“He likes to dance, he likes his music. And he loved basketball,” says his stepmom.
“That was his life—basketball,” says Mincey. A point guard and Roxborough’s leading scorer, he was being scouted by several colleges. Confident in his hoops abilities to the point of cockiness, Anderson had told friends and family he was interested in going to Temple. The pride of Abbottsford, Anderson was going to be “the next Curtis Brinkley”—the Abbottsford native and record-breaking West Catholic football star who’s currently a running back for the San Diego Chargers.
Big Shawn and Mincey say their son was intelligent and strong-willed. “He was a livewire,” Mincey recalls. “Once he felt like he was right and you was wrong, that was it. There was no turning him around. He and his father went through their things, but at the end of the day he knew his dad loved him.”
“He was somewhat like me when I was growing up,” says Big Shawn. “I told him, ‘Don’t be afraid to speak your mind.’ That got him in trouble. He mighta yelled at the teacher, cussed him out, forgot who he was talking to.”
When he was in middle school, Anderson got into a physical altercation with a teacher and was sent to a disciplinary school for at-risk students for four years. But by his junior year of high school, when he enrolled at Roxborough, his family says he’d figured things out. “He was getting his stuff together, going to class, getting everything done,” says Boseman.
“He had so many people in his corner helping him, making sure he graduated,” says Mincey, giving props to Brandt and basketball coach Terrell Burnett.
“He was gonna make copies of his diploma and put it on everybody’s door [at Abbottsford], like, ‘I told you so!’” says Big Shawn.
Tre’Shawn says Anderson was known for being tough both on and off the basketball court. “He didn’t do nothing to nobody unless somebody did something to him or his family. That’s when he stepped up to fight. He was really misunderstood. If you picked on him, he would walk away to give you a chance to leave him alone. But if you keep goin’, he’s gonna stand up for his self and put you down.”
“He wouldn’t back down from nobody,” says Mincey.
Anderson planned to go to junior college for a couple of years, then transfer to a Division One school—Temple, perhaps—where he could really get noticed playing basketball. He dreamed of playing in the NBA, but Mincey—who is a visual artist—says that in one of their last conversations he also expressed interest in becoming an architect. “When he said that I was like, ‘Wow, you can do that. You can do anything you want.’”
Mincey’s half-smile suddenly fades, her lips tighten, and she stares straight ahead at nothing in particular for a couple of minutes. Nobody in the room speaks. “I’m still in disbelief,” she finally says. “I mean, I seen them lay my boy to rest, I seen them drop him, but I’m still in a dream. It’s still not real to me. You can’t tell me he’s gone. It hasn’t really…”
Her voice trails off, and Big Shawn quickly jumps in. “My thing is I’m always telling people to tell someone you love that you love ’em, because that could be the last time you see them."
Greg Brinkley slowly sets his fork down on his plate of eggs and grits at the Oak Lane Diner. “Look, I’m not gonna sugarcoat anything. It’s a feud. It’s not everyone in the neighborhood, but it affects everyone in the neighborhood. I don’t care what people say or what they don’t like, but this is what I know—there is a feud going on.”
Georjean, Brinkley’s wife of 33 years, nods her head in agreement; so does Brinkley’s long-time friend, Malik Aziz, as he digs into his short stack. Aziz says the rift between hoods began decades ago when the kids who lived in private homes along Allegheny started making fun of the kids who lived in the projects. There have been long stretches of dormancy during the conflict, but Brinkley says the last couple years have proven it’s dormant no more.
“Everybody knows this is going on, that there’s fights and skirmishes you don’t even hear about in the papers.”
“Roxborough [High School] sayin’, ‘Ain’t nothin’ going on here,’ but I live up there, I see things,” says Aziz. “All the time, groups of them fighting. Punching each other, coats flying off. A mixture of the girls and the boys. From the high school all the way down to the bus stop at Roxborough Avenue. They cursin’—‘Aw yeah, I’m gonna fuck you up, bitch.’ All kinds of shit. They fight, and then they start runnin’ when the cops come. The senior citizens gotta jump out the way. It’s real havoc. It’s vicious. You see someone fall on the ground and they kickin’ ’em in the head.
“The police follow them all the way down the Ridge [Avenue], and it still doesn’t stop it. They got the cops pegged—they know they’ll get a couple punches in before the cops get there. Sometimes they get picked up—the cops take ’em to the 39th or the 5th [precincts] and their parents gotta come get them. If they’re over 18 they might get charged with disorderly. Don’t stop nothin’.”
“Let’s stop playin’,” says Brinkley. “This ain’t about somebody worrying about how their neighborhood is perceived or whatever. I’m trying to save a life. Last year I said if we don’t do something about this, somebody’s going to die. I hate the fact that I was right. But I say this again: If we don’t get ahold of this now, there will be more bloodshed.”
Brinkley and Aziz know something about bloodshed—as young men, they ran together in Philly’s notorious Uptown 28th & Oxford gang. It’s hard to believe now, given their gentle, soft-spoken demeanors and kind eyes, but both were combatants on the front lines of battles against gangs from East Falls and up and down Allegheny Avenue. Both men have been shot, stabbed, and beaten up; they did their share of shooting, stabbing, and beating up, too.
With the help of his wife and his strong religious faith, Brinkley—an Abbottsford activist and the Philly chapter president of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network—pulled himself out of the gang life and a serious drug addiction before the prison system or a violent death could claim him. Aziz wasn’t so fortunate—he was busted for selling drugs in 1982, did eight years, came out and fell back into the life, and got busted again. It was during that second stint in prison that he turned things around, and since his release in 1996 he’s been a tireless advocate for gang prevention, intervention, mediation, and extraction via such organizations as Men United for a Better Philadelphia and the National Exhoodus Council. Both men are tapped into the ebb and flow of Philly’s roughest streets, and they command respect from Abbottsford and Allegheny alike. “The kids, they listen to us because they know we lived it,” says Brinkley. “There ain’t nothin’ new under the sun. The only difference is that we had a gun or two, and now everybody has guns. But the concept of the streets doesn’t change.”
There are big plans for the future: a group home for boys, a college scholarship at Roxborough High in Shawnee's name, a citywide mentoring program, and a basketball league. But even in its beginning stages, S4S has already shown itself to be a promising tool in bringing youth together to help stem the city’s violence—without the preachy, off-putting approach the city often employs to little effect.
Anderson—the Roxborough High School senior and budding basketball star—was gunned down near his apartment in the Abbottsford Homes projects. Police now believe that Anderson’s death is related to at least two other high-profile shootings in the area.