the churches. It used to be that people wouldn't shoot someone in a church or
do a drive-by in front of a church, but now that happens all the time,"
says Pugh. "Back in the day, being an athlete spared you. Now, nothing
SHATTUCK Avenue bubbles with college students and tourists and young
professionals. But as Shattuck stretches deeper into Oakland, the sidewalks
empty and the houses and buildings are dilapidated and dire. Fred Lawson
stepped off a bus on a particularly grim stretch of Shattuck one night in
April. It was an area you didn't venture into unless you were raised there, a
place where you could get shot just passing through. Fred was there because at
a party earlier in the night a girl had suggested they meet up later at her
house. She lived in North Oakland, off Shattuck, and even though he knew it
wasn't a place he should go, he was a 17-year-old boy and she was a pretty
He stayed at the
girl's home until 3 a.m. and then faced a long walk back to Berkeley. He made
it only a few blocks before the pop of gunshots sounded and he was on the
ground writhing in pain. One bullet hit his right thigh, another pierced his
back, puncturing his right lung. Two bullets hit his right arm, another two his
left. Two more bullets hit his scrotum. He doesn't know who found him, but he
ended up in Highland Hospital in Oakland, registered under an assumed name
because of the facility's concerns that whoever shot him would try to finish
Unlike so many of
his peers, Fred didn't die, but his athletic dreams did. His use of his hands
is so restricted that he can't even zip his jacket or click the seat belt in a
car. He may never recover the full use of them. He walks slowly, like an old
man with war wounds that never healed. He doesn't know if he was targeted or a
random victim, and he doesn't care.
On a recent
weekday Fred sat on the couch in his mother's apartment in Berkeley. His high
school graduation was a week away, and he had finished enough schoolwork to
walk with his class at the Greek Theatre. He was excited about that milestone
but also worried about what comes next. Grambling State accepted him as part of
an initiative to enroll more at-risk students, but even with a full complement
of financial aid he doesn't believe he can afford it. "I know I want to go
somewhere," he said. "I need to get out of here."
Fred then slowly
stood up and walked gingerly toward his bedroom. He had hung a sheet of
crinkled white paper on his bedroom door, on which was printed the Pledge of
Success. Seeming to notice it for the first time, he read the first three lines
Today is a new
day, a new beginning.
It has been given
to me as a gift.
I can either use
it or throw it away.
abruptly. He saw no point in going on.