Select Page

He was out for some refreshment, an ice cream on a warm summer afternoon in Philadelphia, and on his way home. We didn’t start out looking for trouble. We were bored and had nothing to do. We were all decent athletes and loved to play sports. In some ways we were just like Fat Albert and the Cosby kids. We all wore weird hats and had different nicknames. We played football in the street, used milk crates for basketball, and broomsticks as baseball bats. Usually we were all about fun. But that night the school yard was locked, the playground was gang turf and the only fields of dreams in our neighborhood were a cemetery and a junkyard. The idle mind is the playground for the devil!

He was large, the starting lineman on the local high school football team, about 6’2”, 220 pounds and only in the ninth grade. Unfortunately there was one of him, and eight of us. We were all about fifteen years old. He didn’t have a chance. His only crime was being alone and we had nothing to do.

Bruce stepped in front of him and said, “Man, where you going, you got any money.” He said, “All I’ve got is a quarter.” Bruce, who was, barely five foot two, said, “Man your lying”, and punched him in the mouth. He tried to fight back, but someone grabbed his arm. He tried to kick, but someone grabbed his leg. He fell down. He started to cry. Before they could rush in and stomp him I intervened. Now they were all mad at me, and wanted to kick my butt. I stood my ground. We let him walk away, tears in his eyes, stripped of feeling secure about being the biggest guy in the neighborhood, and going out alone. All for 25 cents, and because we had nothing to do!

Ten years later I joined a local health club complete with saunas, menthol room, hot tubs, and weight lifting. On my first day I went to work out, and there he was. The same guy we had jumped years before. He was huge, with a crowd around him, pumping iron that may have intimidated Arnold Shwarzenegger. I knew why! I didn’t wait to find out if he remembered that I was the one who prevented him from being hurt. I wanted to apologize, but instead I cleaned out my locker and never returned.

In no way am I suggesting that if kids can’t play sports they’ll have an excuse to turn to violence. Some of the kids I went to school with, and never played sports, became judges, politicians, musicians and scientist. Their path may have been easier, though, if they had the advantages that not only sports, but also the arts can provide. I’ve recently read of million of dollars designated to build and support sports programs in Berkeley, but I have heard very little of similar funding supporting other endeavors. In addition to sports we need to address the lack of opportunities for young people to pursue theater, art, science, dance, music and other activities as well. But that’s another story!

Derby Street – a Field of Dreams for some, a locked facility for others?
I don’t live on Derby Street, but I live near James Kinney Park and I enjoy hearing and watching kids rooting for their favorite teams and players on a cool summer’s evening instead of roaming the streets. However, we need to make sure that whatever is decided gives as many young people and the rest of our community somewhere to go, and something to do. Too many young people have never heard of, and don’t care about the baseball movie Field of Dreams, but they know about the rapper movie Get Rich or Die Trying! We’re running out of open space and kids with nothing to do are running out of time!

Winston Burton
Berkeley resident