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IN HIS OWN WORDS: Coatesville legend Derrick Morgan on why investing in places like his hometown can change the future

When the bus doors opened every morning outside Coatesville High School, I knew that each one looked different.

I just didn’t fully process what it meant.

That one came from the country. The one behind it came from downtown. The one over there came from the suburbs.

Looking back on it, I didn’t fully grasp how diverse Coatesville was. Everyone just coexisted. I didn’t process the stark difference in socioeconomic backgrounds of the people I went to school with.

Now, as a 31-year-old Black man looking back at my time in Coatesville, I realize that those buses are what make it such a special place.

I had white friends. I had Black friends. I had Hispanic friends. I had friends from both sides of the track.

The school and community helped shape my future, but nothing was more important than the football locker room. In that room, you just thought “Is he going to help us win,” and “He’s my teammate.” We really didn’t see color.

The locker room provided a tight bubble , protecting us from a lot of those things.

Now, as the Black Lives Matter movement reaches new heights in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many others, I look back on my time in Coatesville with clearer eyes.

***

So often, protests fall on deaf ears. But it seems as though this is a very new moment — it’s a unique moment — because change is actually occurring, and the protests are sparking that change.

You’re seeing the start of actual police reform. Exploitative laws that have always attacked vulnerable populations are not being simply accepted as the norm. They are being questioned, debated and overturned.

The thing that’s not new are the injustices.

I always knew they were there. They pained me and I would always ask myself how can I be apart of the solution. I have a platform, I have to use it for those who don’t.

Right around the same time Colin Kaepernick knelt to protest racial injustices and police brutality – around the midpoint of my NFL career with the Tennessee Titans – I started to transition much of my time and money into projects that would benefit communities all over the country, just like the one I grew up in.

In a place like Coatesville, a lot of people are overlooked. It is the largest city in the richest county in the state of Pennsylvania, and the opportunity is just not the same as it is a few miles over in another zip code or school district.

There’s a need for a spotlight to be shone on those types of communities. There needs to be intentional investment. And a big part of my “Why” and what I’m doing with KNGDM Group is I want to be part of the solution. I have a platform to affect change in a positive way, if leveraged properly.

***

Every community has assets. In Coatesville, many of the assets come from the sports world. Coatesville not only has more than its fair share of prominent athletes, but it has a passion for sports that is second to none.

IMAGE COURTESY KNGDM
Pictured is a rendering of the proposed sports complex in Coatesville being spearheaded by Derrick Morgan’s KNGDM group.

What I’m trying to do with KNGDM is harness a community’s assets to achieve change. It’s a complex problem, and there are a lot of solutions, but by creating equity and ownership opportunities through real estate development, we can change a community from the inside out, and outside in.

Our proposed sports complex at The Flats – with six basketball courts, an indoor turf fieldhouse, events and expo center and food and retail hall — will harness that passion and energy to achieve two very different, but very important goals.

One of the big challenges in Coatesville is there’s nowhere for our kids to go. I remember being there a few months ago. It was a beautiful day, there was no school (and no coronavirus), yet there were still no kids outside. There was just nothing going on. In that way, Coatesville is much the same as I remember it.

A kid with nothing to do is just not a good recipe. It’s important for our youth to be engaged in positive activity and have a safe to do it, not just to play basketball or football, but also find other enrichment. We’re looking to partner with local non-profits and community partners to harness their resources and deep understanding of the community to provide curriculum and training. Whether it’s tech Ed, E-sports, financial literacy, skills training and even job placement. Our plan is to make this facility as inclusive and multi-use as possible.

While basketball courts and turf fields provide an outlet for our kids in the near-term, being part of the sports tourism industry will also draw people into the community in the long-term. Whether it’s a youth sports tournament or athletic event, a business expo or a convention, those are dollars coming into Coatesville from the outside. Those are also visitors who may look around and realize Coatesville is a unique place with a lot of potential.

When the rest of Chester County and the wider region starts coming into town, you get more money in the city and you find you’re able to spend on infrastructure, new roads, new buildings, better facilities. It’s a compound effect.

The reason other places in Chester County look the way they do is because they have money in their pockets, often coming in from elsewhere

I don’t live in Coatesville. I have a lot of family and friends there, so I rely on their vision for the future. KNGDM develops with a “bottom-up” approach. We start with the everyday resident. Then we talk to non-profits, church leaders, the school district, city officials, county officials, state representatives and try to get a consensus of what are the most pressing needs in the community.

What drives me is being a part of a positive change. We’ve done it in Nashville and elsewhere. To have the same impact on a place as important to me as Coatesville is what motivates me now.

***

I always felt like, in my whole life, I’ve been in unique situations that helped prepare me for the real world.

Coatesville was a unique experience, you come into contact with people from all different walks of life. I always felt comfortable dealing with all different types of people – white, brown, Black, whatever. Especially in the locker room, we were committed to one goal, and it really broke down racial barriers.

When I went to Georgia Tech, and lived in a city as diverse as Atlanta, it wasn’t a big shock. Then when I left college and came into the league, I felt very prepared. It was a strict academic school and I had to grow up quickly.

I am one of the lucky ones. I don’t have any horror stories about encounters with police, like many who look like me.

When a police officer pulls me over and finds out who I am, I’m sure it creates a very different experience. I’ve dealt with racism in the south – not necessarily from police – but, sadly, it’s part of life as a Black man in America.

So as I watch protests across the country, I realize even more clearly just how much my time in Coatesville affected my future.

I have most of my life in front of me, and I know I can help create more positive change in my 30s and beyond than I did on a football field in my teens and 20s. That’s my “Why” and it’s what gets me up every day.

That change may not come as quickly as you or I would like. Or maybe it’s coming faster than you are comfortable with.

Whether it’s a protest in the streets, an architectural drawing in a board room, or a shiny new basketball court in Coatesville, change is happening.

You can either be a part of it, or get out of the way.

Derrick Morgan is a 2007 graduate of Coatesville Area Senior High School. He played three seasons at Georgia Tech, and has an MBA from the University of Miami. He is a managing partner at the KNGDM Impact Fund, and lives in Nashville with his wife, Charity, and two daughters.

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