that I’d like to sit and chat with him!” He seemed delighted, and I sat down beside him.

Chuckie Mills

Chuckie Mills is the boxing trainer at the “REC.” He asked me if I’d like to see the boxing gym, and I said “Yes, sure!” As we walked through the building, Chuckie introduced me to everyone we met. I felt like a celebrity. We headed down a dark stairway, and at the bottom was a corridor with freshly-painted walls, and murals of boxing scenes painted on them.

A young man was jumping rope in the boxing ring. Chuckie introduced us. This was Aaron, who was going to fight in his first competitive match the next day in Allentown. AND…Aaron was the artist responsible for the murals.

Aaron Jumps (He won his match the next day)

Life Imitates Art
Chuckie wanted to teach me how to jump rope, and I'm sure that it would have been an adventure, but I was already feeling sweaty, so I declined the offer. Whew…close call! I had never been able to jump rope as a child; always a bit clutzy where my feet were involved. So we headed back up the stairs. Chuckie explained that Aaron had been a lost, wandering, depressed and hopeless soul, sinking to the depths until he had been introduced to boxing. Now he was engaged, happy, disciplined and on a training mission. He told me he was interested in photography as well as painting, and that he dreamed of having his own small gallery.

In the next few hours (I would come back outside periodically to cool off) I was to realize that Chuckie Mills was in the “business” of “saving" kids. As was Maurice—each in his own way.

It was thirty minutes past the scheduled start time for the College Fair. Most of the school representatives were setting up their tables, but Maurice had not yet arrived. There were some people milling around on the gym floor and performers were beginning to turn up with their props. The DJ was doing sound tests.

DJ at Work
 A few minutes later, Maurice arrived, dressed in a pressed khaki shirt and a “Mr. Cool” tweed hat. He looked very handsome, as he walked with an attractive light-skinned black woman who was helping him unload the car. She is his girlfriend, Annette.

When he spotted me sitting beside Chuckie, he stopped to greet me, thanked me for coming and gave me a little hug. A short while later, an older woman came up to me and introduced herself. She was Wendy Harvey, Maurice’s mother. She said that her son was really happy that I had come and so was she! Wendy raised her three children as a single mom, and is the founder of a new online magazine called “Solo Parenting.”

Kevin Miller (poet, engineer), Maurice, Wendy Harvey

“OK,” I thought. “Let’s get this show (Authentic Minds College Fair)  on the road!”

(to be continued)

Bonus Shots:

The DJ and Maurice

Volunteer worker at the "REC!"

Young Participants

Aaron takes a rest from training

Greeting Me

Columbia University Representative

Future College Prospect


  All photographs by Michelle Alton



*** This Blog Needs Your Story! *** { I'm Serious!} If you have a story to post on this theme, contact me, please! We haven't a single story on tap. I'm working on Part 3 of "Dark Places for Shining Stars" but it won't be ready for next week. Give your imagination a stretch--your story can be about any sort of Relentless Pursuit, fact, fiction, poignant, or humorous. And I'd be appreciative if you also take a look at my Photography site. I'd love to hear from you and work with you on your story!--


Michelle Alton


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Anonymous said...

Awesome story & photos! :) Tammy

Monnie Ryan said...

Wonderful story and I look forward to the next installment! The accompanying photos are stories in and of themselves!

Joe DiGilio said...

Well, you have my attention Michelle. Is this going to be one of those "cliff hangers" like in the "old days", one of those be sure to tune in again next week things?" I'm hooked so I'll be here to see what happens. Love your writing style and the photography is super.

Anonymous said...

Great journalism and great photo journalism, Michelle!! Very touching that he was so encouraged to see you...

Robert B

Mitch Spence said...

A marvelous serial, Michelle. I so looked forward to reading this installment and to those that will follow. Your presentation, the images, and the story, the life itself, are compelling. Mitch