Norman Oliver has shifted from basketball and politics to entrepreneurship. His new development of housing for low-income buyers may seal his reputation as someone who just wants to do good.
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Today Oliver says, “I want to employ a lot of people. And I want to make a lot of money. And I want to help our community.”
That community would be Wilmington in general and, in particular, Southbridge, on whose mean streets he grew up. Zanthia Oliver had nine children—five boys and four girls. Norman, the seventh of her offspring, was a handful. Zanthia once told a reporter she was sure he would be imprisoned one day.
Norman and Alonzo, who was 16 months younger, were best friends. Alonzo agrees with his mother’s statement. “Norm was a tough guy—stubborn, defiant. People didn’t see all this [Norman’s political and business success] coming. Back then, nine out of 10 [who knew him] would’ve said he’d wind up in trouble.”
While Norman always held summer jobs, and says he excelled at those involving selling, he concedes that he “didn’t take school seriously.”
Then desegregation, the bane of many students in the late 1970s, came to Oliver’s rescue. In his junior year, he was bused to Newark High School, where a diverse atmosphere opened new opportunities to him.
While admitting he was never a standout athlete, he played basketball and earned his nickname, Stormin’, as a defensive back on the Newark High football team. More importantly, the born extrovert found self-expression in the school’s drama department, appearing in several plays.
Oliver barely squeaked into Delaware State, but once there, he flourished. He began pursuing the breakneck schedule that would become his MO. While holding down various jobs, he was elected president of the freshman class and president of his fraternity. By the time he graduated in 1985 with a degree in social work, he had been named student government president and had received several awards for leadership and community service.
It was during his freshman year that Oliver started Stormin’s Classic Basketball League, perhaps the signal achievement of his career. He and a handful of men from Southbridge recruited 54 kids that first season. While taking summer courses in Dover, the 19-year-old Oliver commuted to Wilmington to oversee the league. It soon mushroomed into an athletic and social phenomenon, attracting many of the state’s political leaders. Joe Biden, Mike Castle and the late Wilmington Mayor Dan Frawley sponsored teams, and Minner was a major supporter.
By 2001, when he finally dissolved it, more than 2,000 boys and girls from the city and suburbs were participating in Stormin’s Classic. The league incorporated tutoring, community service, and drug and AIDS awareness, which won it national recognition. In 1993 Oliver received the prestigious Lewis Hine Award, presented each year to 10 people nationwide who have “made a commitment to the well-being, growth and development of youth.”
Page 4: Stormin' Through, continues...