Posts Tagged ‘cocaine’

Free Minds Book Club member calls the BRP “some real-life stuff”

May 8, 2015

Below is a testimonial letter that I am proud to share because it shows the Born Ready Project’s potential to help change lives in a positive way.


Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, a non-profit in Washington DC that uses books and creative written expression to empower incarcerated youth at the DC jail, was privileged to have Dave Ungrady, author of the book “Born Ready: The Mixed Legacy of Len Bias” give a presentation on the importance of productive decision making to our April apprentices!

Free Minds apprentices are young men who have gone through all three phases of our program, Book Club, Continuing Support and Re-entry Support.  As part of our book club, they were youth between the ages of 15-17, charged as adults at the DC jail where we visited them twice a week to hold our book club sessions.  While in Continuing Support, we sent the guys books that they requested, our monthly newsletter the “Connect,” letters and birthday cards, and Re-entry Support that helps our released members attain job readiness, community support and educational resources.

Dave visited us and conducted an engaging and informative session incorporating facets of his real life experiences, a video presentation about the life of Len Bias as well as a well prepared power point presentation that kept our apprentices engaged and inquisitive!  One of our apprentices’, 17 year old Leon Epps, said “I really appreciated some of the things that he was teaching us, it was some real life stuff.” 

FreeMinds_with the boys

Dave and apprentices of the Free Minds Book Club after his presentation.

Dave introduced our apprentices to concepts such as the varying degrees of decision making, tools to making good decisions and how the decisions they make impact them and the people in their lives.  One of the main goals of our apprenticeship program is to help our apprentices change their lives by changing their thought process so Dave presentation was a perfect fit! 

Our apprentices greatly benefited from Dave’s presentation, and when we conducted our post apprenticeship evaluation, we asked the apprentices to list the sessions that they enjoyed the most, and more than half of them selected Mr. Ungrady’s session as one of their top choices.  We are very grateful for Dave’s participation and have invited him back for another session during our next apprenticeship starting in June.

Keela Hailes, Program Manager

Free MInds Book Club and Writing Workshop

Release: Born Ready Project Makes Stop Where Len Bias Learned Basketball

January 29, 2014


Xtreme Teens Speech Set for Columbia Park Recreation Center

Teens in Prince George’s County will soon have a chance to learn about the rich legacy of Len Bias where he learned how to play basketball.  A Born Ready Project speech for the Xtreme Teens program in Prince George’s County, MD, will take place at the Columbia Park Recreation Center on February 7. It’s at that center where Bias, the former University of Maryland basketball star, developed his game while a teenager.

Dave Ungrady, author of the book, Born Ready: The Mixed Legacy of Len Bias  and developer of the Born Ready Project, will speak about decision making to members of the Xtreme Teens Program. The speech begins at 8 p.m.

Bias grew up in Columbia Park a few blocks from the recreation center and started playing basketball there while in middle school. Bias famously was not selected for his middle school team twice, and he used those disappointments as motivation to become a dominant player.

“When he was young, kids used to laugh at him when he played basketball,” says Lee Madkins, the director of the Columbia Park Recreation Center during Bias’s youth. “They never picked him on a team. Then he ended up with everyone wanting him on their team.”

During the speech, the teens will learn leadership tools that help them increase their confidence in decision making. These lessons are drawn from the legacy of Bias, whose choices resulted in superb athletic performances on the court but tragic consequences off the court, when he died of a cocaine overdose in 1986.

The speech is one of six scheduled for Xtreme Teens through March at MNCPPC facilities. They began in early January. Xtreme Teens, managed by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, provides programs, classes, facilities and other fun things to do for teens ages 13-17 and pre-teens 10-12 in Prince Georges County.

The Born Ready Project helps teenagers and adults achieve their greatness, by teaching them life skills and leadership skills to make good decisions and act resilient. Decision making and resilience are important to achieving success.

For more information about the Born Ready Project, contact Dave Ungrady, or 703-282-5259. For more information about Xtreme Teens, contact Stephen Makle, or 301-446-3408.

Learning Basketball at “The Rec”

January 22, 2014

The middle-class, black community of Columbia Park sits in humble repose a few miles northeast of Washington, D.C., its rectangular street pattern a reflection of its commonality. Only a mix of colors distinguishes one tidy, box-like house from another, their front yards the size of half a basketball court, positioned neatly in parallel rows, one house segueing into the next. In the 1970s and 1980s, young boys who wanted to develop their athletic skills flocked to the Columbia Park Community Center, reverently referred to as The Rec, spending tireless hours perfecting their skills on a small, indoor windowless court with a ceramic floor.

Johnnie Walker was one of them. He had spent his earliest years growing up in the Congress Heights section of Southeast Washington, D.C., considered one of the poorest sections of the city, about a mile from where the Anacostia River dumps into the Potomac River. There, it was difficult to ignore young adults shooting heroin and drinking liquor all hours of the day. But at 15, Walker moved to the relative comforts of Columbia Park, where life was humble and simple and drug and alcohol abuse did not become an issue until the late 1980s.

Walker played two years of varsity basketball at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, graduating in 1978. While putting off college for a year, he volunteered as a coach at The Rec, monitoring basketball activities for neighborhood kids and preparing his players for the center’s summer league team. He taught them fundamentals and conditioning with innovative exercises, such as plyometrics, which he learned from Bob Wagner, his former coach at Northwestern. Wagner wanted to build his new program with the best available talent, so he alerted Walker to keep an eye out for Len Bias, a young player at nearby Greenbelt Middle School whom he had heard showed promising talent.

 During practice one day in the winter of 1979, some kid kept peeking through the doors to the gym at The Rec, yelling to his friend Terrence Lewis. Walker scolded Lewis, telling him to ignore the kid and pay attention. The interloper finally gave up and left.

“Who was that?” Walker eventually asked out loud.

“That’s Leonard Bias,” someone said.

 A few months later, while walking to The Rec, Walker spotted Bias riding a bike and approached the ninth-grader, saying he understood that he played for Greenbelt Middle School. Bias tried to sell himself to Walker, saying he was better than Lewis. He told Walker that his parents didn’t let him leave the street much without their supervision, so Walker offered to talk with them and receive permission to serve as his guardian to, from and while he was at The Rec, if he was interested in joining the group. Walker could stop by the Bias house, he told the young man, and meet him so the two could walk to The Rec together.

 “They said yes, but don’t you think his dad didn’t come up and check on him,” says Walker. 

At the time, Bias was in the midst of a critical phase in his basketball development, using a setback to fuel a fiery determination to be a great basketball player. He had been cut from the middle school team twice, in the seventh and eighth grades. “It was one of the big shocks in my life,” Bias said in a 1985 Washington Post article. “I remember going down the steps to look at the [team] list and my name wasn’t on it. I couldn’t believe it. Right then, I decided I was going to show these people that I could play the game.”

 “He kept saying the whole time, ‘God, let me get better,’ ” says his middle-school and high school teammate Reginald Gaskins in the documentary Without Bias. Young Leonard’s biggest motivation came from the teasing, his father recalled in Without Bias, explaining: “He was going to be the best.”

 As he integrated Bias into the group at The Rec, Walker took stock of him as a tall, lanky and raw athlete and a bit of a whiner when he felt he was being fouled unfairly. Walker treated Bias like any other regular in the group, meaning he roughed him up, pushing him after he took a shot. With Walker in his path, there was no such thing as an easy layup. Walker hit Bias with elbows and muscled him away from the basket, acting like a bully a few years before the NBA’s Detroit Pistons made the style fashionable in the mid-1980s.

 Brian Waller, one of Bias’s closest friends at The Rec and a high-school teammate, also endured Walker’s tough training. “He’d give us everything that wasn’t in the rule book,” he says. “When you’re not used to it, you whine and cry. People were fouling [Bias] all the time. No matter how much he whined, Johnnie was still killing him. On Monday and Wednesdays we’d play against the older guys in the gym; that’s how they played. You either step up or you don’t.”

 It took a while for Bias to grow into his body and develop his superior talents. “When he was young, kids used to laugh at him when he played basketball,” said Lee Madkins, the director of the center during Bias’s youth, in a Washington Post report soon after the player’s death. “They never picked him on a team. Then he ended up with everyone wanting him on their team.”

 It took only a couple of months for Bias to adapt to the physical play, and soon he became the intimidator on Columbia Park’s 16-and-under traveling team. In order to set the tone at the beginning of each game during his first summer with the team, he played a role: Columbia Park purposely let opponents win the opening tip so Bias could block or goal-tend their opening shot. 

 As Waller remembers, it helped Columbia Park win every game that summer. Bias also showed his athleticism for his age by finishing off alley-oops. He was the only player on the team who had the leaps to complete the play. Columbia Park felt so confident that players on the bench would read the newspaper toward the end of runaway games. “At that age, we didn’t think if it was embarrassing for the other team,” says Waller.

Michael Leonard Bias

November 18, 2013

Blood Legacy?

Michael Leonard Bias was born in the summer of 1986, some two weeks after Len Bias died. A DNA test has never been done, and the Bias family has not responded to requests for interviews. But Derrick Curry, a friend of the Bias family and a teammate of Jay Bias at Northwestern High School, says someone close to the family told him about five years ago that they know Len has a son.

Michael Leonard Bias potentially represents the most intimate element of the mixed legacy of Len Bias, a connection that extends beyond a similar bloodline and shared genes. The life of Michael Bias, like that of Len Bias, has been greatly affected by drugs, which have contributed to Michael Bias accumulating a lengthy criminal record and living a misdirected life. He spoke calmly as he sat in a chair on the secured side of the visitors area at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center during a conversation in July 2011. Through a window, his face looked eager as he talked about Len Bias as his father. Michael made it clear that the most important thing he wants from the Bias family is recognition.

He has spent much of his adulthood so far incarcerated for crimes that range from driving without a license in 2004 to an incident in February 2008 when he was charged with armed robbery and reckless endangerment. He was sentenced to probation on the condition that he enter therapy. Michael says that he wants to try to enter a therapy program for the second time. “Everything has been a struggle, financially, emotionally,” he says. “It’s been a tough break for me all my life. It’s been a jinx from when I was born because he died.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)

Johnnie Walker

November 17, 2013

A Mentor Mourns, and Wonders

After Bias died, his mentor Johnnie Walker, who taught Bias how to play at a young age, could not bring himself to return to The Rec, where he was still volunteering, and work with the players. “It kept me away from a lot of things,” he says. “I didn’t go to The Rec for a long time after that.”

The death of Bias affected how Walker’s coworkers perceived him as a police officer. Many of his fellow officers knew Bias, having seen him play basketball with Walker at the police-academy courts, and wondered how Walker could be unaware that Bias used drugs since Bias was spending a lot of time with Brian Tribble, whose activities were already suspicious. “It seemed like maybe people looked at me as if I should have known more than what I knew,” says Walker. “People who knew me said ‘How didn’t you know, because you usually don’t miss anything?’ People were like ‘How do you know he wasn’t using drugs? He was with a drug dealer. You didn’t know [Tribble] was a drug dealer? You didn’t know he was using drugs?’ It created a problem for me. People perceived me different after that for a very long time.”

Prosecutors in Prince George’s County investigating the death of Bias wanted to know why Walker had removed items from Bias’s dorm room the day Bias died. Walker testified before a grand jury, but no charges were brought against him. He says he took Bias’s personal belongings from the room only after receiving permission from police to do so and because the Bias family had asked him to remove the items. He placed the items in the van of Bias’s high school coach, Bob Wagner. “Once the police said everything could be taken out, I cleaned the whole room out,” he says.

Most often Walker has been left to wonder why Bias would fall prey to the temptations of drug abuse. “I think the drug thing with Leonard to this day was his perception that no matter what he did, he was just better and stronger, and it wouldn’t have that effect on him,” Walker says. Walker became the girls’ varsity head coach at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. in 1996. In 2001, he left the D.C. police force and took a job as a registrar for the city’s public schools. He moved to Dunbar High School in D.C. as its attendance counselor in 2006, the same year he became the head coach for the boys’ basketball team at the school. In the summer of 2010, Walker was named the athletic director at Dunbar. He still wonders what more he could have done to prevent his friend’s death. “It may not be true, but I felt like even when I was around his mom and dad, that they blamed me, that I should have protected him better,” he says, his voice quiet and his tear-filled eyes staring at a television showing sports. “I felt for a long time like it was my fault. Still feel that way.”


Excerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)

Brian Waller

November 16, 2013

A Best Friend Sadly Remembers

Brian Waller grew up with Len Bias in Columbia Park and to two were teammates on the Northwestern High School basketball team. Waller, a year older than Bias, had talked with Bias on Sunday and again on Monday, the day before the draft. Bias hadn’t said he would stop by that night, but Waller and Walker still held out hope that he would surprise them. They were so excited about Bias being selected by the Celtics that they cut their game short and talked most of the night about his good fortune. “We were just hanging out talking and waiting for him to walk through the door,” says Waller. “Every time the door opened, we looked to see who was gonna walk through, thinking and hoping it was him.” Bias’s buoyant presence never materialized. Waller was left to wonder: Could he have saved his best friend’s life if only Bias had walked through those doors at The Rec that night? “I can remember, long after he passed away, I would come home from work, I would sit in the basement in the dark, for a couple of months,” he says. “No TV, no radio. If I was there, he’d still be here.” Waller says Bias never used cocaine around him.

Waller’s eyes widened and filled with tears when he talked about Bias. “It was probably more sadness, not really guilt,” he says, staring into space. “Man, if I was there, I could have done something. I don’t think he would have been comfortable …” Waller pauses and takes a deep breath, “doing any kind of drugs around me. I would have been, ‘What are you doing?’ I would have been totally against it. He probably wouldn’t have brought that foolishness around me.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)

Walt Williams

November 15, 2013

A Dynasty Crumbles

Bias was the reason Walt Williams, a Washington, D.C., native who grew up watching Bias play, enrolled at Maryland two years after the star died. Williams, who helped keep Maryland basketball viable during the down years following Bias’s death, confirmed Driesell’s theory. “I was a very big Len Bias fan,” says the man who would break Bias’s Maryland single-season scoring record and is now a broadcaster on Maryland’s basketball games. “It was a big thing for me to go to Maryland and follow in his footsteps. That was a part of me staying at Maryland.  Maryland had gone through so many things with [the death of] Bias. People forget all the good he did. He made me feel like I can do well in basketball because I saw him do it.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)

Keith Booth

November 14, 2013

A Reminder to Stay Focused

In April 2011, Booth talked excitedly about the day he met Bias, his hero. It happened during a promotional appearance by Bias and teammate Keith Gatlin at a sandwich shop in East Baltimore. Booth, an impressionable 10-year-old, arrived three hours early to secure a spot at the front of the line for the 11 a.m. event. When he met Bias, he told him that he would play hard and one day be a Terrapin just like his idol, and, yup, that he would at least tie Bias’s scoring record. Booth knew the owner of the sub shop and was given close access to Bias and Gatlin once the signing ended. He says the moment is recorded in a picture of Booth with Bias and Gatlin and several others, which hung on a wall in the shop for almost a decade.

When his older sister woke him on the morning of June 19, 1986, after hearing on the news that Bias had died, Booth grew hysterical. He cried uncontrollably as he called his mother at work to tell her the tragic news. Booth was 11 years old. He saw the kinds of people where he grew up in his East Baltimore neighborhood who used drugs. They weren’t like Bias. Before Bias died, the thought never crossed the boy’s mind that elite athletes used drugs. He used Bias’s death as a reminder to stay focused on basketball and his grades, and to continue a lifestyle that avoided drug use. “Once I understood what it was and how it happened that he died, it made me never want to touch a drug ever or abuse my body,” he says. “It affected my life to help me become the person and man I am today.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)

The Great Traffic Light

November 13, 2013

“Leonard Saved My Life”

Lefty Driesell, Len Bias’ coach at Maryland, finds solace in Len’s legacy when he tells the following story. During the early summer of 2010, a man approached Driesell as they walked out of church near Driesell’s home in Virginia Beach. “Someone said, ‘Aren’t you Lefty Driesell? I was always a big Maryland fan, and Leonard was one of my favorite players,’ ” says Driesell.

The man explained that shortly before Bias’s death, he had reached a personal low, losing his job and his family due to a cocaine addiction. When friends told the man that Bias had died, he immediately stopped abusing cocaine. Says Driesell: “He said Leonard saved his life.”

Who knows how many lives have been saved, and how many more will be for decades to come? Brian Straus had no connection to Bias other than growing up in the Washington area and watching him play on TV and was not a rabid fan of either the Terrapins or the Celtics. He was raised in white upper-middle-class suburbia. But when I told Straus, a longtime friend and an accomplished soccer journalist, that I was writing a book about the legacy of Bias, his immediate reaction surprised me.

“He was the reason I never used cocaine,” Straus says. “He was exactly the reason when I was at parties in college at [the University of Pennsylvania] and saw people do cocaine and I didn’t try it. He was the great traffic light, the devil on your shoulder saying don’t do it. It wasn’t an essay question. It was just like a punch in the gut that told you don’t touch this ever.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)Find out about the Born Ready Hoops Festival  Nov. 22-24, that will honor Len’s legacy as a basketball player.

50 for 50 – Len Bias’ Golden Moments #44…High School Coach Bob Wagner

November 12, 2013

Through Nov. 18, Len Bias’ 50th birthday, the Born Ready Blog will provide each day a new item that helped define Len’s legacy, 50 in total.

Part of him died when Len died.

For a year and a half after Len Bias died, Bob Wagner fought a deep depression. He stopped coaching and teaching and returned to school, taking computer-technician classes. In the evenings, he worked as a night manager at College Park Towers, an apartment complex that catered to students who attended his alma mater, the University of Maryland. “That’s where I disappeared,” says Wagner, Bias’s head coach at Northwestern High School. When not at work or in school, Wagner retreated to his house in Hyattsville as much as possible. “I wanted to get away from [high-school] kids,” he says. “I didn’t want anything to do with basketball. I didn’t answer the phone. I didn’t have much of a life at all. I was sleeping, studying and working. … There wasn’t anything I could do.”

Wagner says he still thinks about Bias every day. Sometimes, he cries. After Bias died, he endured typical stages that accompany a loss. “Depression. I questioned myself, what did I not see, what really transpired,” he says. “Not knowing any of that side of him partying. In those days, I was the big brother to all the kids. We had a unifying spirit around basketball. It gave us a positive identity within the community. That’s what hurt a lot of people with the tragedy. Here was a P.G. County public-school kid who did just as much if not more than a kid that might have gone to DeMatha or St. John’s or some other top D.C.-area program. He wasn’t given anything along the way. He had to work for what he got. It hurt the whole community. He was part of us. Most of us were part of him. So when he died, part of us died with him. The pain of his loss and the death of hope. He represented hope for a lot of kids.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)Find out about the Born Ready Hoops Festival  Nov. 22-24, that will honor Len’s legacy as a basketball player.