“I was furious,” Joshua said. “I just didn’t get it. I wanted to understand everything, and for me, just not being able to understand why we were living like that, it drove me crazy.”
He formed a deep bond with Patrick Gaither, his basketball coach on a team called Clutch Performance, and Gaither’s wife Sonja Strickland-Gaither. He now calls them his godparents, and he grew to trust them, even though he would walk to meet Patrick for rides to practice, lest Patrick ask to see inside his home.
It was through all of it that Joshua Morgan, child of the District, put himself in position to help the District as an adult.
“It’s not about you,” Strickland-Gaither would tell him, she said. “Sometimes we get selfish, and we want to do things, but it’s really not about you. It’s about how can you make somebody else’s life better.”
A privilege to give back
In the NFL, Sundays conclude a weeklong crescendo, the physical violence and emotional drain of a game crashing to an end. Mondays are about recovery, about reviewing what happened and correcting mistakes. Tuesdays are for rest, the one day players have off. They are sacred. And each Tuesday during the 2012 season, Morgan filled with some sort of charitable appearance.
“I don’t think the ink was dry on his contract before he was asking around, trying to find me, trying to find community relations,” said Jordana Taylor, who worked for seven years as the Redskins’ director of community and charitable programs. “He made it clear that he thought it was his responsibility — a privilege and a responsibility — to give back to the community.”
The Redskins signed him to a two-year, $11.5 million contract not because he would give back, but because he could provide depth to a thin receiving corps. A sixth-round pick out of Virginia Tech in 2008, he caught 131 passes in 49 games for the 49ers over his first four seasons in the NFL.
But on the second Tuesday of the 2012 season, Morgan was already coming off what threatened to be his defining moment as a Redskin. In the waning minutes in St. Louis, Morgan was tackled by Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who then shoved him. Morgan sprang up and hurled the ball at Finnegan, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that moved the Redskins out of reasonable field goal range. Morgan grew up in D.C., but had no reputation here among the majority of Redskins fans. Some fans turned on him.
Morgan caught 48 passes for the Redskins last year. He may have made as many charitable appearances. In April alone, a time when most players are scattered across the country taking time to themselves, Morgan served as the grand marshal of the National Cherry Blossom Parade, helped lead 800 kids in an exercise program sponsored by the United Way, spoke to students about eating right and leading a healthy life at a clinic designed to combat childhood obesity, presented his college coach with an award for providing books to children.
He is, by nature, soft-spoken, but he preached passionately at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on the National Mall, in part because Strickland-Gaither, unbeknownst to even close friends, had breast cancer diagnosed in the fall of 2009.
“When I talk to people here,” he said, “I talk to people I know had the same experience I did.”
The city, too, is taking notice. On June 4, the D.C. Council unanimously approved agenda item No. 9: “Joshua L. Morgan Recognition Resolution.” On June 18, he will be presented a proclamation by the government.
Back at that little triangle of a park, Morgan thought about his message.
“I tell kids to this day: Stay out of trouble. Do everything your coaches and your teachers tell you to do. Get good grades,” he said. “And just work hard at whatever you decide to be in life. Just constantly work hard. That’s all you need.”
But Morgan will tell you: You need a family, you need friends. You need role models, you need a neighborhood. You need a city that, in some way, loves you so you can one day love it back.