Three years ago, Camden ranked as one of the poorest cities in the country and the single deadliest, with a murder rate twelve times the national average. That was also the year that Camden, faced with a mounting deficit, decided to lay off almost half its police force. Ah shit,everyone was thinking, this is when all bloody hell breaks loose. Some drug dealers printed up T-shirts proclaiming January 2011: It's Our Time.
And Bryan Morton? He had an idea: "Let's start a Little League."
Forty-two years old, thin in a springy, muscly sort of way, with a giant smile, a jutting chin, and light-color eyes, Bryan's not only the founder and president of the North Camden Little League, he coaches two of the teams. His 4-year-old daughter plays on his T-ball team, his 10-year-old son on the minor league Yankees. Last April he began registering kids for the league's third season at Northgate Park, where there's a playground and a sculptural fountain that used to work until some desperate junkie stole the copper piping.
When I meet up with Bryan, he's already negotiated an agreement with the dealers who normally post up inside the park. They're pacing the sidewalk just outside, and one of the crew, a very tall, supple man called Treetop, starts mugging for me, tiptoeing by the entranceway like a bad kid who just got a time-out, his index finger to his lips: Shhhhh...
"His mother didn't give him enough hugs," Bryan says with a laugh like a sharp bark.
[Photo Credit: Doug Dubois]