Monday, March 10, 2014

A Job Well-Done

A fairly easy way to tell whether the person to whom you are speaking really knows a thing about my beloved State of Concrete Gardens is whether that person - when you ask them what the single worst place in New Jersey is and he or she answers "Newark".  Brick City is no picnic.  That much is true.  But under no stretch of the imagination does it hold a candle to Camden.

In my professional life, I have been all over the state and have spent "quality time" in several of our correctional facilities.  Yet, without exception, no place I have ever been has made me more uncomfortable than Camden.  And yes, I am including the prisons I have visited on that list.

Camden is a dangerous place.  It is, I think, because despair is the prevailing mood throughout the city.  Desperation does a lot of things to a person.  And many of them are not good.  Once I abandon all hope and begin to question whether my life has any value, it takes very little time at all for me to question how - and why - your life has any value.  And once I determine your life has scant little value too, then I cease to think of you as human and begin to think of you as something far more expendable.

It is a city with far too many problems for any one person to fix by himself.  However, this past weekend in Atlantic City one giant of a young man named Andrew Stevens did what he could do to pick up his city, his family and himself.  And he did one hell of a fine job.

Yesterday afternoon the high school wrestling season ended with the State Championships at Atlantic City.  Andrew Stevens, a 285 pound wrestler from Camden High School, wrapped up his undefeated senior season with his first-ever State Championship.  In the process of doing so, he won Camden High's first-ever State Championship.  He brought a state title to a coach, Hedley Theme, who has been Camden's wrestling coach for almost four decades and who - before Stevens showed up in his wrestling room - had never had a wrestler finish higher than fourth in the state.  

Maybe, just maybe, Andrew Stevens is an aberration.  Maybe, once this young man - who captured the championship at 285 pounds in spite of sporting a walking-around weight of 255 pounds - and his 3.5 GPA head off to the University of Maine where he has earned a scholarship to play football for the Black Bears - after he graduates this June, business as usual will return to Camden.  Then again, maybe just maybe the mark he made will last.  An exemplary young man serving as an example for those who wish to follow him.  

Well done young man.  Congratulations.  And good luck.


-AK 

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