EVERY MORNING LAST JUNE, Alfred (Fred) Lawson woke at six in the narrow apartment he shared with his mother in Berkeley, Calif., put on black sweatpants, white Reebok running shoes and a hooded sweatshirt, then stood in front of a mirror on his bedroom wall. He was a sinewy 16-year-old, with dark skin and a slight fade to his short-cropped hair. A scar that slashed beneath his nose—the remnants of a surgically repaired cleft lip—made him appear menacing, as did his habit of punching his right fist into his left palm as he spoke.
Staring at himself in the mirror, his hood up, Fred recited from memory the Pledge of Success, which had been recently introduced to him by a teacher at his high school.
Today is a new day, a new beginning.
It has been given to me as a new gift.
I can either use it or throw it away.
What I do today will affect me tomorrow.
I cannot blame anyone but myself if I do not succeed.
I promise to use this day to the fullest by giving my best, realizing it can never come back again.
This is my life and I choose to make it a success.
Fred would punch his palm one final time and head for the door, bursting into the California morning as hopeful as he'd ever been. These were his halcyon days, rooted in a dream common to boys his age: getting an athletic scholarship to college. That vision propelled Fred as he ran east through Berkeley. Because traffic was light that early, he often raced down the middle of the street, up Addison or Allston, where every few blocks the road bends around a flower-filled traffic circle.