NEWARK, N.J. -- Thousands of Newark, New Jersey, residents took to the streets on a hot Sunday afternoon in August to welcome home one of their own, an Olympic hero no matter what took place at the recent Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Boxer Shakur Stevenson was the center of attention, donning the silver medal he won at the Games, as a float carried him down Broad Street to City Hall, where he was greeted by approximately 10,000 well wishers.
It didn’t matter that the 19-year-old Stevenson lost to Robeisy Ramirez of Cuba in the bantamweight gold-medal match. Stevenson was a true champion in the eyes of the people of Newark, who embrace him as one of their own. Stevenson is “just a kid from Newark,” as hundreds of T-shirts read.
“Silver was just as good as gold,” said Newark resident Eric Lowe, sitting in his wheelchair. “Being here for this means a lot to me, because he’s from my neighborhood, my community. Other kids might lose sight of their goals and dreams, but Shakur never did. He’s proven to other kids that anything is possible, that nothing could stop them.”
After Stevenson was the featured guest of a mile-long parade filled with music from marching bands, there was a ceremony at City Hall, complete with speeches from political figures like Mayor Ras Baraka and U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr.
|Fans hold signs to greet Shakur Stevenson at a parade on Aug. 28, 2016 in Newark, N.J..|
Hundreds of people took pictures and recorded the day on their camera phones. Many were holding homemade signs with messages like, “Welcome Home Champ.” There were countless balloons and streamers. The police and fire department vehicles sounded their sirens.
It’s not every day that a product of Newark comes home with an Olympic medal.
Baraka presented Stevenson with a ceremonial key to the city. There were plaques and proclamations presented from the politicians. Stevenson just soaked up all the adoration and devotion.
“All the time I was in Rio, I thought about Newark the whole time,” Stevenson told the crowd. “It doesn’t feel like I lost. I never thought that I would ever get the key to the city. I want to thank the whole city of Newark. You were all with me in Rio.”
Professional boxer and fellow Newark native John Thompson was one of the adoring fans.
“I love that kid,” said Thompson, who also goes by the nickname “Apollo Kidd” and owns a 17-3 record dating back to 2011. “I’ve known him all his life. Every tournament he’s ever been to, he always came back to Newark victorious. I think he’s a symbol of what every kid in Newark can do and more. If they watch themselves, they can make something more of themselves.”
Tyyab Beale is another former professional boxer from Newark, a heavyweight. The 36-year-old Beale had to support Stevenson.
“This is what the city is all about,” Beale said. “Shakur is just doing great things for the kids. We need him. He was already a champion by just making the Olympic team. But getting a medal was great. This is my sport. I love boxing.”
And Newark loves Stevenson.
“These people came out in droves to support Shakur,” Mayor Baraka said. “It’s their day, too.”
|Thousands of Newark locals gathered outside of City Hall to greet 2016 Olympic boxing silver medalist Shakur Stevenson.|
But it was a day for the Olympic silver medalist to feel the love he had back in his hometown.
“It’s such a great day for Newark,” said Tracey Oliver Smith. “I’m so proud of Shakur. He’s one of us.”
“We have a sense of pride in him,” said Lowe. “Whenever there’s a great performance, you wait for that person to give back to where he was from. That’s the most important thing. I’m looking forward to that.”
Added Lowe, “And when he turns pro, I’ll most definitely be there for his first fight. I don’t care where it is. I know where it should be.”
The Prudential Center was just a few hundred yards away from where Stevenson was standing.
“I plan on having my first pro fight in January,” Stevenson said. “I hope it will be right here in the Prudential Center.”
Stevenson was asked which day was better — earning the medal or coming home to the parade.
“Honestly, this is the best day of my life,” Stevenson said. “This was better than Rio because this was Newark.”
Jim Hague is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.