By then, Hagler was a fatherless loner who turned Ida Mae's back porch into a clinic for wounded birds and a coop for raising and training pigeons. A turtle lived on the fire escape, and to Ida Mae's dismay Marvin even let it swim in the family tub. "They were the only friends I could relate to," Hagler says of the animals. "Maybe the only friends I really liked. I was always by myself."
Hagler was reaching out when Mister Joe reached in. "He helped me with any problems I had," Hagler says. "He taught me sports. We went to the park to fly kites. He'd call up, 'What's the problem? You gonna be at the club?' He kept me out of trouble. He got me involved in counseling other kids. I haven't seen him since I was a kid, and I've been trying to find the guy again for a long time. I do believe that one day he'll show up."
Mister Joe gave Marvin his first set of gloves, and his uncles began to teach him how to use them. "A rough bunch," Hagler says.
"He always said he wanted to be a boxer," Ida Mae says. "I didn't believe him. He said he wanted to be like Floyd Patterson. 'When I get grown,' he'd say, 'I'm gonna buy you a home.' I thought he'd be a social worker. He loved little kids."
The uncles came and went, as did the broken-winged birds, the pigeons, Mister Joe. The one constant in Marvin's life was his immediate family: his grandmother, Bessie Hagler, his brother, his sisters and Ida Mae. "We were close, very close," says Cheryl, 23. Even today, on birthdays and holidays they come together to celebrate.
Ida Mae—a bright, jovial woman of exceptional strength and vitality who kept the kids on a short rein—worked as a caterer and housekeeper. When Marvin was 14 and a freshman in high school, he dropped out of school to work in a toy factory to help support the family.
"As long as we have each other, we can make it," Ida Mae used to tell them. And, "Don't get on the wrong track: No drugs, no prisons for us." And, "Stay away from strangers. Mind your own business." And, "Come straight home from school. Stay home till I get home."
Ida Mae's word was law. "That's what brought us up to be the way we are," says Marvin. "Everybody that came into the house, you better make sure it was 'miss' or 'mister' when you spoke. That's the way she was."
Although they were poor, at Christmas there was always a tree, at dinnertime there was always a meal. If the clothes weren't new, they were always clean. "We took care of what we had," Veronica says. And when there was a race riot, Ida Mae was there, her voice a broom that whisked the kids under Veronica's bed.
That's how they survived the first riot, living close to the ground. It began on July 12, 1967. For five days Newark was a battleground and the Haglers were caught in the crossfire. They lived on the top floor of a three-story building. Looking down on the streets at the looters, Marvin says, was like watching ants on a picnic table.