Monday, August 31, 2015

And let the job offers begin for a Philly hero

Meet Brandon Burwell. He is Philadelphia's new superhero. And now, he is also a former Wawa clerk.

And let the job offers begin for a Philly hero

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Brandon Burwell decked a would-be robber at the Center City Wawa store where he worked as a clerk. It cost him his job. (MASAKO FEATHERMAN photo)
Brandon Burwell decked a would-be robber at the Center City Wawa store where he worked as a clerk. It cost him his job. (MASAKO FEATHERMAN photo)

Meet Brandon Burwell. He is Philadelphia's new superhero.

And now, he is also a former Wawa clerk.

Yet, despite a Fox29 report that broke immediately before Thanksgiving, many Philadelphians still don’t know who he is. More importantly, they don’t know why they should know him.

I’ll help. It’s my pleasure to do so. I have very selfish motives that I’ll reveal after I tell you his story.

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Burwell told Fox and Friends’ Elizabeth Hasselbeck that he was fired by Wawa because he “didn’t adhere to Wawa’s policy on robbery, which is to immediately give up the money if anybody is trying to rob the store.”

According to Fox 29, back on Oct. 23 at 5:36 a.m., a strange man wearing sunglasses and a green towel completely covering his head entered the Wawa at 912 Walnut St. in Center City. He attempted to rob the store, approaching Burwell with a piece of metal as a weapon.

Burwell immediately decked the would-be robber. Only because fellow Wawa associates pulled Burwell away from the robber was the man able to escape.

He is still on the loose.

He’s lucky that Burwell didn’t beat him to the pulp that he deserved.

Fox29 has described the man as “white, between the ages of 40 and 50, approximately 6 feet 2 inches tall, weighing 280 to 300 pounds, with short brown hair and mustache, wearing a light-blue flannel shirt and blue jeans.”

I look forward to the day that thug is captured and faces justice.

Wawa did not want to comment on any details of this story. Lori Bruce, spokesperson for the convenience store chain, said in an emailed response, “As a matter of policy we don’t discuss specifics about individual associates or their employment with us.”

Many online activists have called upon Wawa to rehire Burwell – either posting messages through Twitter or setting up pages on Facebook. Some have even threatened to boycott Wawa until it at least reoffers Burwell his old position.

Others felt that Wawa took appropriate steps, but that Burwell was better off elsewhere. “He violated company policy so he should have been fired,” said John W. Kopcha on my Facebook page, adding, “However, he's much too good to work at Wawa. Someone should give him a job because he has exercised good judgment and courage.”

And that’s exactly what I am asking each and every one of you reading this article to do: Help me find Brandon Burwell a better job – one that will reward him for being part Rocky/part Will Smith and Philly all the way.

I was able to track down Burwell’s mother at her North Philadelphia residence. Later that night, around 10 p.m., I received a call from Burwell – inviting me to meet him the following morning.

I met with him last Saturday over the Thanksgiving holiday at his home in Center City Philadelphia. Burwell is tall, handsome and engaging. I met with him for specifically one reason. I wanted to find out his ideal (but realistic) dream job and hopefully get it for him.

I was so moved by Burwell’s heroism that I wanted to try and make a difference in this young man’s life.

Burwell assured me that he’s doing well and was in good spirits. He currently works at Vedge Restaurant – as a busboy and server’s assistant.

Burwell, a Simon Gratz graduate who attended both Community College of Philadelphia and Penn State, loves sports and automobiles.

His dream job would be to work for the Philadelphia Flyers hockey club. One cannot miss the Flyers sweat shirt Burwell was wearing.  “I’d love to do something with the players. Want me to pass them a stick? I’m fine with that.”

He’d also be happy as an auto mechanic or an airline mechanic.

Who’s Burwell’s role model on the Flyers? “Wayne Simmonds. He plays the game properly,” Burwell said. “And he can score.“

I wondered whether Simmonds’ race was a factor in Burwell’s choosing him as his favorite Flyer.

“Yeah,” Burwell told me.

And that provided a segue for me to talk about race – race in the Wawa incident.

Burwell is black, and the robber is white.

“Treat the situation as it’s brought up,” Burwell said, referring to the attempted robbery. “It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white. Male or female. Adult or child. I try to be non-violent, but sometimes you have to defend yourself. There are times when it’s appropriate to defend yourself.”

When are those times? To figure that out, I asked Kristine Pawlucy, who -- along with her husband Richard – are both instructors at Bensalem Tae Kwon Do - Port Richmond Studio.

“From personal experience, if someone is trying to rob you, and they just want something material like money or your phone, it’s completely different than being physically threatened,” Pawlucy said. “If you can avoid any physical confrontation by just handing over your wallet or your phone, then do so. Your safety and well-being is not worth your new iPhone or a few dollars.”

When you are physically threatened, however, Pawlucy – a 2nd-degree black belt -- stressed formal self-defense training. “Anyone at any age can benefit from martial arts training. You can’t learn just one technique and expect it to work in all situations. You have to study and diversify your technique and cater to your strengths.”

Clearly to me, at least, Burwell exhibited the right judgment.

Burwell is a wonderful young man who is extremely polite and respectful. One cannot meet him and come away without feeling a warmth and friendliness.

When I wrapped up my interview with Burwell, I told him that he gave me and my wife renewed hope that we can once again feel safe walking the streets of Philadelphia. I told him how scared I am because these thugs are not human beings you can reason with. You can give them your money, and they will still punch, stab or shoot.

I told him that I will work to get him a job because his actions changed my attitude about the spirit of Philadelphians.

Burwell started to cry. I gave him a big hug. My wife joined in, too.

I’m sure this scene must have looked pretty strange to any passersby. But it was real. And it became very emotional for all of us.

To this day, I still am angry about the cold-blooded murder of my good friend, former Daily News columnist Russell Byers. One damned day, Byers did what I would have done -- he resisted a robber hanging out at, coincidentally, a Wawa. As a consequence, Byers was stabbed to death in front of his wife.

When these kinds of violent crimes make the headlines in our city, it’s easy to say that we’ve had enough and we’re moving out.

Over the years, lots of people in my family have asked me to leave Philadelphia. I am the last blood relative in both my immediate family and in my uncles’ and aunts’ families to remain in the City of Brotherly Love.

Brandon Burwell’s heroics have inspired me not to be a victim and not to leave town. I'm going to fight, damn it.

And I’m also going to fight to help get Brandon Burwell a good job. Employers: Email me your interest at john@featherman.com. I will forward your notes to Burwell directly.

Burwell gives us all faith that we all can -- and must -- fight back and win.

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About this blog
John Featherman is a contributor at Philly.com and writes about politics and consumer-related issues. Reach John at john@featherman.com.

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