It was the wee hours of September 23, 2019, as Hakim Laws walked through the area of 52nd Street in West Philadelphia. The nomadic trek through West Philly has become commonplace for Hakim. Sometimes, he’d come from as far as North Philly on foot. On most nights, he keeps it moving until morning gilds the sky due to the fact there are few places for the homeless to be without being told to leave. His days start at the gym then usually move on to a local Barnes & Nobel where he pores over various reading materials for hours. With no phone and no permanent place to lay his head, Hakim’s nights are filled with offering fellow night owls firm handshakes and a few jovial words. While alone, he tries to envision his life as a successful foreign currency trader or Delta Airlines employee. He tries to devise ways to get his ailing mother a new house and become an overall catalyst for positive change in other people’s lives. In his mind, he has no obstacles standing in the way of his goals. Though his may not be the cushiest of circumstances, he is still thankful to the Almighty for life. He perceives his mere existence as perfection and raises no complaints.
Hakim knows the streets of West Philly well and sincerely loves them. It’s his birthplace, and he’s lived all over his beloved section of the city. Wynnefield is the neighborhood he claims because that’s where he’s spent the most significant time. His drive to return most nights is the byproduct of his undying desire for home. He considers West Philly “The Whole” of Philadelphia; a microcosm of sorts where all of the City of Brotherly Love is represented.
You may be wondering how Hakim has the endurance to stay in nearly perpetual motion throughout the night. You may also wonder how an unarmed man can move confidently through West Philly in the dark on foot safely. Well, in part, Hakim has his military training to thank for his survival. A significant portion of his duty while serving in Kuwait was spent marching for miles upon miles on dirt roads while carrying a loaded rucksack on his back. He has served in two tours– Operations Noble Eagle and Iraqi Freedom– during the Iraq War and was decorated with the Armed Forces Service Medal. Though he walked away from the Army with benefits and experience, he also fears that PTSD has set in due to all the bloody carnage he’s witnessed. When it comes to his current situation, his training taught him how to react to things in ways that civilians aren’t privy. Sadly, Hakim’s inability to secure adequate housing and a well-paying gig is a reality he shares with far too many fellow military veterans.
This particular night, Hakim was coming from a homeboy’s house where he watched the Eagles take on the Lions amongst friends. He left upset because his Eagles lost and now held a losing record of 1-2. The team had been dealing with critical injuries, but there were also a lot of dropped passes over the weeks. While the entire receiving corps collectively dropped eight passes against Detroit, one man’s frying pan hands took precedence over all others when it came to Hakim and the rest of the city’s ire: wide receiver Nelson Agholor. Though he scored two touchdowns in the losing effort, on one critical series, #13 dropped a pass on 3rd & 6 that would have been a sure first down conversion. Later on in the day, Agholor would cough up a fumble which would turn into points for the opposition. All of this followed Algholor’s mishandling of what appeared to be the game-winning pass against Atlanta the previous week. Hakim was especially perturbed due to his yearning to relive the Eagles’ recent Super Bowl title that still lingered gloriously in his head. In 2018, Hakim watched as Algholor showed signs of coming out of a slump with nine catches to help the Eagles bring rings to the city. Like most Eagles fans, he sees Agholor’s potential and deems anything less than dominance unacceptable.
As Hakim continued down 52nd Street, he noticed smoke coming from somewhere. At first, he wrote it off as an overzealous exhaust pipe. However, Hakim’s previous experience as a firefighter drove him to further explore the billowing haze. The year before, Hakim ended his six-year career with the Philadelphia Fire Department (Engine 27 to be precise). He left because, regardless of the substantial salary, he refused to continue risking his safety and putting a price on his life.
Nevertheless, on this night, he felt that it was his obligation, as a veritable expert on fires and fire safety, to go searching for the source. Having fought everything from stove fires to all-engulfing infernos, Hakim is more aware than most that fire is unpredictable and unforgiving. Soon, he knew that something was up when flashing lights and sirens of emergency vehicles disrupted the silently stagnant night. By habit, Hakim sprung into action. He saw the backdoor of the building at 52nd & Girard was glowing. He tried to run up, but the smoke was too formidable for him with no equipment. He helped as much as he could. Before he knew it, he found himself in full rescue mode.
A father inside yelled out, “Don’t drop her,” as he prepared to toss his baby daughter to Hakim below. Ready, Hakim yelled back, “Throw her!” The baby was tossed into Hakim’s sure hands. With football still on his mind, all he could think was, “No fumble,” as the child hit his arms. Once the baby was squared away, Hakim ended up catching her mother in similar fashion. He stayed the full three hours or so that it took to defeat the blaze. News vans ended up on the scene, and Hakim was chosen for an interview. It was at this point that he legendarily intimated that he was catching babies “unlike Agholor.” The simple statement soon went viral around the country. Beyond the heroics, his words embodied the “disappointed and verbally abusive parent” disposition Philadelphia sports fans often display towards their teams. The awed nation applauded Hakim’s valor and laughed in unison.
When all was said and done, Hakim stuck around and chopped it up with folks gathered on the block before heading to a friend’s house. When he got there, the clip had already spread. An enthusiastic hug from his friend greeted him before entering the abode for a nap. As he dozed off, his primary thoughts and subconscious prayers were for the well-being of the now-displaced victims of the fire. Though he endures his own hardships, his top priority was to use his newfound fame to benefit that family and help them return to some type of normalcy after the calamity.
In closing, Hakim had this to say:
“I want [the public] to walk away from this with their sense of self. People struggle and worry because they lack that. That’s why they take on other personas. I hope they come out of it with a greater sense of self. That’s what this situation has done for me, and it’s intended to do the same for Agholor. Have him come out with a greater sense of self. CATCH THE BABY!!!”