NORFOLK — Councilman Paul Riddick spoke at a vigil where the community gathered Tuesday to honor the city’s own boxing champ Pernell “Sweetpea” Whitaker.
During his time on the platform, Riddick garnered an excited crowd’s response when he asked for Mayor Kenny Alexander’s support in changing the name of the Norfolk Boxing Center at Harbor Park to honor the late athlete.
Riddick said the city had considered it years ago when a new training facility for the police department was in the works, but the plans didn’t come to fruition.
“Now is the time when we have the chance to honor one of the most important figures who’s come out of Norfolk athletically to show that we appreciated him,” he said.
City Council’s next formal meeting is Tuesday when Riddick said they’ll likely vote on the proposal.
After retiring from his boxing career, Whitaker came back to South Hampton Roads where he trained amateur boxers and youth, said Kimberly Wimbish, the family’s spokeswoman.
In 2017 he stood in front of City Council to advocate for the restoration of Booker T. Washington High School where, according to the meeting’s minutes, students endured “deplorable health and safety conditions.”
Riddick said he grew up in the same Young Park neighborhood as Whitaker where “Pernell gave young boys hope and let them know that regardless of your status or where you come from, you can make it.”
Naming the Boxing Center at Harbor Park after Whitaker acknowledges his place as an important figure in the community, Riddick said.
“I don’t think we recognized how much of an impact Pernell had until his untimely death,” he said. “Every time he fought or trained here, the world’s eyes were on Norfolk, and this is a way to pay him back for that.”
Whitaker will be laid to rest Saturday. There will be a public memorial at the Scope Arena.