The return of Lil’ Pomp: Parker’s quest to keep kids off the streets|Part two: King for a day

Published 1:59 pm Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Contributing Writer

Editor’s Note: The following is the second of a three-part series about Washington native Omar Parker’s escape from street life and his subsequent journey to keep the kids of Washington safe via his work at Parker Park and through the Christian Fellowship Enrichment Organization.
It was the 70's in the City. The afros and Cadillacs were bigger, the pants were tighter and a red, white and blue basketball began to catch the eye of the nation.
Curtis Mayfield and Nicky Barnes became famous for pushing, but on 119th street in Harlem so did an up-and-coming 6-3 shooting guard from Washington, North Carolina.
Starring at Benjamin Franklin High School, Omar Parker was well known for handling the rock, but outside the halls of Franklin High he could be found slinging it.
Equipped with a sturdy handle and a smooth jump shot, the southerner quickly mixed in with the ever-expanding NYC hoops culture. Unfortunately, the young Parker also assimilated with the vastly rising drug culture.
The two made for a perfect match.
Playing ball and partying with well-known NBA stars and street legends, Parker felt like he had the best of both worlds.
“My club was like a celebrity club,” Parker said. “Everybody did drugs in the 70's, and they were my clients. … In the early 70's pro basketball players were only making around $50,000 to $100,000 — I was making that in a few weeks. I was making more money in the street than they were making in the pros.”
The money came in hand over fist, but for the troubled Parker it could not buy salvation.
“I was a king for day. I was a big man; you can’t imagine how big I was,” Parker reflected. “I used to just get on my knees and pray. I didn’t like what I was doing. I used to pray to God that I just wanted to be a regular guy.
“All these people were coming at me thinking I’m this and that … I’m a dope pusher. I was taking care of my family, but it was messing with my spirit. My mother and father brought us up in church. I really had church in me, it’s just that I chose to go to that street life because we didn’t have nothing. I didn’t love that life, but it’s the job I had. … That’s what society dealt me.”
Parker may have flourished on the court, but inside the classroom his skills were less developed. Despite being behind his classmates, Parker was elevated to the next level each year by either well-meaning teachers who recognized his basketball talent, or by less involved instructors who didn’t want to be bothered.
“They pushed me through school because I was a good ball player,” Parker said. “They pushed me through school. I don’t remember no school. All my training and teaching, I taught myself. I didn’t have the necessary means and the necessary education to do a job.
“When I was in college (Lakeland Community College in Ohio), they pushed me through college. I didn’t have to go to class. All I had to do (was) play basketball.”
While the system certainly has its flaws, Parker didn’t duck his role and responsibility in not receiving a solid education. He admits that as a teenager and a young adult, the temptations outside of the classroom walls were too much to deny.
“I didn’t want to go to school anyway; I was doing exactly what I wanted to do,” Parker said. “At that time, I’m older. I’m really into the street life. … I wanted to help myself and be independent. I’m self-taught, self-learned and anything I do around here I taught myself.
“A lot of people don’t understand my attitude, but I’m a street person. Nobody taught me nothing, so I don’t have the etiquette and all the fancy dressings. I don’t have all that. So if you ruffle my feathers and I come at you, I’m just doing something that comes natural. I don’t mean no harm. It’s hard because a lot of people take me the wrong way, but sometimes I can be aggressive, but I really don’t mean no harm.”
Parker, a martial arts specialist, may not want to inflict damage on anyone, but there were certainly a number of people in his past life that didn’t feel the same way.
“I had a couple of contracts on my life when I was younger,” Parker said. “I was a big time guy, and I didn’t have any children then so they couldn’t get to me. I had too many people surrounding me and were taking care of me.”
For Parker, there was no telling who or when someone would come gunning for him: a rival pusher, burnt out junkie or vigilante citizen?
For a man that only knew basketball and the street life, the fullcourt press was on in both arenas.
Despite being named player of the year for his Lakeland CC team, Parker would not make it back for his sophomore campaign even though then-coach Don Delaney – who would later become a coach and a general manager for the Cleveland Cavaliers – hailed Parker as a future pro.
Back in New York nobody could touch him, but how long could that really last? Whether it be by police or a fellow gangster, everybody gets got at some point.
(Part three will run in Wednesday’s edition of the WDN)