Jonathan Bender’s Jump From High School To The NBA 

Jonathan Bender’s Jump From High School To The NBA 

In a 2000 release, recording artist Nelly rapped: “I’m draftin’ ’em outta high school straight into the pros.” That was a reference to a then-growing trend among prep basketball stars: Bypassing college and entering the pro ranks as teenagers.

Just a year prior to Nelly’s release, Picayune, Mississippi, basketball star Jonathan Bender undertook his own version of those lyrics.

Although his commitment to Mississippi State proved to be a smokescreen to sidetrack the media, when Bender broke Michael Jordan’s McDonald’s All-American Games scoring record by netting 31 points, it solidified his decision to enter the NBA Draft. During his 11-year career, Bender would play for the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks before retiring in 2010, due to injuries.

Zenger News spoke to Bender, who sheds light on his decision to bypass college, discuss what he’s up to these days and much more.

After graduating from high school in 1999, Jonathan Bender went directly to the NBA's Indiana Pacers. (Courtesy of Jonathan Bender)
After graduating from high school in 1999, Jonathan Bender went directly to the NBA’s Indiana Pacers. (Courtesy of Jonathan Bender)

Percy Crawford interviewed Jonathan Bender for Zenger News.


Zenger: During the McDonald’s All-American Games, you broke Michael Jordan’s record of 30 points. Was that performance the final straw in making the decision to bypass college and enter the NBA Draft?

Percy Crawford interviewed Jonathan Bender for Zenger News. (Heidi Malone/Zenger)

Bender: We planned to sign with the school [Mississippi State] just to back the media off a bit, but the plan was always to the destination [the NBA] as quickly as possible. By doing the workouts here and there and people seeing me, it was already chirps. But the McDonald’s game just put fuel to the fire. It lifted my stock and made it an absolute no-brainer.

Zenger: That game was loaded with talented high-school ballers. From a confidence standpoint, did that game make you realize you belonged in the upper echelon?

Bender: Nah. I credit being one of the toughest dudes out there. I had already played with grown men, and I knew about confidence. I had put in so much work to the point where I was ready to get out there with anybody. This was a top showcase; it was my time to go out there and show what I can do. I had to get it in, bro.

Zenger: You were the MVP of the McDonald’s game, Mr. Basketball USA, Mr. Basketball Mississippi, Parade All-American. At that point, which achievement meant the most to you?

Bender: The John Wooden Award, which is the MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Games. I’m not really a trophy guy. I’m partial to the Wooden one, because it has the values of success [written] on it. That stands out a little differently than someone holding a basketball looking like they are trying to make a move on the trophy.

 

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Zenger: And then you become the fifth pick in the 1999 draft right out of high school, the same slot that Kevin Garnett was selected out of high school just four years earlier. Did you feel any pressure?

Bender: I could’ve gone earlier in the draft. The Clippers were trying to take me, but my agent didn’t want me to go because everybody was too young. It was going to be a problem out there with all them young cats, man. So, we structured me to go to the Pacers, which was cool.

Obviously, Indiana was balls cold. It was all good. As far as pressure, I don’t really see pressure. I just work. Once I’m in it, it’s on. It’s not like, “I’m top five, oh my God. I’m nervous.” It’s, “OK, what’s next?” That’s not a bragging thing; that’s just how I am.

Zenger: As an 18-year-old, you went to a veteran Pacers team. Can you recall a player, if any, who took you under his wing?

Bender: Reggie [Miller] had me out at his house for a couple of days. Just taking me under his wing. Dale Davis took me under his wing. I remember him walking me into his closet at his house and telling me to pick anything I wanted. Sam “Big Smooth” Perkins and a lot of vets took me under their wing. It was real cool, man.

Zenger: Your hometown, Picayune, Mississippi, is very small and very country. Not that Indianapolis is a huge market, but I’m sure you had to make some adjustments.

Bender: It was fine. Indianapolis is not like you’re going to some crazy city, but it was the biggest city I had lived in for a sustained period of time. It was freezing cold. I had never been in that type of cold environment. But my brother came up, as well as my agent, who was my father figure at the time. They both stayed with me my rookie season. They kept me a straight arrow.

I was able to get in there, get some work done, train and stay focused. And then it was good to have Al [Harrington] on the team. He was a year ahead of me coming out of high school. So, I had another high-school cat to kind of relate to. I couldn’t get into any of the clubs or any of that stuff. They tried to sneak me into the club. It was like, “Come on, man. We know him!”

Zenger: Not only were you a high pick, but you’re 6-foot-11. It’s kind of hard to sneak you anywhere.

Bender: Exactly. So, for a while it was just boring outside of training. It was a cool experience, but it was work.

Zenger: You don’t strike me as a guy that lives with regrets. Do you have any?

Bender: No! I don’t do that. I don’t dwell on things I can’t change or things that are meant to happen. Every step you take, whether you view it as good or bad, is all good. How can you have regrets? I’m a big faith guy, so I don’t question anything. I just go with it.

Zenger: There are videos that have surfaced that are calling you “the first KD.” Given your stature, your game, would you say it’s fair to say you were the first Kevin Durant and were before your time?

Bender: My game was probably before its time because when I came along, they didn’t know what to do with me. When I practiced, you saw a whole different version of me. The way that I performed in practice, I was able to get super comfortable. I can play that guard position, I can play 2, 3 and 4, and I even played the 1 a bit when “Zeke” [Isiah Thomas] was the coach. They kind of moved me around.

Zenger: Was there a player who you didn’t think much of, but when you played against them or saw them live, they really impressed you?

Bender: I would say it’s the opposite. You see some guys on TV and you think so highly of them, but when you get with them, their just humans. They’re just guys that get an opportunity and their confidence is on 10. They aren’t doing anything different I’ve been able to do in practice. For me, that’s a difficult question. Being almost 7-foot with shooting ability and athleticism, there’s not a lot that I haven’t seen.

Zenger: Do you feel like your skill set is better suited for today’s game of wide-open play and bigs handling the ball and shooting from range?

Bender: Today’s game is definitely a lot easier because of the rule changes. They embrace the big guy bringing the ball up the court like a guard. Putting a guy in a position and pushing him to do everything — to bring out his whole repertoire. Nowadays, if you’re 7-foot and you can’t shoot 3s, they’re going to teach you how to shoot 3s and teach you how to handle the ball and bring it up court. Back then, if you were tall, they just wanted you in the paint. If your game went beyond the paint, they raised an eyebrow. They didn’t know what to do with you. Today’s game is prime.

Zenger: Did you ever have a “wow” moment?

Bender: I guess meeting Mike [Jordan]. The first time I saw Mike, he didn’t look real to me.  I had to question that in my head, so that was probably my first “wow” moment.

Zenger: I’m not completely hands-on about how Picayune, Mississippi, has handled you, but do you feel like the town has done enough to honor your legacy?

 

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Bender: To turn it around, I probably haven’t done much to honor Picayune, either. But you grow up, you move on, and you do your best. I really don’t look at getting honored. They want me to retire my jersey, but I don’t feel comfortable in those kinds of situations. You come to my house; you’re not going to see trophies everywhere. I got a Larry Bird autographed ball in my garage over with the other balls. It’s just out. My coach wants me to come down — “Come on, we want to retire your jersey and hang it in the rafters and have this ceremony.”

Zenger: That’s gotta happen, JB. Come on.

Bender: Yeah. But I think so little about sports in general now. I think more of educating somebody and helping them change their lives. I’ve been through the whole machine and the system, so I see everything. I see the incentives of doing certain things.

Zenger: What are you up to nowadays?

Bender: Just being me, brother. I got goals that I set, and I go for them. I’m a born entrepreneur. I’m in the digital marketing space, and it’s very freeing. I’ve been in that game for about eight years, and I’ve been in the product-development game for about 13 years. I love the idea of creating something from nothing. If I look back at my youth, everything I did was from an entrepreneurial spirit before I got into basketball.

I love making money. I don’t love money, but I love the ability to make it. That’s something most of us African Americans don’t have. We have the mindset of getting paid, but very few know how to make money. That’s a big difference. You have to know what you’re doing when it comes down to stats and paid advertising. That back door is never experienced or shown by us. I enjoy that.

(Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Fern Siegel)



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Nonito Donaire Turns Back The Clock, Wins World Boxing Title At 38

Nonito Donaire Turns Back The Clock, Wins World Boxing Title At 38

Nonito Donaire celebrates his win over Nordine Oubaali on May 29. (Esther Lin/SHOWTIME)

CARSON, Calif. — Nonito Donaire made boxing history with a fourth-round KO win over defending titleholder Nordine Oubaali on May 29, making him the oldest WBC bantamweight champion and one of a very few fighters to win a world title over three different decades.

“The king is back!” Donaire said to the crowd after becoming a world champion for the ninth time. He broke his own record in the 118-pound division, when, at age 35, he defeated Ryan Burnett in 2018. Burnett was forced to leave the fight in the fourth round due to a back injury.

 Nonito Donaire displayed a strong left hook against Nordine Oubaali. (Esther Lin/SHOWTIME)

Donaire, who turns 39 in November, said he feels faster and stronger than ever. His power was evident during the brief fight. After a feeling-out round in the first, Donaire started to set up his opponent. He knocked him down twice in the third before finishing him in the fourth. Donaire’s staple, a powerful left hook, was the difference-maker, and the referee waved off the contest after Oubaali was dropped at 1:52 of round four.

Donaire, the “Filipino Flash,” came into the fight nearly a 2–1 underdog on most sports books against the undefeated Oubaali, 34. Oubaali, one of 18 children born in France to a coal-mining family, was attempting his fourth defense of the title he won against Rau’shee Warren in 2019.

Oubaali showed flashes of brilliance and grit, but the experience gap was notable. While Oubaali was twice an Olympian for France, this fight was his 18th as a professional. It was Donaire’s 20th world title fight.

“Nordine came from a very tough background. He never had any real support. He did everything on his own, basically. No excuses. Nonito Donaire is a legend,” said actor Saïd Taghmaoui who attended the fight. Taghmaoui praised Donaire for being ”well-prepared mentally and physically for the fight.”

Taghamoui, himself a former amateur boxer in France, was joined by a number of French reporters who covered the fight in Carson, California. Prior to his loss, Oubaali was the only world champion of Arab heritage and one of only two from France.

“Oubaali had more success when he was boxing on the outside,” said Souleymane Cissokho, the WBA Intercontinental super-welterweight titleholder and a close friend of Oubaali’s. He attended the fight as an analyst for French TV.

“Donaire was incredible tonight, and his experience showed. He has a very impressive left hook.”

 Nonito Donaire knocked Nordine Oubaali down twice during the second round. (Esther Lin/SHOWTIME)

The undercard

The event, broadcast on Showtime network, also featured entertaining undercard bouts in the junior welterweight (140 pound) division. Subriel Matias of the Dominican Republic defeated Batyrzhan Jukembayev of Kazakhstan via an eighth-round knockout. It was Matias’s second straight stoppage win over an undefeated fighter.

Junior welterweight Gary Antuanne Russell defeated Jovanie Santiago by knockout. The Gary Russell family has produced four boxers, including WBC featherweight world champion Gary Russell Jr.

Gary Antuanne Russell is on a trajectory for a world championship fight, and in the aftermath of his victory over the weekend, called out former four-division world champion Adrian Broner.

But most of the attention was on Donaire, who reflected a Zen-like calm at the press conference after his victory, even referencing Master Yoda from “Star Wars.”

Long road for Donaire

Just a few months ago, Donaire’s career looked far different, when all fighters were derailed by the pandemic.  The win was Donaire’s first fight since facing Naoya Inoue on Nov. 7, 2019, when Inoue battled back from a broken eye socket and beat Donaire by judges’ decision. It was regarded by many as one of the most competitive fights that year. Many thought Donaire would not recover from his sixth loss as a professional fighter.

“The whole year-and-a-half [layoff] was definitely a blessing. I was able to heal,” he said. “I had head movement; I had power and speed. I was very patient because I was able to take time off and recover.”

Donaire’s promotional manager Richard Schaefer, called his fighter’s upset victory “sensational and unbelievable.” During the press conference, Schaefer recalled former middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins, who fought until the age of 50, suggesting Donaire might do the same.

“If we can make it happen, we can make it happen,” Donaire told Zenger News. “I have to talk to my wife [about that]… but, ultimately for me, it is about getting all those belts [from Naoya Inoue] and deciding after that.”

Japanese slugger Inoue faces Michael Dasmarinas of the Philippines next month in a title defense of the four bantamweight titles he holds. Donaire said he will likely attend that fight as he presses for a rematch against his rival.

While a rematch with Inoue is the goal, Donaire also sees other potential big paydays. He will be closely watching the August battle between WBO bantamweight titlist John Riel Casimero of the Philippines and former 122-pound King Guillermo Rigondeaux of Cuba. A rematch against Rigondeaux, who beat Donaire in 2013 in a potential reunification fight, would offer Donaire a chance to revenge a decision loss and add to his already illustrious career.

(Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Judith Isacoff)



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‘I Am A Man’: The Musical Magic Of History And Tragedy

‘I Am A Man’: The Musical Magic Of History And Tragedy

“Every generation has its musical soundtrack, but, unlike their predecessors, the Black Lives Matter Millennials and Gen Zers are without one,” said C. Von Parchman (left), pictured with Marty Arnold. (Courtesy of 6x Entertainment)

In 2018, C. Von Parchman and Marty Arnold of 6x Entertainment were searching for something to sink their passion into. Instead of finding an interesting project, a project found them.

Noted film producer Floyd Easley asked 6x Entertainment artist Tia P. to pen lyrics for a movie he was producing called “I Am A Man.” Unbeknownst to Tia P., 2018 was the 50th anniversary of the Memphis Sanitation Strike, prompted by the deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker, two black sanitation workers who were crushed in the barrel of their own truck due to a faulty switch. The strike, which lasted two months, was the birth of the “I am a man” picket sign.

The sanitation strike also played a role in another historic tragedy: It was while he was in Memphis supporting the strikers that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 3, 1968.

The ‘Am I not a man’ emblem that was used during anti-slavery campaigns has been adopted by the Black Lives Matter campaign. (Josiah Wedgwood, William Hackwood et Henry Webber/Creative Commons)

Without really trying to connect the two, the pull to write the lyrics was strong without Tia P. even being conscious of it.

“After hearing the music that was composed by Darryl Easley and Devin Christopher, the words just began to flow,” Tia P. said. “The fact that a woman wrote the lyrics is the most wonderful part of this project, I believe.”

“Spirit inspired and driven by the ever-increasing injustices being done to black men, the words and music came together,” said Parchman, who serves as the project’s executive producer with his business partner Arnold. “When my daughter told me about her inspiration, something inside of us just had to go with it.”

The marvelous gospel-style anthem, “I Am A Man,” performed by B.Slade and released on the 1-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death on May 25, brings you to your feet at the beginning, in the middle, and all the way to the end. It says never forget but don’t get stuck, move in the world as a man, with your own power, self-determination and shine.

The song is a throwback to days of Motown’s golden era, when albums like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” from 1971 rang in the ears of the entire world. The importance of music mixed with social justice is nothing new. From Bob Dylan to Bob Marley, Miriam “Mama Africa” Makeda to Joan Baez, music has always served to help fine-tune the tone-deaf ears of American politics.

“Marty and I wanted to gift the Black Lives Matter era a sound of the past and place it in a container of black tradition, this is our new age ‘Redemption Song,’ so to speak. We could really use some soothing and brotherly love,” Parchman said.

Great poets and musicians have gone into the history books, but the meaning of their words and sentiments often fall short of real change in the secular world.

Black Lives Matter activists confront Columbus Police outside of police headquarters during a protest over the shooting of 16-year-old Makiyah Bryant in April in that Ohio city. (Stephen Zenner/Getty Images)

While Black Lives Matter is the drum beat of today, it was in 1787 that abolitionists asked, “Am I not a man?” Historically, and even today, black men have been referred to as “boy” and treated like second-class citizens. Long after the Memphis Sanitation Strike, and even in a post-George Floyd world, many are still asking, “Am I not a man?”

Parchman pointed out that this tribute is more about putting the pain to a song, giving the pain a sound. As inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant said, “In order to really get to the core of healing something you gotta give it sound.”

“A fight, a belief or passion of purpose is more powerful when it comes in the form of a musical expression,” Arnold said.

People march near the Colorado State Capitol to protest the deaths of 20-year-old Daunte Wright and 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Denver, Colorado. (Ciaglo/Getty Images)

“Every generation has its musical soundtrack, but, unlike their predecessors, the Black Lives Matter Millennials and Gen Zers are without one,” Parchman said. “We wanted a voice who was powerful enough to carry the lyrics and perform the song, and B.Slade was the man. It didn’t hurt he was a Grammy-nominated recording artist and musical titan. B.Slade is no stranger to the activism aspect of music. His single ‘Change’ is a brilliant, fed -up explosive lyrical rant, akin to the same kind of frustration that led Tia P. to write ‘I Am A Man.’”

“I had to deal with my own encounters,” said B.Slade. “I could relate immediately, since I could breathe,” Slade chuckled. “I would never miss an opportunity such as this. Tia P. nails the black man’s sentiments right on its head. I love the fact that a woman wrote it. That’s so cool.”

“As experienced men within entertainment, Marty and I have realized you end like you start, and we wanted this song to be sung in the mornings, afternoon and in the evening,” Parchman said. “Reminding black men to declare over their lives and others, that they are men and that they matter.”

(Edited by Kristen Butler and Matthew B. Hall)



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Randall Bailey Hoping To Satisfy His Sweet Tooth With ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley Exhibition Fight

Randall Bailey Hoping To Satisfy His Sweet Tooth With ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley Exhibition Fight

Randall Bailey at the 2021 Indiana Boxing Hall of Fame induction. (Courtesy of Randall Bailey)

Fresh off his induction into the Indiana Boxing Hall of Fame, the man known as the “KO King” sets his sights on boxing Hall of Famer “Sugar” Shane Mosley. Finishing his career with a record of 46-9-0, Randall Bailey recorded 39 of the most memorable knockouts in recent boxing history.

Now Bailey is looking to get in on the popular exhibition fight circuit that Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. reinvigorated last November. Bailey’s last official bout was in April 2016, while Mosley’s came a month later. With Mosley retiring while 49-10-1 with 41 knockouts, the two sport a very similar record.

Zenger News recently spoke to Bailey about his recent induction, a potential Mosley bout, and more.

Percy Crawford interviewed Randall Bailey for Zenger News.


Zenger: First and foremost, congratulations on your induction into the Indiana Boxing Hall of Fame.

Bailey: That was a great event. Everything was good, man. I appreciate them out there.

Zenger: When you first got the word that you were being inducted, what was that emotion like?

Bailey: It really didn’t hit me until I got on stage and gave a speech and appreciation for all the people that helped me out on my journey to get there.

Zenger: You were on that stage with a great crop of fighters, too.

Bailey: Ah man, good guys — Montell Griffin, Donny Lalonde, Tony Tubbs. It was a great event.

Zenger: Everyone’s dream at some point or another is to reach the pinnacle of whatever profession they embarked on. For the state in Indiana to consider you one of the best, what does that mean to you?

Percy Crawford interviewed Randall Bailey for Zenger News. (Heidi Malone/Zenger)

Bailey: I never really thought about it, but when it happened it really kind of hit me, “Wow, people really appreciated me.”

Zenger: From what I understand, you’re not done, though. You potentially want in on these exhibitions.

Bailey: I’ve thought about it a little bit. But it’s like, who would be the right person to pull me over the threshold to make me want to really do it?

Zenger: Some names that come to mind for me include Oscar De La Hoya, who is making a comeback, and Shane Mosley, who’s a highly competitive guy who I’m sure would entertain the idea. I know you have a relationship with Cory Spinks, but not sure if he’s interested, and Zab Judah. Any of those names pique your interest?

Bailey: I think a good one would probably be me and Mosley. I could see that one getting people’s eyes open and drawing interest.

Zenger: Absolutely! Have you ever had any kind of interaction with Shane? Sparred him or anything like that?

(Screenshot from www.indianaboxinghof.com)

Bailey: No, not really. I think I personally met him once. This was in like 2000. I’m about to give you a runback story. It was me, Winky Wright, Antonio Tarver and God bless the dead, Roshawn Wells. We were at the [Felix] Trinidad and David Reid fight. We all took a picture together. I think I still have the picture. That was probably the first and only time me and Mosley had contact and met face to face.

Zenger: That’s crazy because of the amount of time both of you were in the sport. I think fans are always under the impression that you guys all hang together and know one another well.

Bailey: No-no! Everybody has their guys that they roll with. Myself, I got a selective few people that I really deal with.

Randall Bailey with a commemorative cake at the 2021 Indiana Boxing Hall of Fame induction. (Courtesy of Randall Bailey) 

Zenger: Have you been training, or would it take a Mosley type of guy to get you back in the gym?

Bailey: It’s hot right now, so this is my training time right now. I don’t do anything in the winter time. It’s too cold. When the spring time and summertime hit, it’s time for me to get my six-pack back.

Zenger: Even in an exhibition format, what would a fight between you and Mosley look like?

Bailey: That wouldn’t be a bad fight to see. I like the idea a lot.

Zenger: Is your power still there?

Bailey: Oh, the power is definitely still there. Because it wasn’t manufactured. It was crafted. Most of it was natural, but I still have the same rotations. When I’m hitting the bag, I can still feel it.

Zenger: If this interview makes it to Mosley, what message would you send him to pitch a potential fight with him?

Bailey: I think it would be a great exhibition fight. Shane is a competitor, Hall of Famer and a legend in the sport. I have always wanted to share the ring with someone of that caliber. I think we could give the fans a good showing.

Zenger: I assume you are a fan of these exhibition fights?

Bailey: I like ‘em. The live active fighters are killing the game right now. The fights the fans want to see, they don’t want to give it to ’em. It’s definitely a door-opener for guys that really want to get in and give the fans a little entertainment.

Zenger: I enjoy watching retired fighters get back in shape and understanding that there are only so many commentating gigs and trainer gigs within the sport for you guys to fulfill, so why not make a little money giving back to the sport that you dedicated your life to?

Bailey: Let me tell you, other than Canelo [Alvarez] and Terence Crawford, I wasn’t really watching boxing. But I actually tuned in to watch Roy Jones and Mike Tyson. And a lot of people were like, “Well, they did this and did that.” I enjoyed it.

Zenger: Exhibitions aren’t about results, it’s about entertainment and if fans come to understand that, I think everyone will enjoy them.

Bailey: Exactly! I liked the fight and the promotion a lot. And if Tyson or Jones ever came back and did another one, I’m going to sit down and watch it.

Zenger: The “KO King” Bailey vs. “The Sugar Man” Mosley — sign me up. I would love to see it.

Bailey: I like it a lot. I’m going to see if I can get Shane on the phone and see if we can make something happen. I think that would be very entertaining for everyone involved.

(Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Judith Isacoff)



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Big Ali: From The Penitentiary To The Protector

Big Ali: From The Penitentiary To The Protector

Big Ali's client base over the years has included Denzel Washington, Cardi B and Tone Trump. (Courtesy of Big Ali)

Standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing 290 pounds, Big Ali is an imposing figure. Even more imposing than his stature is his reputation in New Jersey. Coming up in the rough streets of Newark, he once used his reputation and imposing figure for all the wrong reasons.

Those illegal activities landed him in prison for seven-and-a-half years. But when Big Ali got out, he switched gears and used his size and new outlook on life to provide security for Denzel Washington, Cardi B, DJ Khaled and French Montana, among other celebrities. Big Ali’s current gig involves security for Philadelphia rapper Tone Trump.

Zenger News caught up with Big Ali, who talks about turning down a security job for rapper Tekashi69, explains how Tupac and Biggie’s deaths could have been avoided, and much more.

Percy Crawford interviewed Big Ali for Zenger News.


Zenger: You built a hell of a reputation out there in Newark, New Jersey. Give us a little background on how you became one of the top enforcers for celebrities.

Big Ali: It started off with Driicky Graham and his song, “Snap Backs & Tattoos.” I was on that project, which went platinum. Then I did part-time with Denzel Washington on the set of “The Manchurian Candidate.” I started off with him as well, and then it just filtered on to Kazzie’s “Yeah O.K.” video. From there, we had it where the promoter had to incorporate me for artists to come to Jersey, including G Herbo, Lil Durk, Blac Youngsta, Cardi B, Keyshia Cole. I did DJ Khaled in New York. I did Funkmaster Flex quite a few times. And I also had Hot97 DJ Wallah toward the end of my retirement. And then I got back in it and that’s where I’m at right now. I’m with Tone Trump.

Big Ali with DJ Funkmaster Flex. (Courtesy of Big Ali)

Zenger: What was Denzel Washington like and how was it to be around him?

Big Ali: He’s super cool, bruh. He didn’t want nobody up under him. He said, “Give me space. Let the people talk to me. Nobody is going to harm me. If they want to come talk to me, let them. Just watch hand movement.” So, that’s what I did. As long as people didn’t talk with their hands. I was on point.

Percy Crawford interviewed Big Ali for Zenger News. (Heidi Malone/Zenger)

Zenger: Before you even started doing security work, you admitted to me that you were a knucklehead and in the streets.

Big Ali: Yeah, the knucklehead stuff came before I was doing security. I was from a hood where there were a lot of gang members, and I was labeled as an OG [original gangster] in my hood. I was a knucklehead; the cops had an SOS [Shoot On Sight] running through the streets of Newark. And me becoming a knucklehead, I went inside the penitentiary for seven-and-half years.

Zenger: Did the pen make you change your ways and come out and pursue the security role?

Big Ali: Yes! Being incarcerated changed me to do right and made me utilize my head, my size and my skills in a different format. Whereas though I wouldn’t be the aggressor, I would wait for somebody to be the transgressor.

Zenger: You are physically imposing, but your reputation and respect you have earned precedes even your stature. Is that accurate?

Big Ali: That’s accurate. Salute to my man, Castor Troy, an OG in New Jersey. Most of the time when artists came through, he let the party promoters know that if I’m not on that ballot, they can’t come to our city.

Zenger: You told me that a lot of guys providing security fall into this trap of drinking and smoking with these guys, especially rappers.

Big Ali: Right! This is a full-time job. I don’t drink, smoke or do any of that. I have to be on point at all times, so everything is timing and accuracy. I have to not only watch the artist, but his entourage as well, so I have to be on point. I don’t want the perks like that. The perk is you tip me more for doing a good job. I want the person to get home safe to their family as well as me getting home safe to my family. I cannot afford to be impaired in any way. And I’m Muslim, so I don’t drink or smoke anyway.

Zenger: As an enforcer, a guy protecting these artists, when you look at the way Tupac and Biggie were killed, do you think those were avoidable situations?

Big Ali: Yes, for sure it could’ve been prevented. Everybody shouldn’t know where your location is. When you start implementing where you’re at, that becomes a problem. For instance, right now, we’re in Washington. We’re doing a pop-up-shop for my bruh, Tone Trump, right? You’re getting screened at the door. You can’t just come in. It’s not happening like that.

Keyshia Cole with Big Ali (Courtesy of Big Ali)

You don’t know how or when he’s leaving. You don’t know when he’s pulling up, what he’s pulling up in. These are some of the things you gotta be mindful of. You can’t say, “We’re out here in D.C., I’m at such and such place, pull up.” Sure, he can say that because he wants people to come out and support him, but you don’t know who with us and where we have them posted at.

Zenger: Do you research and screen clients before you take them on?

Big Ali: I was blind to most of that kind of stuff.  I’m going to tell you something which is crazy: I got a call saying, “Yo, I need you to come do security for King Von tonight.” I said, “Bruh, I’m not going to be able to make it.”

The following Friday, King Von gets murdered. They wanted me to come and let King Von see how I work, and he was going to hire me as his personal security to run around Atlanta. I just couldn’t get away, and he wound up getting murdered down there.

Zenger: Do you turn down a lot of gigs?

Big Ali: Yes definitely! I had a chance to do Tekashi69 and I turned it down. Some of the women artists, they wanted me to do Rah Digga, but my thing is, Rah Digga is not a prominent person inside the industry right now for me to run around with her.

Zenger: It seems like your relationship with Tone Trump goes beyond artist/security guard.

Big Ali: Yeah, we do. It’s personal because the fact of the matter is, I’m not working. This is actually my brother in Islam. So, I’m obligated to make sure he’s good. That’s what I do.

Rapper Tone Trump (left), Big Ali’s current client. (Courtesy of Tone Trump)

Zenger: When you have the street reputation that you have, was it a smooth transition into what you’re doing now?

Big Ali: I’m showing the people that a person can use the power that you have that was negative and use that as a positive. And that’s what we’re doing. I’m creating an avenue for a brother that’s just coming home, and he may wanna go to the streets, but no. Use your size of being 270-280 pounds and come this route. And this route is, make sure everybody is good. You’ve got the same status. Ain’t nothing changing.

Zenger: Shakur Stevenson is putting on for Newark, as well. What are your thoughts on the boxing star?

Big Ali: Shakur is a good representative, young boy out of Newark. I know his grandfather. He is one of my OG’s.

Zenger: For sure. Keep doing your thing, Big A. Thanks for the time. Is there anything else you want to add?

Big Ali: My intentions are to start a movement to free Akbar Pray. He is another Newark legend. Free Akbar Pray, man.

(Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Judith Isacoff)



The post Big Ali: From The Penitentiary To The Protector appeared first on Zenger News.

Maryland Program Helps Those Who Help Victims Of Crime

Maryland Program Helps Those Who Help Victims Of Crime

William Kellibrew, whose mother and brother were killed and his own life threatened when he was 10, is now director of  youth and trauma services in Baltimore. (Courtesy of William Kellibrew)

BALTIMORE — William Kellibrew was 10 years old in 1984 when his mother, Jacqueline, and 12-year-old-brother, Anthony were killed by Jacqueline’s boyfriend in the living room of their home in Capital Heights, Maryland. Next, the killer approached William.

“He put the gun to my head,” said Kellibrew, who begged for his life. He was spared: The killer instead put the gun to his own head and pulled the trigger.

In the aftermath of his terrible ordeal, Kellibrew’s advocacy against domestic violence drew the attention of Oprah Winfrey and the Obama administration, among others.

Today, as director of the Office of Youth and Trauma Services in the Baltimore Health Department, Kellibrew, along with a number of his staff, took advantage of a training program offered by the Roper Victim Assistance Academy at the University of Baltimore.

The academy “provides a fundamental overview of the entire field of advocacy including victimology, victim rights and victim assistance for residents in Maryland.,” its website states.

Kellibrew shared his perspective after the first day of the five-day program: “I think that it’s important for us to educate ourselves to serve our communities and to create safer spaces for young people. We need to hear their voices to address the deep-rooted trauma that has impacted so many communities.”

William Kellibrew speaks at a 2019 Baltimore trauma conference for care providers. (Hamil R. Harris)

The origins

The Roper Academy is named for Stephanie Roper, a 22-year-old college student who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by two men after her car broke down in a rural area of Prince George’s County on April 3, 1982.

Stephanie’s parents, Roberta and Vince Roper, formed the Stephanie Roper Committee and Foundation, which eventually became the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center.

The Roper Academy was established in 2003 to train law enforcement officers, counselors and nurses and about victims of crimes, the trauma they experience and the stress that service providers can experience.

Heather Pfeifer, one of the instructors at the online Roper Victim Assistance Academy this week. (Hamil R. Harris)

Academy participants typically learn at a retreat center in Baltimore County, but In the wake of the pandemic, they attended online for the 40 hours required for the certificate.

Speakers this week included Dianna Abramowski-Liberto, an assistant state’s attorney in Baltimore County; Debbie Bradley, victim advocate with the Harford County Sheriff’s Office; and police officers, among others.

Dave Thomas, with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, talked about how the time has come “to shift perspectives on trauma survivors, from disdain to one of concern.”

Lisa Ferentz, founder of the Institute for Advanced Psychotherapy Training and Education, told participants that many perpetrators of domestic violence started as victims themselves.

“Believing ‘I am bad’ sets children up for a lifetime of self-sabotaging and self-destructive behaviors, dangerous, abusive choices and relationships,” Ferentz said.

In another session, art therapist Mary Ann Hendricks distributed glue, crayons and other supplies for participants to make their equivalent of a “treasure chest” designed to teach them to manage their own trauma.

Heather Pfeifer, an associate professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Baltimore, said the academy aims to bridge the gap between research and practice.

She also pointed out what might be an upside of the COVID-19 pandemic:

“COVID reinforced how wired we are for affection,” Pfeifer said. “Learning to adapt within these constraints is stress in and of itself, and that is not a bad thing. COVID was this persistent stressor, so I look at it as how can we adapt and what can we take away in terms of lessons learned.”

Debra Stanley, director of the Roper Victim Assistance Academy of Maryland.  (Photo Courtesy of Debra Stanley, University of Baltimore)

Debra Stanley, the academy’s executive director, said that for decades crime victims were not part of the justice system that was primarily focused on the defendant and their rights. But more recently, there has been a shift from what’s known in legal circles as retributive justice system to a restorative one, where the rights of the victim are also considered.

“Things have changed so much since the death of Stephanie Roper,” she said, “but more needs to change.”

Similar thoughts were expressed by one of the participants in the week’s training.

“I learned a lot about the human trafficking of children,” said Debra Thomas, a chaplain for the Baltimore Police Department. “They say it takes a village, but we need more people to get involved and be the village to save more children today.”

(Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Judith Isacoff)



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