I grew up in the shadow of great men like the Rev. Leon “Lion of Zion” Sullivan, and walked the same streets strolled by such renowned activists as Father Paul Washington, Malcolm X, and the Rev. Bill Gray.
Each had their own style but the common elements were passion, dedication, courage and a love of community—all of which I learned and earned from each, and especially Rev. Gray.
As a young community activist struggling to raise a voice loud enough to be heard by those in power, Rev. Gray always seemed to know the right decibel needed to get an ear in the right direction, and funnel resources to those most in need.
He understood the community that surrounded his beloved Bright Hope Baptist Church and, most importantly, he understood the common touch and used it as naturally as breathing.
He was my mentor, teacher, advisor, and friend.
Never more than a phone call away, he was available at each and every step of my political career and proved to be a worthy confidante who cleared up a problem with a few words, and could also lift a pitying spirit with some well-placed expletives.
I remember the Bill Gray Basketball League growing into a Mecca for fledgling players like Eugene Banks who went on to the NBA, but most importantly it helped to guide young men into manhood through teamwork, hard work, and a sense of dignity grounded in perfection.
When Rev. Gray walked into a room he could light it up with a smile or a scorn depending on the situation, and each was equally respected. He had the type of courage that allowed him to speak truth to power, and also consoling words to a family that lost a relative to senseless violence,
I will miss Rev. Gray. His style. His walk. His dress. His presence.
I will, however, continue to honor his legacy of fairness and equality in my position as the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County as this department goes through its own challenges and hurdles.
It is not easy to fill the type of vacuum left by such a giant force in the community, and such a loss will be felt for years to come.