The theory of six degrees of separation contends that, because we are all linked by chains of acquaintance, you are just six introductions away from any other person on the planet.
It’s an unproven theory, based on proximity, a supposition that likely will never be more than hypothesis when taking into consideration that there are almost 8 billion human beings.
Due the numbing frequency of gun violence, I’ve devised a different way of looking at degrees of human separation that may seem a tad morbid to some.
It centers around the pervasiveness of gun violence among African-American men, and it illuminates how things such as poverty, class and socioeconomic standing offer no protection from its reach. I’d argue that the average African American has significantly fewer than six degrees of separation between themselves and another African American who has been a victim of gun violence — often as few as one.
Over the last 13 months alone, I have lost a cousin, who was killed by masked cowards in a Chinese restaurant in Germantown, and a high school classmate, who was shot and killed on his front porch in West Philadelphia.
However, it was when I started noting how prevalent these acts of barbarism are in my professional relationships as opposed to my personal life that it really began to resonate that to be a Black man in America is to never be too far removed from the shadow of death by gunfire.
This came to mind earlier this week when I heard that Zaire Williams, 25, a former Temple University football player I covered as a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer, had died Monday morning after being shot in the head in the 1800 block of West Montgomery Avenue.
No suspect has been arrested. According to police, the shooting occurred after Williams won a fight at a Center City bar.
Remember when the loser of a “fair one” licked their wound, walked away and went about their business? Those days, sadly, no longer exist.
I recall Williams as a teenage running back referring to me as “sir” and gripping my hand firmly both before and after I interviewed him. I once just naturally assumed that this was a young African-American man putting his talents to use to earn a free education that would serve him through the rest of his life.
Never do you think that a life seemingly so full of promise will be snuffed out six years later.
The sad reality is that the degrees separating African-American men indirectly touched by the gun violence matrix and those directly involved as either perpetrator or victim is unquestionably more tightly bound than any other American demographic.
Lorenzen Wright is not a household name. However, Wright played 13 seasons in the NBA and made millions of dollars. I spent plenty of time around Wright, who was drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies with the No. 7 overall pick in 1996, during the almost two decades I covered the NBA.
An affable guy — we got to know each other pretty well during his career — Wright was shot and killed in 2010 at the age of 35.
I didn’t cover Darrent Williams, a former cornerback who played for the Denver Broncos of the NFL. However, I am good friends with multiple African-American NFL reporters who did when the 24-year-old was shot and killed while sitting in the back seat of a limousine in Denver on New Year’s Day 2007.
One of those reporters was with him the day before he died.
The thread that connects all of the aforementioned men beyond race is their ages; they’re all in the neighborhood of 18 to 34, just starting their adult lives. Among all groups in this demographic, homicide is the leading killer only among Black men, and this is true even with significantly more whites than Blacks admitting to owning firearms.
My hope is that I don’t have any more Zaire Williams experiences any time soon. The reality, however, is that there’s likely another one not too far off.