The white basketball jersey, with “Roxborough” and the number “12” on its front, lay draped over an empty blue chair in the gym of Roxborough High School on Tuesday afternoon. There it sat pristinely, never accompanying a player to take a shot, dribble into the lane, or even once, dive for a loose ball.
That jersey belonged to Rashawn Anderson, Roxborough High School’s former star player, who was fatally shot one year ago Tuesday at the age of 18.
Anderson, affectionately known as “Shawnee” to family and friends, was the Indians’ leading scorer when he was struck by several bullets on Feb. 7, 2011, outside his apartment in the Abbotsford Homes public housing project. Police attributed the shooting to an ongoing feud between Abbotsford teens and those from the Allegheny neighborhood.
Violence between the two groups escalated in an October 2009 shooting injuring three Allegheny boys and leading to the arrests of three from Abbotsford. Although the police have repeatedly said that Anderson was not involved in the Hunting Park rivalry, he became the ultimate victim, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
No arrests have been made in Anderson’s muder.
Calling for change
Tuesday evening, Anderson’s parents led an anti-violence march from 27th Street and Allegheny Avenue to Abbotsford Avenue along the Roosevelt Expressway.
“What amazes me, and what needs to be highlighted, is his parents’ determination to not allow another youth to be killed,” said Greg Brinkley, president of the National Action Network’s Philadelphia chapter.
Brinkley, an Abbotsford native and former gang member himself, knows all too well the danger inherent in the “neighborhood lifestyle.” After being shot at 14, Brinkley realizes he was lucky to get away from that existence, and is working with Anderson’s parents and the City of Philadelphia to make the area safer for everyone.
“It’s an anniversary, but they understand that it’s not just about Shawnee, it’s about everyone,” he said. “They’re not just having a march once a year, there’s a real plan for the future with the Rashawn Anderson Foundation.”
Determined to honor Anderson’s memory by curtailing future violence, the family is planning on starting basketball leagues in Rashawn’s name. The more recreational outlets and safe havens that kids have, the hope is, the less they’ll be involving themselves in violent behavior.
“To want to turn a tragedy into a proposition for saving lives is a remarkable thing, especially while they’re still hurting over their son,” said Brinkley.
In a moment both heartbreaking and heartwarming, Anderson’s family was presented with his white Roxborough home jersey at halftime of Roxborough’s basketball game earlier in the afternoon.
A ‘very special day’
After rolling through the Public League with only one conference loss, coach Terrell Burnett and his team’s reward was a home date with West Philly in the first round of the playoffs exactly one year later. While Burnett insists that the emotional afternoon played no part in the loss, Roxborough looked sluggish early and could not muster any consistent runs to counter the Speedboys’ scoring.
Moments of silence were held for Anderson both at a pep rally during the school day and before the game’s opening tip, and anytime a pair of eyes darted towards the end of the Roxborough bench, they saw the empty blue seat, adorned with his spotless white jersey.
“That didn’t have any effect on them at all,” Burnett said. “The guys came out serious and ready to play.”
Nevertheless, Roxborough struggled throughout the contest, falling behind early and never able to make up the difference. The loss ends the Indians’ season, and closes the high school basketball careers of 11 members of Roxborough’s 13-man squad.
Tuesday was about so much more than one game, though, and even the defeated coach understood that. “This is probably the biggest crowd we’ve played for,” said Burnett.
And although it went without saying, he then added, “It’s a very special day.”