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Biography by Margo Reed

7- Foot Man: William Young


Small Georgian Boy William Young’s faith in God was reinstalled in him as he sat alongside murderers in prison. At 50-years-old, this would be the last time he set foot in the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill.

Basketball was a part of their upbringing, a past time for these North Philadelphia teens.

Seven-year-old William was enthralled by the city. Instead of running barefoot in the dark as he could in his Georgian hometown, he made friends with kids in his neighborhood and started playing basketball. Young became comfortable and established in Philadelphia after his mother died and he moved in with Aunt Margaret and Uncle Artis Mitchell at the intersection of nineteenth and Poplar streets in 1969.

Young was a talented player. He played on teams throughout Europe, but returned to the United States after a leg injury and later got involved with drugs.

According to criminal records and mugshots, Young was in and out of prison and on probation for drug possession, delivery, and petty theft. Young, who now towers at nearly seven feet tall, accompanied his friends on the basketball court when they were playing hookie instead of going to school. 2 Seven-Foot Man

“We used to hookie school and then go back to the playground to shoot around,” Young said.

“I was hanging with the wrong crowd,” Young said. “It was weed, it all started with weed.” While in prison, Young regained his faith. He believes his experiences were God’s way of punching him down so he could be brought up. “Our problems are not designed to take us out,” Young says. “They are designed to catapult us closer to God.”


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April 23, 2017 | Young’s residence

Young tears up as he pulls out old photographs of his family. The photos were framed and kept in a box, which was a Christmas gift from his sister. Young’s family was split apart when he was seven years old, and he has many half-siblings in Georgia where his father stayed after William moved to Philadelphia. Young said he used to frequent Georgia to see his father.

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April 23, 2017 | Young’s residence

Young lives on the third floor of a house in North Philadelphia with a small kitchen, one bedroom with a large window, one bathroom and a living room. His TV sits on the floor next to his couch and a radio buzzes quiet tunes on the floor beside his bed. The bedroom is lit by a small, purple lamp.

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April 23, 2017 | Young’s residence

After returning from work his friend, Ms. Sandy Anderson, calls Young to talk about his day. Young refers to her as “funny bunny”.

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April 23, 2017 | Young’s residence

He pulls out a book he wrote in prison, which he entitled My Spiritual Journey in Prison, and reads some of his book to her on the phone. It is a stack of nearly two-hundred pages hand written and unbound. Anderson and Young exchange “I love yous” before she hangs up the phone for the night. The book is similar to a journal, and written on “sick call requests”, which was the only paper he could come by at Camp Hill. Young spent time in solitary confinement, which is where he feels he became closest to God.

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Grounded in God Worshippers at Ford Memorial Temple in Hunting Park meet on Sunday mornings. At the back of the room, Young greets people as they walk in and out of the 3.5hour service. He hugs deacon, Theresa Morris, and high-fives another little friend. Messages of hope and faith enliven spirits, which bring everyone together in dance and song. Echoing through the service are voices of praise.

“I thank God for having a father like that,” Young said. Young stopped worshipping for some time during his teenage years, and he lost touch with his spirituality. Today, he works hard to avoid drinking and drugs, and he considers his relationship with God in all of his decisions. He has been clean for four years. “I look at things now as more spiritual than I do as physical,” Young said.

“I know what the Lord has done for me, Hallelujah and I know what he Young says he has a relationship with God instead of a religion with will do for you too.” God. “Thank you, God, Hallelujah.” “It helps you look at life totally different. Instead of looking at it Young grew up in a faithful family. in the negative, look at it in the Uncle Artis, who he refers to as a spiritual.” step-father, practiced his faith at home, and encouraged the kids to join. 12 Seven-Foot


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Ford Memorial Temple | Sunday April 9, 2017

William Young high-fives a small boy who ran, danced, and smiled throughout the service.

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Ford Memorial Temple | Sunday April 9, 2017

Tysheen Choice and Patricia Gaffney dance through the Temple during worship. Choice is a recovering addict who recently purchased his first home, which the bishop said is part of God’s plan for him.

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Ford Memorial Temple | Sunday April 9, 2017

Jean Elliot raises her hands during worship. Elliot and other church attendees were brought nearly to tears during the Palm Sunday service. Many people chanted in hopes of earning a higher income or becoming healthy. During the service, a new member joined the church carrying a cane and left the church dancing without it.

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Ford Memorial Temple | Sunday April 9, 2017

Young worships from the back of the church throughout the service so he can welcome members and guests to the Temple.

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Laboring Soul “I was always taught that a man didn’t work he didn’t eat,” Young said. He lives by that motto even after incarceration.

Center, where he goes for three days in a row and earns extra pay for working on the weekend. He cannot predict when he will get called again.

Young depends on union work and small, side jobs to sustain Young is part of the Laborers an income. He said a friend International Union, Local 332. At offered him a job in Abington as a 5:30 each morning, he commutes landscaper, but the inconsistent to the union hall to wait for work. He waits for his number, 150, to be union and side jobs have better called between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. pay. As an ex-convict, construction is a common career path. The calls come in a rotation. After Today, a majority of Young’s high receiving two weeks of steady school friends have died, but as work, William said his number would no longer be on the rotation. he walks toward the union hall he greets those who are part of the He hopes one of the companies daily grind- those he greets on contracting the laborers will hire their way to work as well. him for full-time work. Often, he waits for hours with no call. On April 21 he starts working at the Philadelphia Convention

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“Have a blessed day,” Young says.


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April 19, 2017 | Allegheny Station, Broad Street Line

Young ducks as he walks into the 5:30 a.m. subway train. The train is full of people dressed in work clothes, and Young carries his workboots in case he picks up a job for the day.

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April 19, 2017 | Fairmount Ave.

The moon glows behind flickering street lights when Young gets off the subway. On the walk to the union hall, Young talks with a woman he sees regularly on his way to work. He asks her if everything has been okay since her ‘incident’. She showed him her mace, and she said her husband walks her to the subway every morning since.

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April 19, 2017 | Local 332 Union Hall, Wallace Street

Young walks to the window where he announces his arrival in hopes of picking up a job that morning. He is number 150 and is part of the “top fifteen�, who are the group of 15 people in the rotation who are now being called for work. This is the same group who comes to the hall between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. today.

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April 3 | North Philadelphia Home

Young supplements work from the union with small side jobs. Here, he moves a banister in a North Philadelphia home after working a full day setting up for the NFL draft at the Art Museum, a job that he got through the union.

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Seven Foot Man “Welcome to my humble abode,” William says when walking into his home. He takes pride in his life both at home and at work, and is happy to share it with others. After incarceration, Young lived at a Community Educational Center at 1917 W. Oxford street. He was back at home in North Philadelphia. While residing in the halfway house, Young looked for work every day and met with Regina Dawley who was the social service coordinator for Sharswood Townhouses Resident Action Council (STRAC). Dawley and other members of STRAC, including Nadine Blackwell, inspired Young to work, get a home, and start his first summer basketball camp for families who are affected by school closings and poverty in North Philadelphia. In 2015, Young hosted the first annual William Young Vocational

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Development Camp, with the help of Dawley, Blackwell, and other community members. Today, Young is working to host his third annual camp, which aims to inspire youth to learn a trade, just as he did after prison. “It’s people helping people,” Young said. He wants to give children a chance to become something great as he was given a chance by the people in STRAC. “We all need somebody.” Young is proud to tell his story, and he aims to share is words with others in his community- the same community where he got into trouble in the past. “I’m a go-getter.” Young said. “God’s got something else he’s doing for me, in me.”


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April 3, 2017 | North Philadelphia Home

Young’s camp was inspired by his experience playing basketball in North Philadelphia and later becoming a construction worker. He aims to put an emphasis on vocational skills that can help people get work in the future.

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April 3, 2017 | North Philadelphia Home

Young looks for funding. He received water and food from Wawa in previous years. The camp has been a one-day event in the past, and this year Young plans to welcome families for four days, August 14-18, 2017.

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Photographer’s Note William was excited to speak since the first time I called him. He is a person who is enthusiastic in sharing his experiences with anyone who is willing to listen. William is a notable community member and inspiration to me, a college student living just blocks away from his childhood home. As a female photojournalist I experience things others may not always encounter. Working with William may have been one of those experiences, and I am humbled to share what I know of his story. It is too often people are silenced through society, and I am thankful to have the means to give voices to those who inspire me. Thank you to Nadine Blackwell for inspiring me to be involved in the North Philadelphia community, Sarah Fry for guiding me through documentary photography, and William Young for endless patience and excitement. The video component of this project can be found at: https://youtu.be/6TIi6UzEMDI 34 Seven-Foot


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Profile for Margo Reed

Seven-Foot Man: A Biography of William Young  

Following a successful basketball career, William Young was plagued by drug addiction and incarceration. Now, almost four years clean, Young...

Seven-Foot Man: A Biography of William Young  

Following a successful basketball career, William Young was plagued by drug addiction and incarceration. Now, almost four years clean, Young...

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