Shakur Stevenson will always be Newark's gold medalist

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on August 23, 2016

---

You would have thought it was a movie premiere at the CityPlex 12 Theater in Newark.

Family and friends packed the place, wearing T-shirts bearing the name and image of their hero. A cousin drove from Maryland for the affair that might as well have been titled "Just a Kid From Newark.'' 

It starred 19-year-old Shakur Stevenson, who made this city proud during his quest to win an Olympic gold medal this past Saturday.

The fight, live-streamed from Rio de Janiero, had them on edge of their seats until Stevenson fell shy of his  goal to be No. 1 on the podium. In the bantamweight finale, Stevenson won the silver medal in a close, split decision squeaker to Cuba's Robeisy Ramirez.

Stevenson – who has been the buzz of the city – took the defeat hard, thinking he let everyone down. 

He did just the opposite.

The crowd was thick and deep with pride inside Theater 9,  nearly filling its 203 seats. The T-shirts worn by Stevenson's  clan captured their love for him. On the back and front they read – "In Shakur's Corner.''

His grandmother, Robin Moses, whom he lovingly calls "Umi," had no idea how many people were there until she walked in to sit down.

"Wow,'' she said.

Wow is right.

At Broad and Market streets, the city put its "24 Hour of Peace" rally on hold and set up a big screen for residents to watch the fight.

While hundreds gathered there, Stevenson's crew was going wild at the theater on Springfield Avenue.

They were throwing punches with him, cheering for him the same way many of them did when they crammed into his grandmother's townhouse a week ago to watch Stevenson's first Olympic fight.

Bruce Stevenson, his cousin, was there that day and he made the trip again Saturday from Laurel, Md.

"This was his dream,'' he said. "He was always a little fighter. Now, he's graduated to boxer.''

Moses doesn't always like to watch her grandson fight, but she stayed in her theater seat for this one, nervously chewing on peppermint patties.

"Knock him out, Shakur!" she yelled. "Get him!"

Shadiyyah Guyton, his 18-year-old sister, was down front with his brothers – standing up from the second round on. She knows how competitive he is, how he doesn't like to lose, even at board games, cards or when playing basketball with her. She knows he wants that rematch against her and another crack, one day, at Ramirez.

There's no shame, young man, about how the fight ended. Family and friends thank you for the ride that's only beginning.

Their pride in him is genuine and enduring. They talked about his passion for boxing, how he gravitated toward the sweet science when hanging out with his grandfather, Willie "Wali" Moses, who has been training him since age 5.

Rob Griffin, of Newark, remembers the first time Willie Moses brought Stevenson into the gym. As time passed, Griffin could see that he was special, that he had a gift. 

"He would just grab the gloves and hit the bag on his own,'' Griffin said. "Kids like him don't do that at his age.''

Other sports didn't stand a chance. When Willie Moses had Stevenson play football, basketball and baseball, he'd always find his way back into the gym.

Stevenson was the baby of the bunch, learning from older fighters. Hakeem Majette was one of them; a boxer who said he and others toughened Stevenson up, pushed him around a bit, picked on him from time to time. 

Maybe that's where the young fighter's game face began to develop. It's on the T-shirt that Majette created and everyone was wearing Saturday. Stevenson is dripping with sweat in the headshot,  but in his eyes, there's a confident glare.

"Look at his eyes,'' Majette said. "They don't lie. "They're fearless.''

He's fierce. Tenacious. Focused.

He had to be to get this far.

Family and friends admire him for his discipline. They applaud him for staying humble, given his celebrity.  Beyond the hoopla – he's already appeared in a Powerade sports drink commercial – Stevenson, the oldest of nine siblings, always makes time for his brothers and sisters.

He has never forgotten his Newark roots and that's why there were some moist eyes after the fight.

Zakkiyyah Smalls, his aunt, couldn't hold back her tears. She knew how badly he wanted to win. She wanted it just as much for Stevenson, whose family affectionately calls him "Bam-Bam," a nickname that stuck as a child because he would whack a baseball with a huge yellow bat. 

But for Smalls, "Bam-Bam" will always be the adorable baby she held in her arms when he came home from the hospital. 

Stevenson may not realize it now, but he has an entire city excitedly waiting for him to return home.

Ron Stevenson, his uncle, sees the enthusiasm around town.

"He's got everybody talking about him,'' Stevenson said.  "He's got people thinking that I'm somebody.''

Shakur, you didn't let us down.

Mayor Ras Baraka wants you to know that. He told the crowd assembled at the "24 Hours of Peace" rally that Newark is going to throw a parade for you.

"That's our brother,'' he said. "He's our gold medal champion.''

I couldn't agree more.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment