Approximately one mile west of Temple University’s main campus hangs a sign designating that portion of Diamond Street “Dawn Staley Lane.” It sits at the corner of 25th and Diamond, where Staley grew up, and across the street from the Hank Gathers Recreation Center, where she learned to play basketball and now supports an after school program through the Dawn Staley Foundation. But Dawn Staley isn’t just from North Philadelphia: she is North Philadelphia – the personification of its resilience, perseverance, and enduring strength.
On April 11th, Staley came home to North Philadelphia to accept the Love for the City award, given by Temple Law’s Sports Law program to honor an individual or organization whose contributions transcend sports. Program Director Ken Jacobsen, while noting that as a Temple program, “we’re happy to be honoring one of our own,” made clear that “this is a Philly award – given for contributions to the City of Philadelphia.”
As participants and attendees arrived for the luncheon and award ceremony, Staley demonstrated the natural genius for mentorship and giving back that led to her selection in the first place. Professor Jacobsen, who had just met Baldwin School elementary student Abbey Sheridan – in attendance to learn more about her hero for a school report – brought Staley over to make introductions. For the next several minutes, everyone in the room was rapt while Staley focused exclusively on Abbey, answering her questions and offering encouragement. For Staley, it was, from all appearances, simply the right thing to do.
Recently retired Temple men’s basketball coach Fran Dunphy, who worked with Staley from 2006-2008, noted that it was simply who she was. After recounting her legendary accomplishments as a player and a coach, Dunphy said, “What strikes me is this. In the many things she’s done, she’s always trying to help others. In the ’04 Olympics, she was selected to carry the American flag – people thought so much of her that they said, ‘you are It.’ She’s Philly’s own. She’s a pretty cool lady who’s done what she’s done for Philly and her community, and continues to do so.”
Larry Lane, a 1967 graduate of Staley’s high school alma mater, Murrell Dobbins Tech, agreed, remarking: “she’s such a big person. What she’s given back, and the pride she brings to North Philly – she’s never forgotten who she is or where she comes from.” Ray Dombrowski LAW ’79, who presented Staley with the Love for the City award, noted that Staley – whose cell phone screensaver allegedly says “Made in North Philly” – “takes the heart of the city with her wherever she goes.”
Staley, in accepting the award (and confirming the message on her screensaver) said, “Philly has made me – I let everyone know I’m from Philly.” She said that her mother Estelle, who passed away in 2017, “has been my strength – that which has allowed me to persevere, to have the underdog title, the odds-beater title. We grew up ‘impoverished.’ But anyone can be impoverished – financially, spiritually, environmentally. She taught us all strength.”
Staley then turned to Abbey Sheridan, the young student. “Abbey, you asked excellent questions. But here’s what I want you to know. Find your strength in life. When things don’t go your way, turn to that. It will help you overcome.”
She then concluded, thanking Temple Law School for the award and remarking, “I’m extremely happy that we can continue to do what we do. I’ll display this in my office in South Carolina so that everyone will continue to know – I’m from North Philly.”
About the Love for the City Award
The “Love for the City Award” is presented annually by the Temple Law Sports Law program to an individual or organization whose contributions transcend sports. Emulating the values of the City of Brotherly Love by using sport to make a positive impact on society, the recipient possesses strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of uncertainty, and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost. Their actions speak as loud as their words. Last year’s recipient was Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles.