Wednesday - September 15, 2010
By Steve Murray
By Steve Murray
|Tyson Alualu says he is proud to come from Kuhio Park Terrace and to serve its people|
Tyson Alualu could have escaped the infamous Kuhio Park Terrace, but he’s sticking around to serve its people
Its name is infamous. Say the letters “KPT” and images of gang violence and substance abuse come into the popular imagination. Everyone seems to have a story about Kuhio Park Terrace - paramedics locking their vehicle to prevent people from breaking in to steal drugs, police cars being vandalized, televisions being thrown from walk-ways, broken families, assault and even murder. To many, the state’s largest public housing development needs to be walled off from the rest of society, its people cast off as collateral damage surrendered to a world of uncontrollable violence and hopelessness.
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie defensive tackle and KPT resident Tyson Alualu disagrees. The first-round draft pick of the Jaguars embraces the area. He is proud of his roots - not because of some misplaced importance on maintaining a silly notion of street cred, but because it is home to hundreds of families much like his own, families who have struggled but who are determined to make a better life for themselves.
“I’m proud of where I am from, growing up in this community,” says Alualu. “I’m not ashamed to say that. This celebration (a yearly community event filled with music, sports, dance, barbecues and religion) is to shine a light on a lot of the positive things, because a lot of the media all they build up is all the negative things that happen in this community, but there are a lot of great things and people that come out of this community, and no one says anything about those things.”
For the married father of two, Kuhio Park Terrace and its residents are not just worth saving, they are worth serving. The Jaguars’new $28 million man is building a church in the shadow of towers he calls home and where his father, Ta’avao Alualu, better known as Pastor T, will continue the family’s mission of providing hope to its neighbors through his Solid Rock Fellowship, which is currently located in an old recreation room at the housing project.
The senior Alualu seems perfectly cast for the job of reaching KPT’s youngest generation of residents and helping them get and stay on the right path. Before leading his neighbors in prayer, the massive man, whose friendly fist bumps seem to engulf the recipient’s hand, led his community down a dark path of drugs, gangs and violence. Or, as his son says, “He led all his brothers and gang members to be the worst people in the world.” For years, Ta’avao Alualu was not a man of peace, but of the streets. High on drugs and often violent, he was a man to be feared - even by his own family.
As a toddler, Tyson and his family were often forced to move between shelters and the homes of family and friends in an effort to stay one step ahead of their abusive father whom they feared, yet amazingly still loved.“It was definitely a scary time,” says Tyson. “We would hardly see my dad ... He was in jail for a lot of things: drugs, fighting, weapons when I was younger ... I loved my dad but I didn’t really understand why we would always have to run away from him. Just
seeing him get locked up all the time, seeing the cops come take him away, it was real scary.”
But while things got as bad as they possibly could for the Alualu family, the former Palama Scorpion running back can now look at those earlier days with a sense of appreciation. For while it wasn’t pleasant, Tyson says the difficult journey from felon to faith made his father the man he is today.
“I look back at it and I am thankful for who we are today, especially my dad, who he is in Christ,” he says. “Because of all the things he experienced, he has a lot of wisdom ... and I think everything he has gone through in his life is what made him who he is today, and I thank God for that.”
So do many of the KPT residents. When Ta’avao Alualu is not ministering his growing flock, which now numbers about 300, up from just family members when he started seven years ago, he is KPT’s head of security. Some residents have yet to come around.
“He stopped a lot of the gang stuff,” says his now-famous son. “The gangs believe this is their turf. Dad says no.”
Ta’avao Alualu left prison for good when Tyson was in third grade and became his son’s biggest fan, harshest critic and toughest coach.
“He was the best and worst coach when I was playing, (as a child)” Tyson says with a laugh. “One thing that stuck with me to this day was after every game ... I would have a good game and I would go into the car and still get lectured. My dad would tell me that wasn’t good enough. I was thinking I did good and wanted a pat on the back, and he would always say you have to do better. That made me the player I am today.”
The worlds of religion and professional football often seem at odds with one another. Faith is about peace and charity, giving a helping hand when someone is down. The NFL is about money and violence, and knocking people down. Tyson believes his athletic prowess is his gift from God. His gift back is to maximize that gift.
That, says the now-mature Tyson, was the message behind all those confusing post-game critiques. That is also the message Tyson is trying to share with the kids in the neighborhood - each one of them has a gift and it is their duty to make the most of it.
“You don’t have to be an athlete to get away from these things,” he says. “If you want to be a doctor you can be a doctor, a lawyer or whatever it is you are good at. You are not a useless person. God made you for a reason and you just have to find that reason and pursue it.”
Though things have improved at KPT over the years, there is still work to do. The biggest challenge is turning around the feeling of hopelessness that tends to pervade economically and socially challenged communities.
“That’s the biggest problem people face,” says Tyson. “They feel ‘I am useless. I live in the projects and I’m not going to be one of those success stories because of what I am going through now,’ but it is all up to that one individual. If you want to be successful in life, you’re going to have to do all these things to succeed. I faced the same struggles and God helped me find a way to have success. It is definitely going to be hard work, but that’s something you’re going to have to put up with if your going to be the person you want to become.”
Tyson Alualu wants to become a force in his neighborhood. All he has to do is work hard. The same holds true in the NFL. But he knows that being recognized for his successes will be harder in Jacksonville than in Kalihi, especially since many fans and media insiders were left scratching their heads after the former Cal-Berkeley Bear was taken with the 10th overall pick. It was expected, even by Tyson, that he was going to be picked later on in the first round.
“There is a lot of pressure and a lot of high expectations, but I kind of like that,” he says. “There are a lot of people who doubt me and a lot of people who support me, and for the people who doubt me all that does is pushes me to go harder.”
The fans who were once skeptical have come around, and Tyson says he has been surprised by their kindness. Some have even approached him after practice to apologize for their earlier criticism.
The Jags opened their NFL season against Denver Sunday and this weekend travel to San Diego.
Alualu says he is not yet used to the idea of being financially secure. He grew up in a five-bedroom apartment that often held up to 15 people, as they constantly welcomed in family, friends or church members whether from Oahu or Samoa.
“We made it work,” laughs Alualu.
And he’s making it work for his community.