Officials gathered Thursday at the Chancellor Avenue entrance to Weequahic Park, where the basketball complex there was renamed in honor of Delano M. Gordon, founder of Above the Rim, a youth outreach program that uses the sport to improve the lives of thousands of Newarkers.
Inspiration came to Delano M. Gordon at all times of the day and night, and usually accompanied by a catchphrase, speakers at Thursday’s ceremony said.
“He would call me up and say, ‘DP, bam!’ when an idea came to him,” said Donald Payne Jr., a member of the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders who, along with Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, voted to rename the courts at the county park. Payne is also president of the Newark Municipal Council.
“He went to sleep and would wake up in the middle of the night with plans for somebody else’s organization, after they’d called him with their problems,” said Gordon’s widow, Rochelle Howard. “He took it to sleep with him. Amazing, amazing.”
Gordon, who died last year at the age of 45, founded Above the Rim in 1990, and approximately 10,000 young people between the ages of 7 and 21 have take part in its programs since then. Gordon, a 1984 Weequahic High alumnus and one of 10 siblings, started Above the Rim in response to the violence that was claiming -- and continues to claim -- too many young lives in Newark, said Gordon’s sister, Alberta Gordon, an executive with Above the Rim.
Above the Rim “has never been about basketball. Basketball is just the means to get them into the program,” Alberta Gordon said.
Youth who take part in Above the Rim’s camps learn about academic subjects -- the trajectory of a free throw, for instance, can serve as a math lesson -- life skills and also the mechanics of the sport itself.
But most importantly, participants also learn about nonviolent ways to defuse conflicts before they start. During Thursday’s ceremony, a few of the campers acted out a skit, the moral of which is that a person involved in a brewing fight should first ask themselves what they can do to settle it peacefully, instead of demanding a solution of someone else.
Delano Gordon, his sister said, was a tireless advocate for the program in his South Ward neighborhood, and was not shy about prevailing upon the ward’s famously deep political power base for assistance. Gordon also knocked on doors to get dozens of corporate sponsorships, including from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Prudential, Verizon and other of the city’s heavy-hitters in the business community.
“Delano never took no for an answer. He wasn’t a guy who would run around and pander to you,” Alberta Gordon said. “He just felt it was the responsibility of the community leaders to do something.”
Among speakers Thursday were some young men who have been with Above the Rim for most of their lives.
“If it weren’t for Above the Rim, my mother probably would have sent me to boot camp,” said Zumar Muhammad, 23, and now an official with the program.
Markessian Willis, a 19-year-old who has been with Above the Rim for 10 years, said Gordon “was like a father to me....Above the Rim is the best thing I ever joined in my life.”
To donate to Above the Rim or for more information, click here .
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