Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Rubin "Hurricane" Carter-Always Daring to Dream

As an inveterate sports fan, my interests in sport have run the gamut.

In the 1950s, I followed all of the major league sports closely. I loved the Yankees, and hated the Dodgers. I loved the Leafs, and hated the Canadiens. I was an Argos fan, had no time for the Tiger Cats, nor for the Alouettes. I liked the New York Knickbockers, loathed the Celtics.

But I also had time for other sporting events, including Gillette’s Friday Night Fights. Those were early television days, curled up in front of the old black and white, glued to the set for an hour or two in my pjamas.

Sugar Ray Robinson, Ezra Charles, Kid Gavilan, Two Ton Tony Galento, Primo Carnera, Archie Moore. Then, of course, there were the heavyweights: Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, and the host that followed.

To me, the concept was simple. Two men, of equal skill, going toe to toe until a winner is decided, with the occasional draw.

Most of them hailed from the United States, most were black. The fights were exciting, one of those conflicts that simplified the struggle of life-man against man. The fight game was also, at that time, one of the very few options that ghetto kids had to catch the brass ring, to escape, to succeed.

Rubin Carter was born in 1937. Under the circumstances, life was not easy, but to compound the situation, he stuttered severely. In a quirky fateful way, that certainly contributed to his ability to fight. And fight he did, as a youth. Continuously. He knew people laughed at him because he stuttered, and he would not tolerate the humiliation. He fought furiously, flailing away at his opponents. He was dubbed “The Hurricane”.

In 1966, America was in the throes of turmoil-there were segregation riots, demands for equality, and that nasty situation in Vietnam. Rubin was twenty-nine years old, and was preparing for a world title bout. He was on his way home late one evening when his car was pulled over by the police. In a matter of hours, he was fingered for a triple murder, and was eventually sentenced to three life terms in an American prison.

He began to spend his time preparing for his release, never an easy thing to do, let alone for a black man in the American justice system at that time. All of the detectives who had arrested him, booked him, targeted him were white. The lawyers, the jurors, the judge-all white. A little tough to find justice at that time.

Carter now involves himself in the undoing of injustice, wherever it may be. He works with “Innocence International Inc.”, doing whatever it takes to right wrong. He also speaks publicly, and eloquently. His passion is infectious. He is now in his seventies, fit as a fiddle, and can throw a combination with a right cross that would instil fear in most sensible prize fighters.

His message is simple, and threefold: 1. Dare to dream. 2. Seize every opportunity that comes your way. 3. Go the distance.

As a man who spent nearly thirty of his first sixty years in prison, those are powerful messages.

After his first thirteen years in prison, he received a letter that eventually changed his life. It was from a young lad, originally from the States who had been adopted by three Canadians. They were raising him in Toronto, and had taken him to a book sale. He was angry, black, and illiterate. He stumbled through that book, The Sixteenth Round, Carter’s autobiography written in prison. He sent Carter a note. Carter responded, and the wheels began to turn.

That foursome headed to Jersey, convinced Carter they were serious about obtaining his release, and began researching his case. Finally, in 1988, Carter was released from prison. He headed to Canada, and obtained his citizenship in 2000.

Surprisingly, there is little animosity when he speaks. He says that hatred put him in prison, but that love got him out.

Fortunately for me, I was able to take advantage of his second message. I had seized the opportunity to hear him speak recently in Belleville. He is now Dr. Rubin Carter, having obtained an honourary doctorate from the University of Toronto and another from Griffith University. He has addressed the United Nations General Assembly, and stood beside Nelson Mandela as a speaker.

And the young lad who was the catalyst for his renaissance? That would be Lesra Martin, who graduated in law from U of T, and is now a lawyer in British Columbia.

Bob Dylan’s song, “Here comes the Story of the Hurricane” served notice to the American public that there might have been a miscarriage of justice.

There is a very powerful movie at your local blockbuster store that merits watching, above all. It is simply titled: “Hurricane”, and stars Denzel Washington.

Go the distance.

James Hurst

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