Everyone’s an Eagles fan when EOCHS alum returns

Photo by Chris Sykes
Former East Orange Campus High School football players Rasul Douglas, center, and Akeem Cunningham, right, stand with their former head coach, Marion Bell, left, on Friday, Aug. 24, during the Community Giveback and Back to School Giveaway that the NFL player organized with help from the East Orange Fire Department and the Young Professionals of East Orange.

EAST ORANGE, NJ — Despite the fact that East Orange is located in the heart of Giants country in Northern New Jersey, residents temporarily transformed into Philadelphia Eagles fans on Friday Aug. 24, when East Orange Campus High School alumnus and Super Bowl Champion Rasul Douglas came back home to host a Back to School Community Giveback at the East Orange Fire Department’s Firehouse 2, in conjunction with Mayor Ted Green, the East Orange Fire Department and the Young Professionals of East Orange.

“It’s all love all around, when one of our homegrown hometown heroes comes back home and comes out to give back to their community,” said 5th Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holman, who identifies as a Dallas Cowboys fan. “This is my little brother. It’s all love.”

East Orange Recreation Department employee Kaleenah Koon said she was going to post the pictures of Holman posing for pictures with Douglas on the “Cowgirls website.” She also said it was OK for everyone in East Orange to be an Eagles fan “just for a day.”

“I am a Giants fan,” said Koon on Friday, Aug. 24. “Fortunately, I grew up with the ‘Dirty Bird,’ Rasul Douglas. That is my brother’s best friend, so I’m out here trying to support him and what he’s trying to do for our community.”

According to East Orange firefighter Akeem Cunningham, a member of the YPEO group that helped Douglas organize the Community Giveback event, fans of competing NFL teams can put aside their differences to come together for the greater good.

“You gotta go with the home team,” said Cunningham on Friday, Aug. 24. “He’s forever the home team. One thing about Rasul, he’s always been committed to the community. We talked a few times previously to this. We even spoke to Coach Bell as well. We’ve all been in the same loop, to try to get things done, and like you said, he had a game yesterday, but he was going to fly straight here and make sure that he was here for this event, to give back to the kids. So that’s just a testament to who he is and his character.”

Former East Orange Campus High School head football Coach Marion Bell coached both Douglas and Cunningham before he left the district to take over the head coaching job at West Side High School in Newark. But he, like Douglas, came back to East Orange on Friday, Aug. 24, to watch both his former players in action giving back to their community.

“I coach West Side High School now, but I used to be Rasul’s high school coach and I’m proud to be here seeing him give back to his community. It’s a good lesson for all of us,” said Bell on Friday, Aug. 24. “Unfortunately, I had to go to a funeral today, so I kept my black outfit on, but I went to a funeral with some sadness; now I’m here all happy. That’s how life works. You’ve got a lot of ups and downs. Hopefully, you have more ups than downs. Right now, I’ve got two cities behind me: East Orange and Newark.”

Mayor Ted Green agreed with Bell and said Douglas’ event at the firehouse was definitely one of the “ups” in life he was talking about.

“Yesterday, we had Rasul Douglas, who is a native from East Orange. We also had the gentleman Jabrill Peppers, who plays for the Cleveland Browns, and a few weeks ago we had Otis Anderson, who did an event in East Orange a golf tournament,” said Green on Saturday, Aug. 25, during the 10th annual Summer Jam concert and House Music Festival. “We are seeing a record-breaking number of young men who have made it to the pros but never fail to come back to the city that nurtured them, raised them and where they started their football careers, right here in the city of East Orange. They haven’t forgotten about the kids. They haven’t forgotten about the community. It’s no different than myself. This is our home and, guess what? Charity starts at home first.”

The YPEO was founded by Cunningham, Casim E. Gomez, Ajah Baldwin, artist and designer Kaylan Jones and Marquis Salley. In the past, it has organized a variety of community-oriented events, including the East Orange Fire Department “Bridging the Gap” party in Newark and the “Vision Board Party” at the East Orange Public Library, both in April.

For more information about YPEO events, call Cunningham at 973-609-8196 or send an email to youngprofessionalseo@gmail.com.