Recently in the First Ward of Lackawanna, a double shooting took the life of one victim, Richard R. Abrams, 30, and severely wounded another, Damon Turner, 44, both of Lackawanna. Some believe this threatens to destroy the city’s fortitude, but I think there is little chance this will be the case.
I was born and raised in this small, blue-collar city and have witnessed tragedies of equal and, some might argue, greater proportions, but the resident Steelers stood tough time and time again.
“Lackawanna Blues,” written by native Ruben Santiago-Hudson, reveals the First Ward’s resilience and character. I believe the reason for the movie’s success and that of the neighborhood is the mental toughness and unity that exist day to day in the area sometimes referred to as “the zone.”
The shooting occurred shortly after a summer league basketball game, just before a season-ending “block party” hit full stride. I wrote this to remind Western New Yorkers about what Lackawanna represents. Our sports teams are called the Steelers because our community was built next to Bethlehem Steel, which, to anyone under the age of 35, is a distant memory and a place along Route 5 that used to be the area’s largest employer.
To those of us on the other side of 35, it means a great deal more. Bethlehem Steel and, subsequently, the Lackawanna Steelers represented a state of mind, a source of pride, a means to an end, a way to eat and, when Maxie’s nightclub was open, a place to break in a new pair of dance shoes.
Even though Richie was too young to remember Maxie’s or Bethlehem Steel, the beauty of the zone is that storytellers gather on every block from the Gates Projects to the Baker Homes, where the shooting took place. Our Little League organization is called “Pride L” for a reason. The name expresses how we feel about our beloved town. All residents of Lackawanna have a certain level of pride and character that they carry with them every day. No matter where you go and what you do, it stands out. I have lived in several areas from the East Coast to the West, but will always claim Lackawanna as my home. This city raised me, and taught me right from wrong and why being real is better than being fake.
There is no power like Steeler Power. The Abrams and Turner families know a lot about Steeler Power. For those of you who don’t get it, Steeler Power is the fourth quarter on a cold night in Cheektowaga, where the Warrior fans and police tell us on the Steeler sidelines to step away from the field because we just scored the go-ahead touchdown in a high school football playoff game, even though we had been standing there throughout, we just hadn’t been winning. We stood our ground on the sidelines, and the Steelers did the same on the field.
Steeler Power is hooping it up at Buffalo State in the sectionals on the way to Glens Falls for another state basketball title when no one thought we would even leave the region victorious.
Steeler Power is Richie standing strong in the Baker Homes till his very last breath, knowing that he lived a good life, with good people and God holding his hand. It’s also knowing that Damon is fighting every day to live so he can pass along the wisdom, scars and stories about the evils of weapons (when in the wrong hands) so that others don’t have to suffer as he has. Pride and strength is simply all we know in the zone.