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HOW DREAMS DIE
GEORGE DOHRMANN
June 30, 2008
TO ESCAPE GANGS AND VIOLENCE, KIDS OFTEN TURN TO SPORTS. MANY IN OAKLAND NO LONGER SEE THEM AS THE WAY OUT
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June 30, 2008

How Dreams Die

TO ESCAPE GANGS AND VIOLENCE, KIDS OFTEN TURN TO SPORTS. MANY IN OAKLAND NO LONGER SEE THEM AS THE WAY OUT

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"It's like 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 does."

IN BERKELEY, 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 girl.

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 the job.

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 out loud:

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.

He stopped abruptly. He saw no point in going on.

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