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Inside the modesty that guides Elijah Hughes on and off the court

first_img Published on March 23, 2020 at 7:32 pm Contact Michael: mmcclear@syr.edu | @MikeJMcCleary Facebook Twitter Google+ He asked a lot of questions that day, so Elijah Hughes sat among his family and just giggled along. Hughes was home in Beacon, New York for Thanksgiving, which meant one thing: It’s family game night, and Hughes is the one who has to plan it. To make the contest work, he needs to talk to a lot of people. He asks around a few days in advance by text. The day of, Hughes maneuvers through the house, gathering last-minute intel from quick conversations and observing quirks among family members. He jots them down on a piece of paper and loads his findings into Kahoot!, an internet trivia game he first played while preparing for a test at Kennedy Catholic (New York) High School. His family members enter codes on their phones and play along as questions pop up on the TV in the main room. Hughes stays quiet and snickers as they stammer through, as questions like “What does Mommy do when she washes the dishes?” (Rub her feet together), “Where was Daddy’s first job?” (Jack in the Box) and “What color is Mommy and Daddy’s bathroom wall painted?” (Blue; not even his parents got that one) pop up in multiple-choice form.“Just little family things that we all should know,” Hughes said. “You get kind of exposed when you’re together, (everyone) knowing that you don’t know your own mother’s birthday.”Hughes created hundreds of questions for the game, but hardly any about himself. In fact, there’s a house rule: No talking about basketball. The Syracuse star is the school’s most intriguing draft prospect in years. He was SU’s first Atlantic Coast Conference first team selection in five years and the conference’s leading scorer with 19.0 points per game. He provided highlights for a team desperate for them. He took on his first leading role since high school with a nonchalant acceptance and thrived.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textHughes can be quiet, but he’s certainly not shy. He can hold a conversation with anyone and charms with his dry sense of humor. Yet when the discussion points to him, he shuts down. But sometimes his name comes up anyway.“Well, you know, you should see what Elijah did —” Hughes’ father, Wayne, remembered he said to his family on Thanksgiving. “Dad, Dad. Let’s not talk about that,” Hughes interrupted.“Alright son,” Wayne said, chuckling. “You got it.”Conversations rarely get much further. Not at the dinner table when company leaves, either. And nights like these, he asks the questions. It’s game night, and Hughes has more important things to talk about.• • •Rob Balch expected that if he told his class one of his “corny” jokes, there would be some blank stares. But the 10th-grade English teacher at Beacon (New York) High School could always count on a chuckle from the big kid in the corner.At that point, Hughes didn’t draw much attention. He was just marginally taller than his classmates and quiet as ever. The idea that he could sit in the front of any classroom could make anyone who knew him only after his growth spurt chuckle, yet the thought of having a potential NBA Draft pick in the room wasn’t even considered. In fact, it was Hughes’ humorous sarcasm that Balch noticed first. Other than that, he blended in. When Hughes was younger, organization and time management required extra attention from his teachers. He’d miss homework and shun extra help sessions. But he was a kid. He loved basketball, and sometimes did that instead of keeping up with his schoolwork.In seventh grade, Hughes and his mother, Penny, sat in a meeting with his middle school principal, Brian Archer, who informed Hughes his grades had dropped too low to participate in middle school sports.“Alright,” Penny said. “Then he doesn’t play.”Penny was firm. Hughes had to learn to care. The message in his household had been clear: If you’re going to do something (anything at all), you better be prepared. With the help of his teachers, Hughes stayed on top of his planner. Yet when Hughes arrived in Balch’s English class, Balch noticed restraint when Hughes entered conversations, tabling every answer with uncertainty. But then the class opened a new book titled “Monster” by Walter Dean Myers.The fiction novel follows 16-year-old Steve Harmon, a Black teenager wrongly accused of murder. It is written in diary format, and Balch made his class submit diaries of their own. Harmon was the same age as Hughes. Balch noticed Hughes became more unapologetic about his responses and opinions. He quickly became Balch’s “sidekick.” Balch poked fun at Hughes for being tall. Hughes poked back at Balch for being short, and bald. “He’s just an idiot. That’s my guy, though,” Hughes said, laughing. Hughes came in for extra help, too.In Rob Balch’s 10th grade English class, Hughes’ dry humor stood out. Photo courtesy of Rob BalchHe unearthed a confidence that was always present, yet rarely showed in the classroom. Years later, he speaks in moments that he knows he can add insight. When #NotAgainSU’s movement began on Syracuse’s campus in response to hate crimes and bias-related incidents in the Syracuse community, Hughes expressed quiet support at first — he wore the hashtag on his shoes and accompanied Jim Boeheim on his first visit to the Barnes Center at The Arch sit-in — and was the first SU basketball player to show solidarity on Twitter.The way he carries himself on the court isn’t much different than the way he does off it, family members said. He talks little and makes his words count. His expressions remain reserved no matter the game situation. After a three-quarter court shot against Duke last year, he barely reacted. Hughes ran into Balch when he returned to Beacon Middle School in May 2019. He was working out in the small gymnasium before giving a speech to a group of children about, well, school. How he could have given more effort. How they should. But he talked to Balch about one of his toughest tasks yet: Trying to box out former college basketball phenom Zion Williamson“He’s my height but he has 60 pounds on me,” Balch remembered Hughes joked.Balch laughed. He was proud. Many at Beacon were. Balch recollected some of the moments he’d observed from Hughes’ career, at Syracuse and beyond. He told Hughes that everyone at Beacon has been watching and rooting for him.“Really?” Hughes asked.• • •It had become clear that he had lost the argument, so Hughes pulled his hood above his grown-out hair, leaned forward in his chair and draped his hands over his face. It was March 7, before the start of the second half against Miami. Hughes bumped his head against Bourama Sidibe’s knee in the first half. As he headed toward the locker room at the end of the period, he softly rubbed the skin above his cranium. He was lightheaded and blurry, but ready to play.“I’m good. I’m good to go. I’m fine,” he pleaded.As his teammates warmed, team physician Brad Pike refrained eye contact as Hughes ranted beside him. “I was mad at Brad,” Hughes said. “I was mad,” he repeated with more emphasis. But he wouldn’t return. Pike couldn’t risk it. So, Hughes became unrecognizable as his head faded into an oval-shaped silhouette on Syracuse’s bench.On the court, Hughes complements offensive prowess with a calm, reserved approach.  Corey Henry | Photo EditorIn different circumstances, Hughes would cherish the anonymity. After South Kent (Connecticut) High School’s first conditioning session, which perhaps intentionally fell on the same day as pizza and wings in the school’s dining hall, Loren Brill sat with Hughes out of breath and in a sarcastic mood of reflection.“Man, do we even like basketball?” Brill asked. Hughes looked up, turned to Brill, and they both cracked up. “Yeah,” Hughes said. “I love it.” The response rolled off Hughes easily, and seriously. Brill, another teammate, Aziz Essa, and practically everyone Hughes came into contact with saw how simply the game came to him, how it hardly seemed like he was even trying. He made friends in a similar way. He has an adaptable personality and even bonded with some by offering candy and snacks from a square-shaped laundry basket that somehow is always full.But for much of his time in the public light, Hughes has embodied the caricature of a basketball cliche, sticking to the same talking points: Staying focused, propping up teammates, loving the game. His voice reaches incredibly low volumes after Syracuse losses. The depth of his lows never went too far, and his highs weren’t much higher. In his best games, he maintained a steady stoicism that gave that same illusion of effortlessness seen in previous stops. “When I’m on the court, I’m in my comfort place,” Hughes said. “It’s not really that deep, I guess.”The chatter, the attention and the expectations never mattered to him. So, he never discussed them. Not in the locker room, not at family game night. Nowhere. After years of watching him shut down in the backseat of her car, it was the bad games, like the one against Miami and the rest of Syracuse’s 14 losses, where Penny would look at Hughes from the stands. He’d shake his head back, and that’s all she needed to know. Hughes could recover from these lows on his own now. And Penny would know to talk about something else at dinner. Commentslast_img read more

Palmar Sur squatters say theyre ready to die for the land

first_imgRelated posts:Public Security minister says he’ll resign if not given more funds for policing Police evict squatters from U.S. investor’s property in Esterillos Oeste Panama and ‘Panama Papers’ law firm under the media’s lenses Eduardo Li wins lawsuit against insurance company over defense costs in FIFA corruption case PALMAR SUR, Puntarenas — Past the kicked-up dust that spirals over these rock-laced roads and beyond the banana leaves that wave under the wind, the faint echoes of voices and cheers spill from an old packing house.The sign over the open gate that leads to the gutted-out tin shelter reads in Spanish: “Chánguena and Térraba banana plantation. Private Property.”More than 50 squatters from Chánguena and other neighboring plantations in Palmar Sur met at the packing house on Friday, the day they were supposed to be evicted from the parcels where landowner Oscar Echeverría says they’re trespassing — some of them for 14 years.The campesino squatters have managed to stave off evictions for more than a decade, but recently the government’s attempts to kick people off the plantation have gotten more serious.After an initial, largely unsuccessful eviction in July of last year, a second eviction was scheduled to take place last Friday. But it was suspended a few days prior by the Constitutional Chamber of Costa Rica’s Supreme Court, known as Sala IV, so that judges could evaluate several requests for an injunction.Then, on Tuesday, Sala IV ruled against one of the injunctions, removing one of several hurdles blocking another eviction.It’s just the latest chapter in a long and complicated land dispute which has various branches of the government at odds and fumbling in the search for a solution. Besides the government’s problem-solving reputation, at stake are the lives of dozens of families, the land rights of a prominent businessman and a piece of earth whose value could swell if tourism takes off in the region.Banana RepublicThough escalating tensions have brought the Palmar Sur land conflict into the media recently, the dispute actually dates back to the 1980s. Large banana plantations, including some owned by the United Fruit Company, sprung up in Costa Rica’s southern Pacific region starting in the late 1930s.These plantations traditionally provided housing for workers onsite. When workers staged a major strike in 1984, many banana companies abandoned the region, leaving workers without jobs or a place to live.In the fallout, several cooperatives formed to continue farming the area, including COOPALCA, which owns the Chánguena farm. COOPALCA farmed bananas and cocoa in the area but was largely unprofitable. In 1991, the cooperative leased the Chánguena property to businessman Oscar Echeverría Heigold for 20 years.Echeverría — who owns Motores Brítanicos, the exclusive distributor of Land Rovers in Costa Rica — started two banana companies on the land. Workers and their families lived in homes on the property in an area known as “Cuadrante 3.”The venture was a bust, however, and in 2001 the companies went the way of other banana plantations in the area and closed.According to campesino organizer Daniel Villalobos, workers were fired and received no pay for their last month and a half (three quincenas, or pay periods) on the job. In protest, the workers continued to occupy the homes in Cuadrante 3 and eventually started their own cooperative, COOTRAOSA.Villalobos, who is a member of COOTRAOSA, said many families who had worked the banana fields had nowhere to go when the work dried up, so they stayed on the land, farming and raising livestock.The former workers eventually recovered their back wages from Echeverría in 2009, Villalobos said. And they stayed on the land, even though Echeverría had filed court papers to expel them years earlier, in 2001, the same year his banana operations closed. Protesters set up tents on the Térraba bridge, Aug. 14, 2015. (Courtesy Sean Davis www.photographercostarica.com)Phantom co-ops; Disputed landFor more than a decade, with the eviction tied up in the courts, the squatters lived and farmed the land while Echeverría grazed cattle on it — a relatively peaceful coexistence. José Mora, an instructor with Kioscos Ambientales, a social action arm of the University of Costa Rica, said the campesinos were waiting until Echeverría’s concession ended in 2011 to organize a legal attempt to formalize their claim on the land.But COOPALCA, the legal landowner, has not taken any action to remove Echeverría, leaving the property in a legal limbo where the only people not making a claim on the land are the actual owners of it.“COOPALCA is like a phantom co-op,” Mora said, “They don’t really do anything.”Echeverría’s eviction case against the campesinos was tied up in the courts until 2014, when a San José court ruled in favor of Echeverría and ordered the government to remove the squatters.In recent years, campesinos have erected shacks on the farm, separate from the more formal homes in Cuadrante 3. Mora said it’s unclear whether the new squatters are associated with the residents of Cuadrante 3.The Tico Times spoke with several squatters participating in last week’s protest who said they had come to Chánguena at varying times within the last decade.In the meantime, Mora said campesinos living in the disputed area started to meet regularly to discuss an approach to legalize their right to the land.The evictionOn June 24, 2015, an administrative court sided with Echeverría and ordered the families removed by Aug. 5.According to Presidency Vice Minister Ana Gabriel Zúñiga, the Solís administration asked the Government Attorney’s Office to suspend the eviction and clarify whether Echeverría had a right to request it. But the administration’s request was denied and it ordered the Public Security Ministry to remove the squatters in July.At the time, there were 119 families living on the disputed land, according to a statement from Casa Presidencial.“It’s difficult,” Villalobos, the campesino leader, told The Tico Times last year. “We work in the fields but no one has [deeds to the land]. Without those papers we’re open to eviction at any time.”Villalobos said that the families in Chánguena understood their position was precarious, but in the past they had always been able to appeal any order to evict them, therefore delaying an actual order.This time, however, the eviction date came as a surprise to community organizers, and Villalobos said there was no time to appeal. Instead, police arrived and told squatters they had two hours to leave the Chánguena and Cuadrante 3 properties.When campesinos could not reach an agreement with the police, they blocked the bridge on the Inter-American Highway that spans the Río Grande de Térraba bridge, on July 30.Mora, from the University of Costa Rica, said he was troubled by the fact that families living in the long-standing homes in Cuadrante 3 — not just those who had set up shacks on the farm — had been targeted by the eviction. Homes were damaged and windows broken during the eviction.There have been conflicting reports about who was responsible for this damage. Campesinos blame the National Police who were tasked with the expulsion order, while officials have denied officers were responsible for property damage.Failed talksAfter taking the bridge and setting up camps last July, campesino leaders demanded the government find a lasting solution that would allow the families to stay on the Chánguena property. Villalobos said they want the government to legalize their ownership of the land.Several rounds of negotiations between the Presidency Ministry and the campesinos have started and stalled since the July 30 eviction. The Solís administration offered to resettle 60 of the families on a 6-hectare property owned by the National Housing Mortgage Bank in Palmar, with potable water, wastewater and electricity. Most have refused to leave Chánguena.Campesino protesters and university students took the bridge again on Aug. 14 to pressure the government to give the Chánguena residents title to the land, a move that derailed talks with Presidency Minister Sergio Alfaro.Families began rebuilding and repairing their homes on the property.An airport and an uncertain futureRunning parallel to these land disputes and, some say, influencing them, is a proposal to build a $40 million international airport. The site of the proposed project lies near the the Chánguena property, 5 kilometers from the town of Palmar Sur.The newspaper El Financiero reported in 2013 that the Environment Ministry had received environmental impact studies for the project. Mora, the university instructor, said the project is still making its way through the initial studies, but if it were to move forward, it would transform the rural canton of Osa and drive up land values across the region.Campesino leader Daniel Villalobos said he was wary of the potential airport project.Presidency Vice Minister Zúñiga told The Tico Times last year that the government was open to dialogue with the families “within the bounds of what is possible.” At the time, Zúñiga said that expropriation was not on the table and that the government was obligated to execute the court’s ruling.The administration’s handling of the Chánguena eviction last year was criticized by the Ombudsman’s Office. Ombudswoman Monserrat Solano told Channel 7 TV News on Aug. 19 that the displaced families’ human rights were violated in the court-ordered expulsion.President Luis Guillermo Solís met with campesino leaders in the wake of an Aug. 20 demonstration in front of his home in the San José neighborhood of Escalante. Both sides again agreed to negotiate, but talks quickly broke down.A second eviction, ordered in September, was supposed to be completed within three months, but still has not been executed. One of the protesters injured during a confrontation with police in Palmar Sur, Feb. 16, 2016. (Facebook)Looking for trouble?After new demonstrations on the Térraba bridge earlier this month, including a bloody protest on Tuesday, Feb. 16, in which seven workers got arrested, the squatters say they’re more unified than ever.Other unions and university groups have come to Palmar Sur to lend their support to the squatters’ cause.“This requires a revolution,” Guillermo Keith of the National Employees Union told the squatters at a meeting last week. “This is your land. You have to defend it.”President Luis Guillermo Solís told the daily La Nación last week that outsiders had been visiting Palmar Sur in recent days to stir up trouble.“They go there looking for a fight and to see how the police will react,” Solís told reporters Wednesday.Solis has continually told the Palmar Sur squatters that his administration will not negotiate deals under perceived threats, like blockades on the bridge.The campesinos maintain that their demonstration last week was peaceful until police showed up, and that they weren’t blocking traffic on the bridge. According to multiple protesters on the bridge that day, police told the 50-some demonstrators that they had five minutes to leave or else they would be arrested.Eddy Morales, a community leader and one of the seven arrested, said that when police detained fellow squatter Daniel Villalobos, the other protesters rushed to defend him. Those who got close enough were met with unwarranted violence, he said.Morales said he was kicked in the ribs and dragged by the neck by officers. He was then thrown into jail for a day and given a month’s probation from protesting on the bridge, he said.“If defending the land is a crime, then you’re going to have to punish a lot more than just me,” Morales said. “Here, the land issue isn’t just ours, it’s one that thousands of people have.”Squatters like Morales and Carlos Vargas say that Echeverría has no claim to the land because his lease expired years ago. La Nación has reported that the Government Attorney’s Office made a court-sanctioned deal with Echeverría to evict the squatters in exchange for Echeverría’s promise not to sue the government for failing to evict them during the more than a decade since he first made the request.Echeverría’s lawyer, Allan Garro, declined comment and said his client has been instructed not to speak of the matter to the media. Guillermo Keith of the National Labor Union (UNDECA) lends his support to the Palmar Sur squatters in a meeting at the contested Chánguena property. Associations like UNDECA and the National Association of Educators (ANDE) have been vocal in their solidarity with the farmers. Michael Krumholtz/The Tico TimesA possible solutionLast week, the National Rural Development Institute (INDER), an autonomous government entity, asked the Public Security Ministry to suspend the eviction while it tries to mediate the conflict. Representatives from INDER, which was created, in part, to resolve land conflicts, argue that they must first bring together Echeverría and the campesinos, who say they have not been in direct contact with Echeverría or anyone from COOPALCA, the cooperative that owns the land.“Before there is any judicial or administrative action, INDER must be allowed to mediate between both parties,” INDER President Ricardo Rodríguez said. The request is still pending.Broad Front Party legislator Edgar Araya Sibaja has been vocal in his defense of the squatters, and has expressed an equal measure of criticism towards the Solís administration for failing to resolve the conflict peacefully.“This is an easy conflict to solve,” he said in a video published recently on his Facebook page. “Have INDER acquire the land and divide it among the qualifying campesinos.”If that solution panned out, however, determining which families do and don’t qualify for land could be complicated.The government recently donated 38 houses on nearby land to squatters from Chánguena, but Carlos Vargas, one of the squatters, said the houses were small and inadequate and that it was “an erroneous solution.” The government says the homes are temporary.Vargas admitted, as did many other squatters, that emotions are running high among the community and that any attempt by police to forcefully remove them from the land could provoke violence.Marcelino Ramírez, who says he came to the Chánguena farm in 2003 from Pérez Zeledón, said the squatters will respect the law as long as the law respects them.“What we don’t want is blood,” he said. “But if the government wants that, then unfortunately we’re going to die for this, if we have to die for this.” Facebook Commentslast_img read more