by Troy Landrum Jr.
“Prolific, so gifted!” Those are the first words we hear from the resounding lyrics of the late great Nipsey Hussle’s award-winning Victory Lap album. If you know of his life and work, you know exactly how impactful those words are to his legacy. If you don’t know, then it would be my honor to tell you.
Those words signify a statement to the world and a reminder to himself; a statement to put his competitors, his peers, on notice that his words and life will be legendary; a reminder to himself that he is special enough to make something of his life and circumstances and take his community with him. Furthermore, no matter what life holds, he understands his mission, his calling to himself and his community. People like Nipsey Hussle are the ones we call our prophets, our lightkeepers, our inspirations. As history speaks, especially in our Black community, those shining lights are the ones we lose too soon. Their lives are like shooting stars; they burn bright and magnificently, then they are gone. That shooting star for our community was D’Vonne Pickett Jr.
After his death, the first image I saw of D’Vonne shook me. I caught word of the tragedy ripping through our community through news, word of mouth, and various social media outlets. What startled me the most was his eyes. Seeing his pictures, seeing his contagious joy for life, was like staring at a mirror reflection of myself. What his eyes represented to me was the impact I hoped to one day have, a dream I hoped to one day come to reality, a love that was deep and far-reaching.
As my heartbreak began to catch up to the reality of what the devastating loss meant to the community, I began to reflect on how the many faces who look like me would see his picture, would see his eyes in the same way I did. Seeing him as a reflection of their future hopes and dreams, simultaneously living with the terrifying reality that those hopes could be taken any second.
“One of the many reasons this hurts, whether you were close to D-Pick or didn’t know him at all, is because here’s a young man who grew up in the struggle and found a way to thrive. The pain is so present because no matter how much we give back, no matter how many wrongs we right, it feels like we can’t win,” says Derrick Wheeler-Smith, director of Seattle’s Office for Civil Rights. It puts in perspective how fickle life is, especially for a community of people who have willed themselves to better futures in the face of white supremacy in this country. It is truly heartbreaking, because it feels like the moment we see a glimpse of the light, it is blown out in front of our very eyes. So much anger, so much pain, so much devastation that we feel as a community, as a people, because we are so tired. We cry and we ask ourselves, “When will it stop, when will we be able to just breathe?” We never stop asking these questions; we grieve in our own way, within our own processes, and then those questions eventually turn to, “How must I go on? How must I make my ancestors proud? How can we make those who uplifted our community proud?” Those questions abide in the essence of who we are. The questions we ask ourselves that pertain to living our lives fully guide us to the very same questions our heroes among us and before us asked themselves everyday. Questions I know without a doubt in my mind that D’Vonne asked himself throughout his life.
D’Vonne Pickett Jr. was born in Seattle’s Central District (CD), coming from many generations of family members who made a magnificent impact on the community, such as his great-grandfather, Jacques Chappell, who served the community as a U.S. Postal Service (USPS) mail carrier. He grew up going through the legendary Rotary Boys & Girls Club in the CD, a program in which a lot of basketball savants of the city graced the hardwood, including Zach LaVine, Tony Wroten, and Paolo Banchero, to name a few. This community center and the sports programs that were part of so many kids’ lives stood as a platform or second home that would provide many foundational relationships and friendships for D’Vonne as he went through life. Basketball became his artistic expression, a way he could express his full self, a sport that channeled his path and his focus. His work ethic, his passion, and his leadership were attributes players and coaches recognized and brought out of him. D’Vonne’s skills would continue to grow as his passion furthered for the sport, eventually finding recognition at Rainier Beach High School and winning a state title in 2008. D’Vonne played the point guard position, a position known for being the second coach on the floor and primarily having the leadership qualities to bring the best out of teammates. D’Vonne was that and more. To the players, he was known as “the general” for his tenacious leadership and his ability to orchestrate an offense and move a team toward victory.
After high school, he attended Central Arizona College for two years, ranking second nationally among all junior college point guards. He then received a Division 1 scholarship to Seattle University (SU), a decision that represented his deep love for his community and his desire to be close to his family and friends.
Seattle University held continuous lessons and challenges he transformed into opportunities to be a better version of himself every day. His close friend Fred Wilson reflects, “Pick and I had many talks about going to SU and what it did. Going to SU and graduating for the both of us changed our mind. We started thinking about, and viewing, the world differently. … He always said if he ran a business, the things he learned at SU would greatly help shape his thinking and acting.”
D’Vonne graduated with a communication studies degree from SU’s College of Arts and Sciences, knowing his path was destined for more than being an athlete. He knew his life was meant for more greatness than he could yet fathom, but would just take time.
D’Vonne married his high school sweetheart, KeAnna, and the couple went on to raise three beautiful children. Even after graduating college and starting his family, his love of basketball never vanished, eventually earning him an invitation to Jamal Crawford’s Pro-Am League, “The Crawsover.” The league brings the best college and pro talent from all over the country to display their skills in front of a Seattle crowd, granting youth and adults a chance to see their heroes up close, free of charge. D’Vonne became a standout in the league, an all star, and a league MVP. D’Vonne’s hoop dreams became a reality due to his relentless spirit and tremendous talent on the court.
As he was getting older, his eyes started to shift to what had always been most important to him: family and building community. He began to put all his effort into raising his family alongside KeAnna and making an even more lasting legacy in the area he grew up in, Seattle’s CD.
In 2018, he and his wife opened the beloved business The Postman, a postal service right in the heart of the CD, inspired by his great-grandfather’s 37-plus years in the postal service. D’Vonne and KeAnna’s vision of their business was based on the community’s need during a pivotal time of gentrification, when a local post office was closed and the community lost out on the USPS services it had relied on as foundational for families’ and businesses’ everyday needs. The Postman grew in popularity and was praised by the community that raised D’Vonne. The business soon became a centerpiece in the CD and was touted with recognition from all over the city. The business D’Vonne and KeAnna created became recognized by many news outlets and gained commercial and social media recognition.
Taking that value even further, D’Vonne employed people from the community to celebrate and grow in his family’s success. D’Vonne and KeAnna employed family members, friends, and community members, creating a blueprint on how to bring true value to our neighborhoods. The Postman represents the community, it represents the love and vision of a husband and wife, and furthermore, it represents a man who loved his community and used his purpose to uplift the community. D’Vonne translated those leadership and visionary skills he had gained from the court to his growing business. He wanted to change the narrative, show we were more than athletes, had the power to build legacies and create cornerstones in our community, and had the power to understand our own families’ histories and build off of them.
“My brother reminded me that we used to play basketball with D’Vonne at Rainier Community Center when we were just kids. He’s really been making an impact in South Seattle and the Central District my entire life. When I think of D’Vonne, I see the epitome of the hometown hero. A young man who grew up here, stayed here, started a business here, raised a family here, and inspired countless kids to achieve beyond their wildest dreams. His legacy will live on forever through his incredible family and every person in our community whose life he transformed for the better,” says King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay. D’Vonne was everything the community represents: grit, love, compassion, leadership, and unity.
D’Vonne was passionate about youth sports and inspiring future generations. He dedicated his time not only to his family, business, and community, but also to the youth of the community. He was a coach and mentor for the young boys of the CD and greater Seattle area. He was the head coach of the CD Panthers, a team in which he also coached his son. He touched and uplifted his people in so many ways and had plans to do even more. Those young boys he coached saw an image of themselves through D’Vonne; they saw an image of who they could be in this life. More than athletes, they could be pillars. D’Vonne led by example. He taught them to use the sport as a vehicle, not as a destination, but if they received that once-in-a-lifetime chance to make it as an athlete, to never forget about the community that raised them.
D’Vonne was at the peak of his prime with a trail of accomplishments following him. He was our city’s living, breathing Nipsey Hussle. They shared the same vision for the communities they were raised in: to create positive change, create opportunity, and change the narrative. As Wheeler-Smith said, “This young man decoded the matrix, refusing to succumb to statistics or the idea that his life didn’t matter. He took all of that and found a way to communicate to the community that not only were their lives valuable, but our hopes don’t have to be determined by the flaws of the realities we’re dealt. We have to remain hopeful and carry that legacy forward, because hopelessness is the enemy of justice. And so the marathon continues.”
Tragically, just like we lost international icon Nipsey Hussle in 2019, so we lost our city’s icon. What a heart-wrenching but symbolic moment for both of these heroes to take their last breaths in front of the businesses they built for their communities. D’Vonne was “Prolific, so gifted.” He lived out those words to the highest and showed us we could do the same. He lived those words as a statement, as a reminder to himself and to us, showing us we can be everything he was to a community and more.
Troy Landrum Jr. was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and is currently a program producer for KUOW’s “Radioactive” program. He has spent the past few years as a bookseller at Third Place Books in Seward Park and recently graduated with a master’s in fine arts at the University of Washington, Bothell. Follow Troy on Twitter at @TroyLandrumJr.
📸 Featured image by Susan Fried.
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