PHILADELPHIA — Barbara Mack lives a block from the corner where her teenage brother was shot to death while on his way home from work on Sept. 30, 1965. Hasan Adams was only 8 months old when the bullet took his father. Azizah Arline was months from being born and never met her dad. More than a half-century later, they have finally received an apology from and discussed restitution with the man who committed the murder.
In two recent meetings, the family of Edward David White, who, unarmed and without a police record, was shot at age 18 and left to die in the street, met in person for the first time with his killer, who was himself a teenager at the time and is now an executive at Nike.
He is Larry Miller, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder as a 16-year-old gang member and has said he was drunk and out to kill the first person he saw that night. He served 4 1/2 years in prison for that crime and five more years for a series of armed robberies before rehabilitating his life and building a prosperous, high-profile career as a sports and marketing executive.
Miller, now 72, is chair of the Michael Jordan brand at Nike and a former president of the Portland Trail Blazers. He kept his criminal past hidden for decades, until he wrote a book with his daughter, published Tuesday, called “Jump: My Secret Journey From the Streets to the Boardroom.”
The book is meant to show how redemption is possible if corrections officials are committed to more than warehousing inmates. But although writing the book has brought healing for Miller, it has reopened wounds for the White family.
Miller did not name White in the book, nor did he inform White’s family that the book was being written or that it would be published. By chance, a family member read an article about the murder and the book in Sports Illustrated in October, an article in which White’s name was mentioned. His relatives expressed a feeling of being blindsided to The New York Times, which told White’s story in November.
On Dec. 17, Miller met with White’s sister, son and daughter in a law office in Philadelphia’s Center City district. The meeting, spurred by the Times’ story, was described as emotional by the participants. Mack, who is 84, said she told Miller that she forgave him for the murder, that “if I didn’t forgive him, God wouldn’t forgive me.”
She said she read Miller a letter about her younger brother, telling him that White had a twin sister, a young son and a baby on the way. She told of how he worked at a diner and attended Job Corps training. How he had what she called “swag,” a sense of style in a fedora, a love of the Temptations.
Miller kept apologizing, she said, and at times tears welled in his eyes.
At the end of the meeting, Mack said in an interview Sunday, Miller asked if he could hug her and she said yes. But she said she also told him, “If I was 30 years younger, I would have been across that table at you.”
She did not attend the second meeting.
“I don’t have to see him anymore,” she said of Miller.
In an interview Monday, Miller declined to describe the meeting in detail, saying that he wanted to let the family share their perspective first. But he said that it was emotional and that he hoped White’s family felt his “remorse and sorrow for what happened.”
As for Mack saying that if she were younger, she would have gone after him, “it was an appropriate comment from my perspective,” Miller said.
A second meeting last week included preliminary discussions about Miller establishing a scholarship foundation in White’s name, funded in perpetuity, that would assist his descendants and perhaps others in attending college or trade school, according to the family and their lawyer, Ronald Marrero.
Such a scholarship foundation would provide opportunities for family members and demonstrate that White “did not die in vain,” said Arline, his daughter, adding that Miller’s words must be followed by actions. “I will call him on the carpet every single time,” she said, to ensure “that this legacy for my father comes to fruition.”
Miller said the details had not been worked out, but that “I think we have agreed that we wanted to do something that allows his name to live on and something that also is a benefit and positive to other folks that come from our community.”
At the December meeting, Adams, 56, White’s son, also told Miller that he forgave him, family members said. He spoke of the number 21 being important in the family’s life, as the date of several birthdays, including his and his father’s, and the number worn on sports jerseys in memoriam. He spoke of the shock and pain of only recently learning the details of his father’s murder and of having to grieve for the first time for a death that happened when he was a toddler. He spoke of going through life being told that he looked like his father’s ghost.
Arline, 55, also read a letter to Miller, which she reprised in an interview. “It wasn’t fair,” she told him, that she never got to meet her father, “to see him smile or hear his voice,” to have him “give me away at my wedding” or to see him welcome his grandchildren. Her mother had planned to marry White, Arline said, but was instead left with two young children, struggling to make ends meet. Because she is only now learning the painful details about how her father died, she told Miller, “It’s as if we’ve lost him twice in one lifetime.”
Miller, noting that he and White lived only blocks apart in West Philadelphia, said, “To be honest, the things that they shared about White, you know, the more I thought about it, I think he’s someone I would have liked if I had gotten to know him.”
In an interview, Arline said that because her father’s name was not mentioned in the book, “It was like he was a nobody.” And because Miller did not inform White’s family before the book and the Sports Illustrated article were to be published, she said, “We were truly an afterthought for him.”
Miller said that he had always planned on reaching out to the White family and had even hired a private investigator to search for them. “I was nervous about it, I was anxious about it,” he said.
If nothing else comes from writing the book, Miller said that meeting the White family was worth it. He called the meeting “full circle,” saying that over the years he had worked to forgive himself and that he believed he had done good for his community and that God had forgiven him. “And now for the possibility of Mr. White’s family also forgiving me, I think that kind of completes the circle for me,” Miller said.
Beyond his own quest for forgiveness, Miller said he hoped that the book would change people’s views of the formerly incarcerated and that it would be a positive influence on people who are in jail or thinking about committing a crime.
Arline said she was working through the healing process but not yet “100% forgiving” of Miller. But she wants to reach that point, she said, because “I can’t live in a space of hardness and hate; that won’t do me or my spirit any good.”
Miller and White’s family have not talked much about whether Edward David White’s name would be included in future editions of the book, but Miller said he was open to that discussion.
In the end, White’s family said, they did not consider Miller an enemy or a friend, but a man who has been forgiven and who has to make peace with himself.
“You can apologize again and again, but you have to be right with yourself at the end of the day,” Arline said. “He has to make peace that he took a man’s life.”