“For my family, city, and country”: Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker’s Legacy

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Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker speaks during a news conference at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada July 21, 2011 (REUTERS/Steve Marcus).

13 steps. That’s the distance the 5’6” prized boxer Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker walked to cross the street from the Young Park housing projects where he grew up in Norfolk, Virginia to Scope Arena–the publicly funded complex that anchored the city’s urban renewal. It was only 13 steps for “Sweet Pea,” but the distance between the two publicly funded places could also be measured in dollars. The city spent a quarter of a billion dollars in the 1960s to fight blight by building a civic center, a luxury hotel, and Scope Arena. But across the street, where Whitaker grew up, people living in “the Park” remained in poverty.

In 1985, the year after Pernell won Olympic Gold, yet still living in “the Park,” the…

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