'Somebody That Made It' Visits City Pal Center Of His Boyhood

CRIME BEAT

April 19, 2009|By PETER HERMANN | PETER HERMANN,peter.hermann@baltsun.com

Three little boys are shooting basketball at the Alexander Odum Playground in West Baltimore's Rosemont community when Sean Mosley strolls by the chain-link fence.

"You playing hoops today?" one boy shouts out.

"I'm taking the day off," Mosley answers.

He's standing between the kids and a cemetery made from graffiti. "Free GSC. We miss u Shorty," says one tribute to the fallen of the West Baltimore drug wars.

Sean pauses, recalling the streets of his youth. "I probably know some of them," he says.

A man's laughing voice interrupts: "You're not allowed on that court no more."

Mosley smiles and walks over to shake hands and hug his old friends. There's Brian and Dante, and a big man called B.T.

They're older than Sean by at least nine years, and one time or another they boast at having beaten him at basketball, right here on this court. Brian demonstrates how, if you back into Sean the right way, you can box him out, and Dante says he sometimes calls Sean after watching a game on TV to rib him about how he's played.

Sean Mosley of Rosemont is better known as Sean Mosley of the University of Maryland Terrapins, the 6-4 freshman starter who starred at St. Frances Academy and was courted by colleges and universities from the across the country starting when he was in the eighth grade.

I walked through Rosemont with Sean on Saturday afternoon; he lives in a brown-sided rowhouse on Normount Avenue here and returns home most weekends from a very different life at College Park. His back door opens within steps of the front door of the Rosemont Police Athletic League Center.

Citing budget cuts and a desire to stop using police officers to run 18 PAL centers, the city plans to close Rosemont and another one and turn the rest over to the Department of Recreation and Parks, drawing protests in neighborhoods across the city.

The Rosemont PAL has many success stories - kids who played and studied under the tutelage of city cops went on to join the police in Baltimore and Baltimore County; one went to Harvard and another is attending Tuskegee University in Alabama. Sean is not just a local success story - he shot some of his first baskets at the Rosemont PAL - he's a celebrity.

"It's nice to know somebody that made it," Dante Smith says as the old friends continue to watch the kids on the basketball court. "We don't get to see a lot of kids from here on TV."

I asked Smith whether he brags about his friend Sean when he sees kids up to no good. "You can't tell kids nothing anymore," the 29-year-old answers. "And now they're taking away that PAL up there." But the man called B.T. (last name Stewart, he finally concedes) told me he drops Sean's name all over the neighborhood: "I tell them there's a better way."

Sean says he learned that he "didn't want to be a failure" when his mother held him back a year in the third grade - and he uses that to motivate himself to this day. The PAL Center that is practically at his back door was one more stable part of life. "If it wasn't there, I think my life would be a lot different," Sean told me. "It helped me occupy my time. I could enjoy being a kid."

Perhaps Sean Mosley of Rosemont would still be Sean Mosley of the Terrapins had the cops not run the rec center or had the rec center not been there at all. But for residents and kids who see cops racing through their neighborhood locking up bad guys but not talking with the good guys, the PAL center was one place where a cop could interact with a kid over a math problem in instead of a street corner.

The police commissioner says his cops will continue to help kids at rec centers - all 50 of them instead of just 18 PAL centers - but that they won't run them and they won't spend their eight-hour shifts there.

I hope he's right, but at the moment, people like Rick Mosley feel that the promised partnership between police and community is about to lose a crucial partner. Sean Mosley already has a heavy burden, but his father says his son needs some backup:

"I want Sean to be and to do what he wants to be and to do. He must use the gifts that he has to change the lives of the people around him and not forget where he came from. He needs to come back and help kids move away from here. I hate to put all that pressure on him, but it's there."

Maybe now more than ever.

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