A WALK WITH A HAWK ... FEATURING: RICHARD "MAGIC" ASHLEY
Oct. 27, 2012
PRINCESS ANNE, Md. - Richard Ashley was 13 years old on the day he was forced to become a man.
On that day in 1992, Ashley was with his mother and little sister when his life would change forever. He recalls seeing a group of security guards approach his mother as a police officer stood nearby. The family saw the entire situation unfold and just as quickly as Ashley's mother could muster out the words, "I'm going away", she was gone.
Her destination was set.
"One situation will change your life," said Ashley. "I remember being dropped off on the curb with my sister after everything went down. I looked ahead and I could see the back of my mother's head in the police car. They took my mom away right there. It was here where I knew I had to grow up, to become a man for my sisters."
His mother would spend the next 13 years of her life locked behind bars in the state penitentiary. What she would leave behind was a group of children without fathers and now, without a home.
Ashley never knew his father and had few relatives that he was close to. The life he had been living included neglect, violence and death. He may only have been in the fifth-grade, but it was time to become a man.
First, he walked to a payphone and called his grandfather to come get them. His grandfather, Richard "Big Rich" Ashley, came to the rescue that night and as time would tell, for their lives. He worked the 5 a.m. - 5 p. m. shift every day at General Motors to support the family. "Magic" stayed at home to help his younger siblings.
"I had no other choice but to take care of them," said Ashley. "I never knew my father and neither did they. I had to make the choice of sacrificing much of my youth to be there for them. Helping them with their homework, making sure food was on the table, I had to do it all. Helping to raise them is my biggest achievement."
The teenage years for Ashley were a time where he dealt with confusion, anger and loneliness. His early experiences robbed him of his childhood and he had a hard time handling the curveball that life had thrown at him. He went to fighting to channel some of his anger, which resulted in several bouts of suspension.
The period, which he describes as the roughest patch of his life, was a direct result of the pressure he bared as a child.
"I found it so easy to do wrong," said Ashley. "It was challenging to be good. I was dealing with many issues concerning my anger and not having anyone to talk to. My grandfather was always there for me. My sisters really helped me get by as well. I started to understand life at 16."
He graduated from high school a short time later and would eventually enroll at Wilmington University in 2003. Ashley lasted just one year at Wilmington as he decided to pursue regular employment instead. He worked at Children and Family First every Wednesday night to help kids with school, as well as the Police Athletic League and several after school programs.
Fast forward one year and Ashley is enrolled at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
"My sister was going to school here and I came down here to see her," said Ashley. "I remember driving up to the campus for the first time. I looked around and thought this is where I want to be. It all felt right. I applied a short time later and was accepted."
After being an integral part of the pep rallies and serving as the basketball team manager, Ashley went on to graduate in 2008. He returned back to Wilmington to coach at his alma mater William Penn High School, where he was successful in coaching the men's basketball team to a state championship on his birthday. The title was the second for magic, first in coaching, and it helped motivate him in a return to UMES.
As an undergraduate, he had a talk with head women's basketball coach, Fred Batchelor that was a major factor in his decision to come back. Batchelor loved his school spirit and asked him to be a traveling Hawk. Ashley brought so much noise that Batchelor knew his presence alone could positively influence the team. Ashley was so valuable that Batchelor eventually asked him to be the Graduate Assistant Coach.
"I liked his enthusiasm and passion for the game," said Batchelor. "I was impressed with his grass roots level of knowledge of the game. He had a high basketball IQ and a great work ethic. When the opportunity opened for him to be an assistant coach, he stepped right in and made a great fit."
His success as an assistant coach speaks for itself. In his three years, Ashley has led the Hawks to a 16-8 MEAC record at home and three consecutive 8-8 finishes in conference. He has coached UMES' all-time leading shot blocker, Adobi Agbasi, as well as the last 1,000 point scorer for the women in Casey Morton.
Basketball success runs in his family as he has three cousins with professional basketball experience. His cousin, Devin Smith, is a two-time All-Euro player in Israel. Smith continues to be a major impact in his life as he has taught him a lot about the game. Also, his cousins Charles and Steve have played professionally in England and France. The four still stay in contact to this day.
"Magic" is on track to graduate with a Masters of Education degree in Guidance Counseling this spring. His graduation means more than just a degree as it is his ticket to change the world one step at a time.
"I never had guidance growing up," said Ashley. "I didn't have anyone speak to me in high school. I am out to change the lives for others. I know coaching won't last forever, I just want to continue to make an impact in the lives of kids."
He attributes his ability to overcome to his grandfather. It is his grandfather's presence that allowed him to see the light. Ashley is set on using his experiences to make the world a better place.
"I don't want anyone to experience what I did," said Ashley. "I saw every avenue of evil. But through it all, I don't want people to have excuses for me. When I say you don't have to be a statistic, I mean it. 80 percent of people with incarcerated parents are 80 percent more likely to go to jail. I'm not a part of that statistic and my way of translation is that one situation will change your life."
It may be two decades since he lost his mother to incarceration, but a time frame that "Magic" will never forget. It was the day where he became a man; a time where he was forced to grow up.
"I thank my mother every day for the situation that I was in," said Ashley. "Because if it wasn't for that situation I wouldn't be the man that I am today."
Although he can never get back the 13 years of time that he spent away from his mother, he can reflect on a time where he positively changed the lives of so many.
Throughout it all, he believed in himself to overcome the battle.
The only question that remains is whether we actually believe in magic.
And yes, we believe in you too.
Ashley would like to thank several individuals for helping him get to where he is today. That list includes: Josie Sheridan, Michael Sheppard, Vickki Williams, his grandfather, his mother, the PAL staff and the entire William Penn education staff.
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