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Others said Rider is simply a product of his environment. Drugs are common in Parrot Village; without mentorship and guidance, Rider was doomed from the outset. "That's who he was, those are his friends; you can't just drop it and separate yourself from it," said Vicki Smith, a former leader of the Alameda County chapter of the NAACP, who grew up in the Estuary Projects decades before it became Parrot Village. "When you are the biggest thing and they give you everything you want, what do you expect, coming from where he came from?"
Kumea Shorter-Gooden, director of International-Multicultural Initiatives at the California School of Professional Psychology, a leader in the field of multicultural identity development, said it's common for African-American men to assume cool, stoic, hyper-masculine personas to establish self-importance after perceiving racism in predominantly white societies.
It's difficult to assess Rider's experiences with racism, but he made comments throughout his career that suggest he may have encountered it. In Portland, for example, he told a reporter, "We can go forty miles down the road; they're probably still hanging people from trees." After a game in Dallas, he accused a fan of making a racial slur: "Make sure you get this down," he told the Dallas Morning News. "He called me a boy. You don't call a black person a boy. Fans can taunt and talk all they want. That's part of the game. But I'm not your boy. Those days are over. You don't call me a boy."
According to Shorter-Gooden, black teenagers often develop oppositional identities as they gain an awareness of the historic exclusion of African Americans in white societies. Oppositional identity development is the process of absorbing the cultural stereotypes of what it means to be "black" — talking "ghetto," dressing "thug" — as a shield against feelings of racial inferiority imposed by the dominant culture. Friends often serve as enforcers; nobody wants to be accused of being "white-washed."
If this model were true for Rider, it could explain his attraction to East Oakland. Growing up, he was caught in a tug-of-war between two worlds: "The Alameda Family" and Parrot Village. Any racism he perceived would have only strengthened his bond to Parrot Village, setting up a life-long confrontation with the larger world he was being absorbed into as a star athlete.
"Academic success equals being white," Shorter-Gooden said. "Being black is hanging out in the 'hood and using drugs with gang-bangers. Our society promotes that message. I can't comment on Rider specifically. But it sounds like he was caving in for a long time, but he was propped up because he was an athletic genius."
Still, other black athletes from Alameda have thrived in professional sports. Dontrelle Willis, the affable former major league pitcher, became a poster child for African Americans in baseball's big leagues upon his arrival in 2003. Willis' toothy smile, playful demeanor, and infectious love for the game made him an instant fan favorite and a role model.
Like Rider, Willis was raised by a single mother in Alameda. But they lived in a small house on the west-end of the island — not Parrot Village. Willis was also a gifted athlete, but unlike Rider, playing pro sports was never a given.
"My goal was to get him through high school, send him to college, and get him a job," said Joyce Guy, Willis' mother. "I never dreamt that he could play pro sports. That was just unrealistic to me. People get so caught up in the grandeur that they often forget to prepare their kids for if that dream doesn't come true."
Guy said her son experienced overt racism as a little leaguer. In the upper-middle-class towns the Alameda boys traveled to, opposing parents told Willis that he looked like a "little monkey" and called him the "N-word."
"You have to think of where they play," she said. "When Dontrelle was playing, they were going to Marin, Corte Madera. They didn't go to Oakland, because Alameda wasn't going to Oakland. Too many of those people were over there."
Guy said it was important to teach her son about racism in a way that kept him from being swallowed by it. "It's hard to tell your kid, 'Don't hear it. Just do what you do,'" she said. "You have to make them aware of it so they have enough confidence not to make bad decisions because of it, so they don't lose their self-esteem."
Sunlight splintered across the pews at the Alameda Church of Christ on October 18, 2008. Michelle Rider stood at the pulpit, elegant and beautiful, sharing tearful memories of her and J.R.'s mother, Donna Rossum-Rider, who had died four days earlier. In the front row, Michelle's child sat quietly next to their uncle, David Rider, who was slumped with his head hung low, the brim of his backwards San Francisco Giants baseball cap pointing upward. His sobs echoed through the church. J.R. Rider and his younger brother Lamont were absent.
Glassy tears filled Michelle Rider's eyes, but she spoke of her mother with a luminous smile: "Mom died for the first time three years ago when she slipped into a coma," she said. "In a way, this is bittersweet because now she is whole."
At some point in the eulogy, the church door swung open. Heads turned as a tall, beautiful woman in a short, black dress walked in. Holding her hand was a young man no more than four feet tall — Isaiah Rider III. He wore a checkered shirt, a blue tie, and a little black sports coat. He skipped to the front and filled the empty space in the first pew next to his cousins.
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