Sunday, November 13, 2011

"Five Unexcused Absences is a Little High"

This is about D, a MATHlete and the subject of "Breaking Into School."  I found out during the summer, when we would throw the football around for short periods, that D is an exceptional athlete, leaping a foot over everyone for the ball and easily bringing it down.

In late August, the Anacostia High football team had started practices on warm late afternoons after school.  I went up to D's house, 3/4 mile up the hill from the river where the school is, and asked his stepdad for permission to bring D down to school to meet the coach and to sign up.  Stepdad shrugged and said, "Fine," so I scooped up D and brought him down to practice.  Coach's eyes lit up when I brought D down.  "I've heard about you.  How are your grades?"  Ha.  D is second in his class.

About a month later, I ran into the coach and asked about D.  "He hasn't been coming," he said.  "He isn't even on the list [to play in the game]."   I poked around and talked to D's counselor from last year, who looked at his attendance and said, "Hmmm, five unexcused absences.  That's high for him.  But his grades are still good," she said encouragingly.

Not encouraged, I drove over to D's house.  His older sister told me he had moved in with his grandmother in PG and gave me the phone number.  As I started to drive off, stepdad drove up and said D had to move away "until he got his act together."  Uh, oh. 

The next morning I found D and asked him if he wanted to go out after school for pizza, his favorite food.  Easy sale.  Then I got a cell phone call from his grandmother, who said pizza is fine, but we would have to work around his appointment with a probation officer.  Wow, I thought, what has quiet, helpful D done to get a criminal record?

Out for pizza, I told him the chronology of the previous day.  He laughed when I expressed incredulity that he, D, has a probation officer.  But he turned serious when he explained why.  His stepdad had been verbally abusive to his mom, and D couldn't take it any longer.  He fought his stepdad, and both got arrested.  D has probation for six months, during which he must stay with his grandmother in Suitland, a long commute to Anacostia.

Here we have an incredibly gifted kid, both academically and athletically.  Staff at school are too busy to notice him, and he lives in cramped quarters with an uncaring, abusive stepfather.  Place this boy down in Ward 3 or Bethesda, and we have an Ivy Leaguer, almost guaranteed. 

I'll feel good if D can move back home with his mom and be able to stay peaceful.  I told him I understood why he did what he did, but as has been too clear with other juveniles I know, it is too easy to build up a record as an African-American youth and end up in a revolving door of the criminal justice system.  D deserves all the enrichment programs I can find for him, all the opportunities to get his self-esteem back where it belongs.  Perhaps even a POSSE scholarship is in D's future.  We'll see in a year or two.  Stay tuned.