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Mark Breland is dreaming. On this dappled May morning he has just turned 21, and his life is stretched out before him like the Manhattan skyline, which looms hazily across the East River.
From the kitchen window of his parents' four-bedroom, 14th-floor apartment in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, the black ghetto where Breland was born and raised and still lives, you can see the Empire State Building, the most imposing symbol of wealth and power in midtown Manhattan. Below the window, in the vacant lots and burned-out buildings, just around the corner from where the junkies hang out in the nightly ritual of hanging on, the ghetto stirs noisily toward noon.
"Anything can happen there," Breland says, glancing out the window. "Anything. It was tough. I grew up fast." And grew up to be a New York Golden Gloves champion a record five times—and the leading U.S. hope for a gold medal in boxing at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Now Breland is looking out a window to a newly imagined world, one that surely awaits him if he can just grasp it. It's right over there, beyond the Manhattan skyline, where the roads lead north along the Hudson River.
"There are a lot of things I dream that I hope come true," Breland says. "I dream of having a big house with a lot of dogs. Ten acres. Upstate New York. Just a picket fence. Keep the lawn nice. Hedges all around. I'll have a gardener...and I'll have an apartment in Manhattan, so I can be close enough to come back around here and visit.
"I want to renovate old buildings and rent them out, but not at high rates, because the people around here don't have a lot of money. And I want to open centers for the little kids to go to, to give them something to do, anything they want, and...I do love clothes. Tommy Hearns has got such nice stuff. I'd like a new Jaguar or a Mercedes, beige and brown, or a nice olive green. And a girl like Jayne Kennedy. If you're driving a nice car, a nice-lookin' girl should be in there with you...and I want to buy my mother a house."
Luemisher Breland, Mark's mother, has long been imagining the way and the day it will all suddenly happen—when Mark comes home to tell her that she's leaving Brooklyn and going back home again. "I pray and hope it will happen," she says. Born one of eight children to a Denmark, S.C. farmer, Luemisher Freeman grew up poor in the rural South, where she met and married Harlem-born, South Carolina-raised Herbert Breland, and then came north to Brooklyn to settle down and raise a family. Herbert has worked as a roofer with the same New York company for 26 years; Luemisher has toiled alternately as a nursing home attendant and a domestic. Together they have raised six kids, Mark being the fourth, and she has never let go of the hope that one day she might return to her roots and live in a place of her own.
"My father used to say to me, 'Why don't you come back down South and help me open a restaurant?' " Luemisher says. "If Mark asked me what he could do for me, I'd say, 'Mark, open me a restaurant in South Carolina.' Soul food. Collard greens, ham, chitlins, rice and peas. I love to cook."
Just as trainer George Washington loves to teach young fighters. Of course, he has been dreaming, too. "Ain't no doubt about it," says Washington, 57, who has been training Breland since he walked into the Broadway Gym in Brooklyn at the age of nine. "Now it's a new world all the way around.... I love fishing. I like to play bingo, but the first thing I'll do is put some money in the bank. Then I'll buy me another house and rent that out. Then me and my wife would start traveling."
The reverie in which Breland, his family and trainer are indulging can best be described as California dreaming. Because after Breland wins this weekend's Olympic boxoff at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, as he surely will, his path to glory and gold depends on how he performs in the Los Angeles Sports Arena on Aug. 11, the day of the boxing finals.
The scenario is as easy to follow as the fighter's sometimes lazy left jab: After Breland wins the Olympic gold medal in the 147-pound class, he has his first pro fight in November in Madison Square Garden, with all the tickets being given away to New York youths as a way of thanking them for supporting him as a Golden Gloves amateur. Within two years he becomes a gate attraction on the order of Sugar Ray Leonard. He wins the world welterweight title, as Leonard did (if, that is, Breland can still make the 147-pound weight after two or three years). He commands millions for a few more years, a la Leonard, and endorses his way to further riches. He models clothes and speaks at Rotary luncheons. Upon his retirement he resumes his career as a movie actor. (When he was 19, he played the part of the first black cadet in a racially twisted Southern military school in the 1983 film The Lords of Discipline.)