HOLMBERG: A Thanksgiving story — ‘Beating The Odds’ — 25 years later
November 28, 2014 - accent chair
RICHMOND, Va. — Twenty-five years ago in Richmond, there wasn’t many to be beholden about this time of year.
Crack heroin had come to city and a streets literally ran red with blood.
I was a contributor behind afterwards for a Times-Dispatch, and we were doing a lot of stories about school-age children killing, or being killed.
Those were grave years, when a city was one of a nation’s many deadly, when downtown roughly became a spook town.
T-D photographer Bruce Parker and we were both ill of it all, so we set off looking for a immature male or immature lady from a ‘hood who was doing great.
That led us to George Wythe High School and Damon Richardson, a 17-year-old comparison who grew adult in a Hillside Court housing plan with his singular mother.
I kept adult with him a small bit over a years. we knew he went to Virginia Military Institute, that one of his brothers had been killed in a stolen automobile being chased by military and that his other hermit went to prison.
But it was usually by possibility recently that we ran into any other and got held up.
In those 25 years, Damon trafficked a universe as an engineer, got married and now has dual sons of his own.
Now he’s here, in assign of contrast and comment during Richmond schools, where he can give behind to those who grew adult like he did.
I schooled Damon’s mom is still alive and his stepfather, who was a large motivating cause in his life, has upheld on.
But after his initial son was born, Damon got to accommodate his biological father and detected a new universe of relatives.
As a reporter, we rise relations with those we interview. It’s a sweet, beholden thing to reconnect with them and see how their universe has incited since.
It was a sold pleasure to locate adult with Dr. Damon Richardson.
I wish we get a possibility to watch a video. Here’s a strange story from 25 years ago:
DAMON: A STORY OF BEATING THE ODDS
Richmond Times-Dispatch – Thursday, Nov 23, 1989
Author: Mark Holmberg ; Times-Dispatch staff writer
This is not a story about a teen-age strike male and where he went wrong.
Nor is it about a talent or an unusually means athlete.
It’s about Damon Richardson, a industrious immature male who was lifted with dual brothers and a sister by his mom in a projects.
“We tend to collect adult on stories about youths in trouble, though we don’t collect adult stories like Damon’s,” pronounced Shelley White, Damon’s superintendence advisor during George Wythe High School.
This is his story, a Thanksgiving story about where a disadvantaged immature male went right . . .
At 6 a.m. Damon awakens. He doesn’t need an alarm time or a screaming parent. Unlike some youths, he feels usually pleasing expectation as he gets prepared for school.
And because not? He loves to study, that is because he has a B+ average. They like him during school; honour him. And if all goes well, by subsequent tumble he’ll be investigate engineering during Virginia Military Institute.
He dresses in garments bought with assets from his pursuit during Moore’s Building Supply. Not costly clothes, though nice, delicately comparison from Broad Street stores. Silk shirt, striped slacks, tasseled loafers, sweater.
After a play of cereal, he grabs his propagandize gear, stairs out a doorway and starts his mile-long travel to George Wythe High School as a object rises over a Capital City.
* * *
Damon Richardson came into this universe on Oct. 27, 1972.
His mother, hermit and sister lived in Hillside Court, a subsidized housing plan in Richmond’s South Side. It was Damon’s home for 16 years.
Soon after his father named him Damon, a Richardsons pennyless up.
“I got his center name, Rodriguez, when we watched a ball diversion on a television,” remembered his mother, Pearl.
“They were some tough times,” she pronounced Sunday as she whisked some rolls out of a oven in her Fulton Bottom apartment. Greens simmered on a stove along with a pot of duck and rice.
“I don’t know how we finished it,” she said.
But Pearl Richardson, one of 9 children innate to a dairy plantation worker, is no foreigner to tough times. When Damon was a lady she worked prolonged hours as a beautician — Damon had a lot of giveaway time.
But even as a toddler, there was something different, something solid about a still child who always seemed to be listening.
“He was a good child,” Mrs. Richardson pronounced as she poured Kool-Aid. “Somebody in a family had to be good.”
* * *
George Wythe is a predominately black center city open propagandize and partial of a inhabitant propagandize complement that gets bloody for graduating students who don’t know how to review or that sea is a Atlantic. Rakie Cloyd, a scandalous teen-age strike man, went to propagandize there quickly before he was shot to death.
But a school, a home of a Bulldogs, is a unapproachable one. A propagandize where a principal frequently arrives with a rising object and leaves after it sets. One where a Pledge of Allegiance is taken unequivocally severely any morning during 7:45 pointy and a teachers aren’t fearful to tackle religion.
“The teachers learn we here,” Damon says as he walks a terrazzo hallways.
For Damon, George Wythe has been a safe, happy place. A home. “A lot of times we wish it wasn’t my final year.” He stops and looks around during a brownish-red hallways with a exposed fluorescent bulbs overhead. “I’m unequivocally going to skip everybody here. But during slightest when we leave we know I’ll have some knowledge.”
When his mom changed from Hillside Court to Fulton Bottom recently, Damon hated a thought of changing schools. He is beholden that his father, who lives nearby Wythe, authorised him to pierce in with him for his final year of high school. A few mins past 7 a.m. he opens his locker, A-675, and grabs his supervision text and stashes his gym bag. He visits with a lady from his English category and afterwards walks to his initial category upstairs in room 216.
He’s watchful there when a clergyman unlocks a doorway 10 mins later.
* * *
Somehow Pearl Richardson found time to be there for her children. “She always supposing for us — we always found a way,” Damon remembered. “My mom kept me going.”
“I stayed on him,” his mom admitted.
But for many of Damon’s lady there was always “Nanny,” his grandmother on his mother’s side, not to discuss “Dr. Pepper,” her switch.
She won’t contend how aged she is, though Elizabeth Walker, Damon’s grandmother, admits being married during age 13. She started her family of 9 shortly afterward.”He’s never been a smart-alecky boy,” Mrs. Walker pronounced from her Church Hill home after she and Damon went to church Sunday — usually like they’ve finished scarcely any Sunday for Damon’s 17 years. “I call him on a write if we need something and, `Yes’m Nana,’ here he comes.”
Mrs. Walker grew adult on a lorry plantation with her grandparents, some aunts, nieces and nephews.
“I never seen my father,” she remembered. “They pronounced he was going to city to get something for a new baby and he never came back.
“We didn’t have nothing,” she said, clearly relishing a memory. “We didn’t have zero to worry about. We ate fatback beef and brownish-red gravy with onions and prohibited biscuits and we pennyless that bread and sopped that gravy . . . ” She slapped her thigh and smacked her lips. “Lord, that was good.
“In a aged days, people used to unequivocally hunt,” Mrs. Walker said. “Nowadays it’s got incited around — they fire humans, and they can’t eat ‘ em.”
Gospel song played on a radio as Mrs. Walker warmed to a topic. Damon listened, clearly spellbound, as his grandmother’s voice gained movement like Martin Luther King’s used to do.
“Don’t get started with a squad that hangs out on a travel and we won’t have to dope with it. Yessss, Lord! Taste and you’ll wish to keep on tasting!
“Go to propagandize and investigate to do good!” she said. “Be good to your associate man. Be eccentric and assistance learn a other boys!
“Be somebody!” Although she remained seated, she seemed to building over her listeners.
“You are somebody!”
“Oh, that boy,” she nodded during Damon, “he’s got a intelligent proceed of training . . . he was always quiet. Best to be still and learn more.”
The deeply eremite seamstress railed opposite radio with a assault and permissiveness. She talked about Dr. Pepper, her switch, and how she would “sting” with it if a child continued to act adult after he was warned.
“Promising that you’re going to switch `em and afterwards violation that guarantee will hurt a child. Yes, you’ll hurt them if we let them have their way.
“But we contingency not scold a child when you’re blood insane and prepared to fight. Do it calmly.”
Mrs. Walker, a 13 year-old newlywed, had been married 32 years when her father died.
“We had a customary and we taught it to a children. You had to go by it if we were underneath a roof. You had to obey.”
She laughed, as she does so often. “Even when we was immature we had an aged folks’ mind — we usually knowed these things.”
She smiles during Damon, afterwards looks out a window. “Lord, would we demeanour during all that mud on my car.”
No doubt Damon was creation skeleton to rinse it.
* * *
The bell rings during 8:45 for a second duration during George Wythe. Damon walks down a gymnasium dual classrooms, takes a chair and pulls out a contemporary German brief story he’s translating.
This is one of his favorite classes.
Ernest Roane, his German teacher, strides into a room and starts his instruction in his European accent. The 10 or so students are operative on opposite levels and on opposite projects.
Roane paces, challenges, covers a chalkboard with accurate script. The students compensate despotic attention.
Midway by a class, Roane abruptly stops training German and starts an English abbreviation doctrine so he can improved explain noun conjugation.
It’s partial of his common routine, he explained after class.
“I trust in a sum proceed to education,” Roane said. “I review their essays from English category so we can find their diseased points.”
Roane has taken a special seductiveness in Damon; it’s a attribute he likes to settle with all of his unfamiliar denunciation students during Wythe, Armstrong and Huguenot. “I guard his work in other classes . . . he has to uncover me his news card. He knows he has to magnitude up.”
Besides training German, Roane believes he contingency “mold, encourage, fortify and guide. we am their mother, father, brother, sister, judge, policeman and educator. we contingency ready them for tomorrow.”
* * *
Damon is shy, though not painfully so. He carries his 6-foot-3-inch support proudly down a George Wythe hallways, smiling and articulate to his friends.
Once he reaches his English class, LaVerne Williams sends Damon and 3 other students to a library so their comparison speeches, that have been singled out for their quality, can be videotaped.
Damon faces a camera, his long, slim fingers nervously ruffling his evidence cards . . .
“Sex,” he says. “Now let’s stop and consider about it.”
He goes on to explain because sex preparation shouldn’t be taught in school. He compares termination and teen-aged sex to shoplifting: “They don’t learn safe- shoplifting in school, do they?”
* * *
Nearly a decade ago, Henry Sanchez graduated from George Wythe and attended Virginia Military Institute on a lane scholarship. Now that he has graduated and is enjoying success an an automatic operative for Virginia Power, Sanchez wants to change other George Wythe students down a same path. He has volunteered to assistance one industrious tyro any year.
“People can brand with me, I’m from their neighborhood,” Sanchez explained.
So he’s operative with Damon to get him enrolled in VMI on some kind of scholarship. ‘ ‘ We’re watchful for his SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Tests),” he said. “He’s got a category indicate normal and a extracurricular activities. It looks good.
“I unequivocally wish Damon to go,” combined Sanchez, who still lives nearby his aged neighborhood. “I’ll do all we can to see that he gets there. Maybe one day he can come behind to George Wythe and tell his story.”
* * *
After eating a beef gob and french grill lunch paid for with his savings, after algebra 2, production and mechanism class, Damon had a giveaway hour before a basketball team’s imperative hour-and-a-half investigate hall.
He found a chair in a gymnasium and relaxed.
“There are a lot of people revelation we right from wrong,” he says, his prolonged legs stretched out in front of him. “My mother, my aunts, my uncle, teachers, coaches, counselors, generally my grandmother.” He says he’s beholden for their advice, and their caring.
He talks about Isaac “Kareem” Gregory, a male who got many of a kids vital in a projects meddlesome in orderly sports.
“He got me concerned in lane during a immature age.
“When kids hang around a streets with zero to do, that’s when they get into trouble,” Damon adds.
“A lot of my friends are concerned in drugs — a few of them have died. And some of them are in jail.” He stares during one loafer, afterwards a other. “If we do drugs, you’re going to get caught. Like my grandmother says, a Lord is examination all a time.”
His eyes demeanour off into a center space between his boots and a lockers. “I theory I’ve always looked towards a destiny . . . where we would be . . .
“My father works in a grocery store — so does my comparison brother. we don’t wish to be a laborer . . . we know I’m improved than that.”
Last summer he worked dual jobs — during Moore’s and during Overnite Transporation — so he would have income for propagandize expenses.
“I wish to suffer my final year.”
So, for a initial time, Damon is perplexing out for basketball.
And a far-reaching laugh warms his brownish-red eyes when one of a coaches walks by and says: “Don’t forget to come out for track, Damon.”
Head basketball manager Bob Booker, like Damon’s teachers, doesn’t baby him.”Damon!” Booker barks as a 16 varsity hopefuls strain adult and down a wooden court. “Why do we open your legs like that when we jump? Sheez . . . “
And when he misses a layup . . . ‘ ‘ If that’s a best we can do, don’t worry . . . .”
Damon hopes he’ll make a team. His lean, 150-pound physique is lightning quick, though not means with an well-developed basketball ability. Whatever corner he gains will be gotten a same proceed he gets his grades — by tough work.
But that’s a kind of opinion that Coach Booker can appreciate: “He’ll be all right,” he says with a meaningful smile.
* * *
It’s after 8 p.m. and about 40 degrees outdoor when Damon, uninformed out of a shower, starts his 10-minute travel home.
It’s been a prolonged day, a good day. He’ll be in bed by 10 p.m. so he can do it again tomorrow.
As he walks, Damon talks about Thanksgiving, that he’ll spend during his mother’s. There will be perfumed rolls in a oven. Gravy on a stove. Loving relatives. The ethereal and minute sketch Damon finished of his mom 3 years ago will watch over a afternoon from a respected place on a countertop.
Thanksgiving will be special for Damon.
“I’ve got a lot to be beholden for.”