The notes began arriving, one after another, last Wednesday morning before most rational people have even gotten out of bed. Each had the same question and theme: How can we help?
There was a column in this space that day about a proud, dignified woman named Shirley Simmons who raised a good son in the middle of Roxbury back in the 1970s when the wrong choices beckoned around every turn. The boy, Darryl Williams, was a solid student, a graceful athlete, an expert artist, and an accomplished musician, all of which came to an end on a football field in Charlestown on a Friday afternoon in 1979.
Williams was a receiver for Jamaica Plain High, and during halftime of a game against Charlestown, a shot rang out from the rooftop of a nearby project. A bullet hit Williams in the neck. He collapsed to the grass, never to walk or use his arms again, a paraplegic until his death two years ago this week.
Boston, already smoldering over court-ordered busing, was ready to combust anew, until Shirley Simmons went to the pulpit of her Roxbury church that Sunday morning and pleaded for prayer over protest. Darryl would soon remind people that it wasn’t all white people who shot him, just three white teenagers, two of whom were convicted in the case.
The city stayed calm. The world moved on. But Darryl was left to cope with his new reality, and Shirley to care for her only son.
The rub to last week’s column was that Shirley Simmons’ mortgage bank was sending her letters, and they weren’t thank you notes for her amazing grace. They were foreclosure threats. Those decades took a financial toll, Shirley was three months behind, and she was about to get thrust from the Milton house where she lived for the last 30 years.
So back to last Wednesday morning. A reader named John wrote, “I grew up in Charlestown. I would like to help.’’ Minutes later, a guy named Herb asked, “How much does she need?’’ Dana asked: “How can I help?’’ Anne said, “It’s our job, as ordinary citizens, to honor and take care of the Shirley Simmons around us.’’ On it went, nonstop e-mail, from financiers, the elderly, lawyers, and local church leaders.
By Wednesday afternoon, four civic-minded Bostonians pledged $32,000, far more than the $6,600 that Shirley was behind. I asked Richard Lapchick, the former Northeastern University academic and a friend of Darryl Williams, to oversee the response. He’s now the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, and he revived a long-dormant account on Darryl’s behalf. I listed the address on Bostonglobe.com, and gave it out to any readers that asked.
By Friday, StonehamBank agreed to delay foreclosure proceedings. Shirley Simmons called, overwhelmed by events, repeating over and again, “I can’t believe it.’’
On Monday, Lapchick checked the mail for the Darryl Williams fund for the first time. “Are you sitting down?’’ he asked me on the phone. “There’s over $30,000 in checks.’’ Normally reserved, he nearly shouted with joy. That guy, Herb - he sent ten grand. Another $5,000 arrived the next day, for a running total of $60,000. The total balance on the mortgage is about $245,000.
The effort continues. John Schall, the owner of Fire + Ice, the Harvard Square restaurant, is planning a fundraiser for June 6 (617-547-9007). Senator John Kerry’s staff is trying to move the loan to a bank with better terms. Two other businessmen are seeking the same thing.
StonehamBank has been paid what it’s owed. The rest of the money will be kept in an account dedicated to future mortgage payments. At least for the near term, Shirley Simmons will stay in her Milton house. Globe readers wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Darryl Williams Fund
The National Consortium for Academics and Sport
University of Central Florida, College of Business Administration
4000 Central Florida Blvd.
Orlando, FL 32816
Please make checks payable to The National Consortium for Academics and Sport, and write The Darryl Williams Fund in the memo space. Shirley will get 100 percent of any donation in a fund that will be used exclusively for her mortgage.