In death, Forrest finally gets recognition he deserves

Vernon Forrest was celebrated a champion, in and outside of the ring. (Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com)

Vernon Forrest was celebrated as the champion he was. (Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com)

Sometimes, we pay attention to the wrong people. A true hero walks down a street in his hometown but nobody recognizes him because he’s not loud or crass, because he hasn’t danced with the stars, because he doesn’t move through life like a human spotlight.

So he’s ignored. Until the day all any of us can do is say goodbye.

Vernon Forrest was buried Monday. A quote from Abraham Lincoln shown during the memorial service perfectly capsulated Forrest and grounded us all: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that’s important. It’s the life in your years.”

He was 38 and is gone too soon. He was shot during a robbery by delinquents who have no idea what it means to really fight for something.

Forrest grew up in the projects but found his way out. He learned to control his anger, using it as fuel in a boxing ring. He surrounded himself with positive people. He earned a scholarship in the U.S. Olympic Boxing and Education program at Northern Michigan University, where he completed his diploma, turned into one of the top amateurs in the country and eventually represented the U.S. in 1992.

That’s what real fighters do. They don’t steal a wallet, hide in the shadows and then shoot somebody in the back. Cowards do that.

Evander Holyfield and his manager, Ken Sanders, were among those in attendance. (Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com)

Evander Holyfield and his manager, Ken Sanders, were among those in attendance. (Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com)

Over 1,000 people showed up Monday at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. Some were famous. Lincoln would have approved.

Forrest won championships. He won friends. He won hearts. A two-hour service alternated between celebrating his life and conveying the anger over something so senseless.

“Whatever it takes to get justice for you, Vernon,” Alfonso Forrest, one his brothers, said as he pounded the podium with his fist. “Legally, Vernon. I won’t do anything wrong, I promise you.”

You sensed emotion was pulling him one way. His brother was pulling him the other.

Bishop Eddie Long gave an impassioned sermon on Forrest’s life and also denounced the violence. He punctuated his remarks with: “Success in life is the ability to play a bad hand well.”

Forrest did that. He was the relative exception in a sport too often scarred by champions who end up destitute or on some crime blotter. He gave to charitable causes. He helped create, “Destiny’s Child,” which assists those with psychological and emotional disabilities. He helped those who needed it. He paid back those who helped him.

Buddy Davis, the long-time president of the Georgia Amateur Boxing Association, remembers when Forrest was preparing to turn pro in 1992. He would train at the old Holyfield Arena in West End. When his workout was complete, Davis said: “He’d stick around and work with the kids. Nobody asked him to do that.”

Forrest was a native of Augusta. He lived in Atlanta. How many of you didn’t know that?

If last week, you were asked to list some of the top sports stars in our city, how long would it take before you would get to Forrest? Ever?

There is something wrong with that.

He did it the hard way in boxing. He refused to sell his soul to Don King or Bob Arum. As a result, he won four world titles at the junior welterweight and welterweight levels in relative anonymity. Finally, 10 years into his career, he was given a shot at “Sugar” Shane Mosley, one of the sport’s stars. He won the fight, and then the rematch. Finally, he was given his due in the sport, even if he remained low profile outside of it.

He loved life. He was real. People wanted him to be more flamboyant,” his friend, Les King, said. “They wanted him to trash talk more. He didn’t need that. He didn’t want that.”

Some family members wore white hats saying, “The Viper,” as they walked into church. Eight young boys wore his title belts.

LaVert Forrest mentioned his brother discussed plans two weeks ago to build a school in Augusta. “That will be his school,” LaVert Forrest said. “We will never let him die.”

The recognition is well-deserved. And overdue.

16 comments Add your comment

Tyler

August 3rd, 2009
7:55 pm

That was well written sir. It seems bad things like this always take away good people. Good athletes never get the press always the ones doing something wrong. I feel for his family and his brother i cant even imagine what he is feeling Im sure he will stay strong for this brother.

Jeff Schultz

August 3rd, 2009
8:04 pm

Tyler — thanks for the comments. Vernon’s 11-year-old son was there today, too. It was pretty emotional.

Reid Adair

August 3rd, 2009
8:32 pm

Well done, Jeff. Forrest was a class act.

NCBravesFan

August 3rd, 2009
8:38 pm

Very poignant, Jeff. Beautifully written.

I’m not a boxing fan and had never even heard of Vernon until his senseless death. Thanks for giving me a glimpse in on a life well-lived, and one that is over far too soon.

Steve

August 3rd, 2009
9:11 pm

Well said Jeff. It is unfortunate that this happened. That being said, is this city EVER going to be safe? How many DAILY murders, carjackings, and robberies do we have to hear about? It sure is sad what this city has turned into. I know all major cities have problems but Atlanta must be one of the worst. Maybe this will spark more rally’s and attention to all of the crime in the Atlanta area. That group that was formed, Atlantan’s Together Against Crime was a good start but has not helped much.

BravesFan79

August 3rd, 2009
9:16 pm

Great article. Vernon was a true champ inside the areas and outside the arena, not to many professional athletes can say that! Much love to all the Warrick Dunn’s, Deikembe Mutombo’s, and Vernon Forrest’s of the world!

Keith Gray

August 3rd, 2009
9:21 pm

I remember when he went pro. He was always a “class act”. It’s a shame, and I hope the guilty parties get the max punishment. Society is to forgiving these days.

Ruben R

August 3rd, 2009
9:22 pm

Thanks, Vernon for the life you shared with others,mothers,fathers,sisters and brother and the smile that you brought to our face man you are going to missed from this place

Jeff Schultz

August 3rd, 2009
9:47 pm

Authorities say they might be closing in on a suspect. We can only hope the creeps are brought to justice.

Ted Striker

August 3rd, 2009
11:00 pm

Nice tribute, and well deserved. Your headline says it all, but your column drives it home.

Vernon Forrest | All Days Long

August 3rd, 2009
11:35 pm

[...] In death, Forrest finally gets recognition he deserves | Jeff Schultz By Jeff Schultz Vernon Forrest, who was murdered during a recent robbery in Atlanta, was a hero to many, even if he was too often ignored by the public. Jeff Schultz – http://blogs.ajc.com/jeff-schultz-blog/ [...]

Bank Walker, Texas Ranger

August 4th, 2009
7:43 am

Nice tribute for The Viper. I believe had it not been for food poisoning at the Olympics and later shoulder problems, he may have been one of the greatest boxers of all time. Awesome against Mosely but your article lets us know he was even greater outside the ring. Thanks.

Dollene Davidson

August 4th, 2009
11:15 am

Good morning Mr. Schultz…well written Mr. Schultz. I live in Florida, but read the AJC on line. I am from Atlanta and this story broke my heart. I would like to pay my respects to his grave….when I get to come home. Do you, by chance know where his family is laying him to rest? Such a sad, sad ending to a fine young man. My heart and prayers go out to his family. Thank you Mr. Schultz. Dollene Davidson Amelia Island, Florida

Dollene Davidson

August 4th, 2009
11:23 am

Mr. Schultz…a comment for Steve on the crime in Atlanta…I live on an island that is 3 miles wide and 16 miles long. It is a mean place…everywhere. I feel safer in Atlanta than I do on Amelia Island. Mr. Forrest was trying to protect himself and godson…get back what was taken from him. Only a coward would shoot someone in the back that many times. That is why I carry a 9 mm everywhere I go…even on sweet little “safe” Amelia Island. I would move back home in a heartbeat! RIP Mr. Forrest

[...] Sometimes, we pay attention to the wrong people. A true hero walks down a street in his hometown but nobody recognizes him because he’s not loud or crass, because he hasn’t danced with the stars, because he doesn’t move through life like a human spotlight. [...]

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