by Ricky Ray Taylor
I am still reelin. It is Sunday evening now as I ponder through a 20-year friendship trying to appraise the incredible value of someone I'll never see again. -difficult- At 2am this morning (Sunday morning) I awoke from my cell-phone buzzing away. After repeated minutes of ignoring it I finally looked to see who could be so brazen at 2am. It was my OEC alum MIKE VAIL. Mike is the ATLANTA PAL Boxing team coach and current APD police-officer:
"This better be good", I threatened.
His words have tortured me all day so far. At this point, it's difficult to see any sun shining in the immediate future. Apparently, he was shot in the back by a coward who was "too" threatened or too scared to make a fist around anything but a gun. Vernon was shot in the back multiple times, as cowards do.
Vernon Forrest was a hero to so many people in so many ways. He was definitely one of our sports "Good Guys" and to say I'll miss him can't be "more" understated.
Who can forget Vernon's team of mentally disadvantaged youngsters (who were members of DESTINY'S HOPE, a project he launched in Atlanta to provide homes for the mentally disabled) escorting him to the ring & cheering for him from their front row seats? Those kids knew nothing about Boxing or Titles or Promoter's. They'd never witnessed a packed stadium of fight-fans screaming at the top of their lungs for somebody. In fact, the full summit of "competing" for them is most likely encased in their personal struggles of simply getting out of bed. Yet, through Vernon's attention there is a remarkable chance that these kids were shown the priceless reward of what it is to be a Champion.
Three years ago Vernon had a "truckload" of brand new bicycles delivered to the Atlanta PAL Boxing Team. ALL of these particular Boxers reside in The Bowen Homes Housing Projects in inner-city Atlanta where drugs, shootings, rapes & neglect run rampant. Upon delivery, Vernon "personally" handed each boxer a new bicycle. Vernon Forrest was much more than a Champ to them. I'm a fighter by nature yet am honored to say that I cannot quit crying about this loss.
Less than a month ago I was in Atlanta for a friend's wedding. Vernon saw my Facebook post near his house and called me, "get over here!", he insisted through our cellphones. I teamed up with another boxing buddy of mine who was in town, POP (Joe Figueroa), and we hung out in Vernon's crib talking boxing, girls, fight stories, our old Marquette days. Keeping the conversation aimed at everything we agreed on, we all laughed like it was never going to end.
It did end though, by a hail of bullets.
I will always aspire to become a Champ like Vernon Forrest, anything less would leave me unfulfilled.