Friday, June 6, 2014

The First MATHlete to Die

On a recent Monday night, an ex-student of mine was shot to death a few blocks from my house on Howard Road.  One of our star MATHletes, the one without eyeglasses for four years, was finishing his homework and, upon leaving my house, heard the shots.  Hearing shots in my neighborhood is not unusual, and they often don't hit their mark, so we didn't think much of it at the time.

The next morning, however, the news spread that A was dead.  He was one of the original MATHletes from 2010-11, a boy who appreciated the weekly lunchtime pizza and math puzzles.  His school attendance wavered as he got older, though, and he eventually developed some other habits that he was not proud of.  He eventually received his high school diploma in jail.  Even so, many of the dedicated teachers at Anacostia High School kept in touch with him and mourned terribly when they learned he died.

I would see A occasionally after he got out, and he was clearly struggling.  I set him up with an appointment with our career counseling expert, but he did not show up and did not respond to phone calls or texts afterward.  I worried about him.  A week after he died, a classmate told me A had been shooting at folks.  So I guess this was targeted retribution.  Even so, it doesn't make it any easier to digest.

Three hours after I found out A died, one of our other star MATHletes, D, got a letter delivered to my house saying he was accepted to Morehouse College, one of the top historically black colleges in the country.  (D was using my address because he had to move out of a terribly dangerous neighborhood recently.)  I went from depression to ecstasy, knowing that D, who had overcome so much adversity to maintain the number one GPA of any male in his class, could walk in the footsteps of Martin Luther King and enjoy an outstanding college education on his way to a successful career.  I got to tell several of D's teachers, who all found D to give him hugs.

I saw D later that night to go over the day.  We looked at each other somberly and realized A was the first MATHlete to die.  D might not appreciate himself now, but considering all the land mines and temptations that our young people face, D should be extremely proud of himself.  The last line of Morehouse's acceptance said, "I congratulate you on your accomplishments!"  I couldn't agree more.