Bumped : An inspiring story about a great Bruin (yes, "great Bruin" is redundant) BN eds.
I remember once learning the word epiphany — generally, it means a sudden insight into the essential nature of something — and somehow it seems relevant today in talking about how hope can return to shattered lives.
Island Bruin 2 mentioned Kermit Alexander in his recent post, A Story of UCLA Football Heroes Past. And after doing some research, I discovered a story called Kermit's Song, written by Tom Friend for ESPN about five years ago. It's that story that has led me to where I am today — trying to describe the truth, or epiphany, that I got from reading Friend's account and, even more importantly, explaining how I may have grown as a person after learning about Kermit Alexander's journey. This much, at least, may be likely: When I think of all the things Coach said, I now feel I'll be better able to understand what he meant. (Perhaps that's because I gained a measure of humility from reading about Kermit Alexander, and wasn't humility the cardinal virtue that Coach preached?)
So, where to start in this story about a " 'do-over,' his (Alexander's) second chance at life?" There are so many choices we make, and often they come back to haunt us in unimaginable ways. And so it was with Kermit Alexander.
Kermit Alexander, who grew up on the rough streets of Watts. Kermit Alexander, who was such a ferocious competitor playing football that his father once ordered him off the field. Kermit Alexander, who "stalked an older fighter all over Watts," then "damn near beat (him) to death" after a boxing coach had told the older fighter to whale away at Alexander, who was trapped against the ropes.
You need to know this about Kermit Alexander: When his father later talked to the boxing coach he said: "This is your fault. You have to help this young man. Because if you don't, he's going to be a killer. He has the ability to be a really, really good person or a really, really bad person. You can't do what you just did."
But there is something even more important you need to know about Kermit Alexander. You need to know about his mother, Ebora, who was the light of his life and the moral compass of his soul. Ebora, who had 10 children but would "invite random kids over for meals, no matter how many mouths she already had to feed." The same Ebora who wouldn't heed her grown-up children's request to move somewhere safer than Watts.
And then you need to know the dreadful details of the nightmare that swallowed up Kermit Alexander's life. It's a story that can be divided into three essential chapters.
Chapter One: After being traded from the 49ers to the Rams, Alexander (now back on his home turf) helped establish a Pop Warner football team in South Central L.A. Meanwhile, he watched the next generation of talent develop. One kid, an eight-year-old named Tiequon Cox, stood out. He was faster and better than all the other players, but he also had the same kind of temper Kermit Alexander had.
"Somebody needs to do something with that kid," Alexander said. "He's too good a ballplayer to be like that. Somebody ought to help him." But Ebora wasn't at the game, so there was no one to demand that he get involved. And Kermit Alexander did what most people do: He looked the other way.
Chapter Two: It is early on an August morning 10 years later. Ebora Alexander turns from her refrigerator to confront an 18-year-old intruder armed with a rife. It is over in a matter of minutes as Ebora, her daughter, and two of her grandchildren are shot to death. The killer's name is Tiequon Cox.
The story of families like the one in which Tiequon Cox grew up has been told many times before. It is one of unending horror, and he finds refuge in a gang. He and two others agree to kill a family in Watts to prevent a lawsuit. The address is written down, but someone misreads it, and they break into the wrong home. Ebora Alexander's home.
It doesn't matter that the killer is sentenced to death. Kermit Alexander's life has fallen apart. With his marriage slipping and wracked with guilt over his failure to help Tiequon Cox 10 years earlier, he moves to Riverside. (Why is the expression "picking up the pieces" uttered so easily when the act of doing so requires so much?)
Chapter Three: And then, Tom Friend writes, "He (Alexander) got a phone call from another Ebora. Her name was actually Tami Clark ..." In need of a favor, Tami Clark calls Kermit Alexander. Their relationship has its highs and lows, eventually culminating in marriage. But that is not the best part of this story, which in so many ways is steeped in ineffable sadness.
No, the best part is that amid the destitution of Haiti, and the devastating earthquake that later struck the country, Kermit Alexander's heart opened as wide as any heart has ever opened. It opened for one child and then that child's brothers and sisters. Kermit Alexander was whole again.
I will let readers get the rest of the details from Tom Friend's incredibly moving story — and there is so much more to say that it would take another 2,000 words to tell it fully — along with marveling at the wonderful pictures of Kermit and Tami Alexander with their children.
But above all, this is a story of recovery, and it is always in recovery that the greatest gains are made. It is a story of the triumph over despair. And it is a story that readers of Bruins Nation will always share with Kermit Alexander.