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Charlie Mack's Mission

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Posted on Thu, Jul. 29, 2004

Mack's mission -- Will Smith's friend aims to rebuild his old neighborhood inside hed: Mack's a man on a mission

By BARBARA LAKER - lakerb@phillynews.com

THE TOWERING Charlie Mack ambled down a ravaged Southwest Philadelphia block where a sticky summer breeze drifted through rows of brick shells that used to be homes.

He rounded the corner onto bustling Chester Avenue where heads turned and hands waved. Everyone - from the barber and basketball coach, to the sock-selling street vendor and guy who was locked up for 23 years - yelled: "Hey, Charlie," or "I love you, Mack."

This 6-foot-7, 275-pound powerhouse is their homegrown superstar, their street-smart high school dropout who grew up to be best known as Will Smith's bodyguard and personal assistant.

He's a magnet to the megastars, the man behind a Party 4 Peace Celebrity Weekend earlier this month to benefit Mothers In Charge, a local grass-roots anti-violence group. Mack, who has lost two brothers to murder, assembled a juggernaut of entertainers and basketball stars to promote peace. Among those attending were actors Morris Chestnut and Gabrielle Union and welterweight champ Vernon Forrest.

That, he says, is just the beginning. Now - with financial help from Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith - he wants to rebuild the streets that were once his. He plans to transform the abandoned Matt's Ice Cream store on Chester Avenue where he used to work into an emergency shelter for kids, and rebuild three blocks eaten up by urban decay and neglect.

To put it simply, Mack, 38, has come home.

"This," he said, "was the springboard for me."

Mack comes home

"See those guys on the corner," he said, pointing to a group of men on metal folding chairs. "They've been sitting on the corner every day for 12 years. I was able to go outside the neighborhood, but I never forgot. I will never forget."

He moved back to Philly from Los Angeles last fall to spend more time with his six kids and run his local entertainment company, which promotes musicians and social causes. While he's technically no longer Smith's personal assistant, Mack said: "I'm his big little brother. He's my little big brother. It will always be that way."

It's that brand of loyalty that most impresses his working-class family and friends.

"You know, my son's accomplished a lot, but you know the thing I'm most proud of?" asked Mack's father, Charles Ramey, a machine operator. "That he was living in California with Will, and he gave up Hollywood to be with his children. Most people would just send money home. He wants to be here."

It's Mack's straight-talking, keep-it-real ways that attract celebrities who are sick of glitz.

"In this industry and town [L.A.], people are fake and pretentious, Charlie is genuine and down-to-earth," said Chestnut in a recent interview with the Daily News. "He's real and in this town, that's easy to identify."

Where he came from

To understand Charlie "Mack" Alston, you have to examine his roots.

His mother, Evangeline Ramey, had him when she was 16, the first of her five children. "He's a love child," she said of her son, who walked at 9 months. "I had my son because I wanted someone to love me."

Mack's parents separated when he was about 7, and Mack became "the man of the house," she said. They lived in modest rowhomes, mostly in Southwest Philly where his mom worked as a seamstress. They moved so much, Mack says he felt like a gypsy.

Even as a child he was a clever entrepreneur and promoter. Admitting he always loved to be the kid everyone knew, he threw parties in the basement for up to 150 kids and charged $1 admission.

"My mother would come home and everyone would have to run out the back," Mack said with a smile, staring at the modest gray rowhome where he grew up. "I need people drawn to me."

He moved out at 15 because he was overly stubborn, he said, and didn't want to do household chores like wash dishes. So he moved nearby and often had no hot water.

"Nobody could say nothing to me," he said.

He dropped out of high school because he found it boring, and never earned a GED. "I don't need it," Mack said. "I've traveled all over...I've walked it. I've lived it. You can't get that kind of education from a book."

With a natural athletic flair, he played basketball and could have been great but had this thing, almost an obsession, for money. Even though he had a job at the ice cream store, he sold drugs on the corner, making $5,000 to $10,000 a week, he said.

"I loved money," he said. "I didn't want to hurt nobody, I just wanted money."

He was arrested twice but never got locked up. He knew he couldn't get lucky three times. He also accidentally shot himself in the stomach. "Anything with the law scared me. Selling drugs was just my way to make money. I realized this isn't what I wanted my life to be. I knew I gotta rewrite my book."

He quit selling drugs and found that if he clung to his street-savvy roots and charisma, he could climb his way out. Local star athletes mentored him, and DJ Jazzy Jeff, another native Philadelphian, hired him to do security for him and the Fresh Prince, now better known as Will Smith.

Mack became a star in his own way. "He grew up in the ghetto and he always wanted to be more, do more," his mom said. "He has true glitz and glitter."

"He's the type of person that can win you over," his father said.

On their 1988 hit album, "He's the DJ I'm the Rapper," DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince recorded a song called, "Charlie Mack (1st Out of the Limo)."

The lyrics begin:

"Everywhere we go downtown or to a show

We have two necessities Charlie Mack and our limo

He's feared by suckers yet he's loved by kids

Pay attention and let me tell you who Charlie Mack is

He is our homeboy from around the block

He's regarded through the city as the hip-hop cop

Height about 6'6" weight about 190

Everywhere I go Charlie Mack is right behind me."

He's lost loved ones

As Smith's fame blossomed, Mack fended off overzealous fans all over the world while he stayed in five-star hotels with 300-count goose-down comforters. His most daunting task was pulling Smith, a deep sleeper, out of bed. From 1990 to 1997, Mack also ran celebrity basketball games back in Philly.

But there was a dark side. His brother, Ronald Alston, was shot to death in October 1994 at 17 by a close friend over a girl. Another brother, Desmond Bates, 34, was shot to death last January, also over a girl.

After the second loss, Mack contacted Mothers in Charge through a friend, Rochelle Lampkin, a group member. "Charlie reached out to us to help the cause. He's an all-around great guy," Lampkin said.

During a recent two-hour stroll through his old stomping grounds, Mack, dressed in baggy shorts, an oversized white T-shirt and a baseball cap, couldn't walk a few steps without someone recognizing him.

"He always comes back to see us," said barber Charles Smith. "He supports the community. He never forgot where he came from."

Said Eddie Magic, his former basketball coach, the one Mack calls the father of the neighborhood: "I saw everything in Charlie. I could see the ambition he had. He just had this thing."

As Mack walked down the blocks he wants to revitalize, he said: "You can see through these blocks. It doesn't need to be this way. We need to build up, not tear down."

His plans for the neighborhood, which he calls the Make It Beautiful Project, are in the infancy stages. He wants to buy and revitalize three blocks - Cecil Street and Alden Street between Greenway and Woodland; and Chester Avenue between 56th and 57th - for low-income families. As for properties that are occupied, Mack says, he will offer to pay for home improvements.

He is currently putting together a plan to present to City Council for approval.

For now, Mack's kids live with him part-time in a three-bedroom, comfortably decorated rowhouse. (He asked that the Daily News not reveal the area.) He's currently looking for a home for his family.

He had his children, ranging in age from 15 to 4, with three different mothers. He's never been married. "I move around too much. If you do one thing, something else suffers," he said.

For 20 years, he's been known as Mack for his way with women. "He's a ladies' man," his mother said.

"Dealing with women is one of my flaws," he said, sitting on his couch, surrounded by his children.

"My career has a demanded a lot of me. I have to take care and provide for my family, but relationships - that hasn't been my No. 1 priority. That's a problem for me. I know I've failed with relationships with women."

All over the house there are photographs and albums of him with everyone from Miami Heat's Shaquille O'Neal to former President Bill Clinton.

He smiles proudly when he looks at them, but that's not what puts a glimmer in his eye and makes him talk so fast it's as if he's on speed dial.

"I'm most proud that I overcame the stigma that society has of the young black man not doing for himself. Ending up in jail or dead.

"Things were not easy for me, but I have to be a man who adds value to someone's life," he said. "I always have to remember where I came from, who I am.

"I came up from hell; I didn't come down from heaven...My life was spared, so I could do better."

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That waz great!! Thanx 4 finding that and posting. This article is the only real way we've got 2 find out who Charlie Mack really is. It's good 2 know he can do more things than bite peoples' faces off. :thumb:
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I like the article! Charlie Mack's still keepin' it real! :werd:
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