West Philadelphia community mourns sudden loss of influential young leader and activist

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Community activists, leaders and mentors continue to play a crucial role with the city’s youth, especially amid an epidemic of gun violence.

No one understood this more than Eugene “Gene” Lett.

“He was a hero, he knew so many people,” said Adrian Burke, a close friend and basketball coach at West Philadelphia High School. “He was trying to make a change, he was trying to break the chain, to do something different and I’m telling you, he died trying to do all he could do for our community.”

Lett died suddenly on Sunday.

Burke says he had known him since fourth grade and they spent most of their days at the recreation center at 55th and Christian Streets, which is now the AW Christy Recreation Center.

Lett, a father and husband, later served as chairman of the advisory board, coached basketball, ran numerous volunteer programs, and provided food, clothing, and rides for neighborhood kids.

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He recently launched a “Degree Chasing” program.

“We’ve always said, ‘This is way bigger than basketball,’ we’re trying to help those kids in their lives,” Burke said. “Our whole thing was to try to get these kids into college and get them a degree.”

On Sunday, Lett played his last basketball game at the rec center with friends. His wife decided to come, and his son was also there.

He scored the winning shot and suddenly collapsed soon after.

“I had his head, I was just talking to him, ‘Man come on, come on, get up,'” said Robert Pollard, a close friend and basketball coach at West Philadelphia High School. “He’s his man at home, he’s his gym, I just feel like he’s smiling at us now.”

Tributes poured in for Lett on social media across the city.

Capt. Matthew Gillespie of the Philadelphia Police’s Southwest Detectives wrote on Twitter: “Sad day as we mourn the loss of Coach Gene Lett. A true gentleman who helped shape generations young people here in West Philly. His legacy lives on with the young people he influenced.”

Her close friends are now encouraging men in the community to speak out in Lett’s honor.

“He just said, ‘No it’s not okay, this is where I grew up, you can come here, you can be safe,'” Pollard said. this and will continue. It’s going to take a team effort, like, from everyone.”

Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell issued the following statement to FOX 29:

“Gene Lett was an incredibly dedicated volunteer. He gave countless hours of his time in service to Christy’s Recreation Center and the surrounding community. Gene led numerous anti-violence and youth empowerment programs very respected and very popular in Christy, in partnership with the community and the local police district.

Gene was recently elected Chairman of the Christy Recreation Center Recreation Advisory Board. He was a wonderful role model for the young people of this neighborhood and leaves an entire community in mourning for this enormous loss. Our city would be a better – and safer – place if we had a Gene Lett in every neighborhood. »

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