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Jerry Costello

So They Can See There's Another Way
January 17, 2016

Vaughn McCoy owes a lot of people. Ordinary people, like his Mom, a single mother of six who raised all of her children in a public housing project in Paterson, New Jersey. He owes other family members, too; and coaches, teachers and mentors who popped up along the way. He hopes to pay them back by changing lives, just as his was changed, by meeting kids and talking to them and writing a book, about how he survived drugs and violence growing up, and how, eventually, he became an assistant U.S. attorney.
It’s been a long, tough climb for McCoy, and he tries to convince the kids with whom he comes in contact to forget about the celebrity jobs—athletes and singers and musicians, the road out of the ghetto for only a handful of people. Instead he advises them to seek something in the medical or legal field, or be a teacher, an engineer, an accountant or a reporter— “ordinary jobs” with built-in community support.
                “We’ve been blinded by the fame of those other things,” he told Keith Idec of The Record, a leading North Jersey paper. “But they’ll never be able to reach the people. That’s why I felt I had to make myself available to them, so they can see there’s another way.”
                McCoy, 47, has done pretty well for himself by looking in the direction of “ordinary” employment. After playing football at both Paterson’s Eastside High School and Rutgers University, he picked up a law degree from Rutgers and a master's in business from NYU. His wife Marnie is an administrator with the school system in Paterson, and they reside in New Brunswick. After leaving the federal attorney’s post, he became vice president (legal) for Public Service Gas & Electric in Long Island.
                Profit was far from his mind when he wrote his book, “Playing Up,” in 2013. He self-published the book, donated 5,000 copies to school kids in Paterson, and set up a related website ( to help promote it. He leaned on some high-profile acquaintances for assistance: the foreword was written by Joe Clark, former Eastside principal (of “Lean on Me” fame), and endorsements came from Victor Cruz, who grew up on Paterson and is a star football player with the New York Giants, and Greg Schiano, former football coach at Rutgers.
                “I think a lot of kids will find themselves or their brother or their mom in my story,” McCoy said. “I think they like to read about themselves or characters that look like them or experienced the things they experience. I want to give kids something they can identify with and be inspired by.”
                As noted at the outset, Vaughn McCoy owes a lot of people and wants to give back. The book is one way he does that; so are the appearances at school gatherings, and so are the informal meetings he has with kids. He wants them to know that it can be done, that there is a way for them to “play up” to their surroundings and truly make something of themselves.
                “I’m not asking anyone to mentor a whole neighborhood,” he says. “But if there’s one kid that you can open a door for, all those things matter. That’s what motivates me every day, to really give back in that way.” 
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