Today marks Chris Watler's last day as the project director of the Harlem Community Justice Center. Chris is leaving us to take on a big new challenge: overseeing the Center for Employment Opportunities' New York operations. Chris is leaving us one week shy of his 20th anniversary at the Center for Court Innovation -- he has been with us since the start of this enterprise. Along the way, he has made important contributions to a number of initiatives. This is a version of what I said at his going away party earlier this week:
Over the course of these two decades, I’ve had a chance to see Chris operate in a variety of different settings – in Red Hook and Crown Heights and Harlem. I’ve seen him make speeches and galvanize audiences at big national conferences. I’ve also seen him in the clinches at small meetings in our offices as we have wrestled with difficult decisions.
But in thinking about what I wanted to say tonight, my first thought wasn’t about any of these moments. Rather, my mind went back to something we did in the early days of relationship, outside of work.
Most of you probably don’t know this, but for a bright, shining moment, Chris and I played on the same basketball team. In the early days of our relationship, we played in one of the urban professional leagues that holds games around the city.
I’m someone who believes that sports reveals character. So what did I learn about Chris from playing ball with him?
I think it is easy when thinking about Chris to think big. He’s a big man with a big personality. He lights up a room. He’s a charismatic presence.
But what his game revealed, and what I truly cherish about the guy, was his commitment to doing the little things. Chris was one of those players that was willing to the tough, unglamorous work of a basketball game: setting picks, blocking out, throwing a quick outlet pass. With Chris, you never got the sense that he was worried about how many points he scored or how cool he looked. Unlike me. There was a purity about how he approached the sport and his commitment to the team.
I think all of you who have worked with Chris will recognize the quality that I’m talking about. To steal a line from Hillary Clinton, Chris is great because Chris is good – a good man with a good heart who is committed to doing good in this world.
I will miss him.