His Brother's Keeper

November 15, 1994

With the recent lamentations about all that is wrong with our nation's society, it would have been easy to overlook an item of good news that appeared recently in The Sun about a remarkable 18-year-old Glen Burnie youth who is raising his 12-year-old brother.

Tavon Johnson could have been just another statistic -- one more black male murdered or imprisoned. His mother was a drug addict who left him to fend for himself. His father is in prison for drug violations. No one would have been surprised if Tavon had mirrored his parents' behavior.

But he didn't. Tavon goes to school, works part-time and hopes one day to go to college. A judge was so impressed with his maturity that last summer he awarded the teen-ager custody of his little brother, Gajuan.

How could one young man turn out so well considering all he had going against him?

When Tavon's mother was out getting high, he stayed home and took care of his brother and baby sister. When the man he considers his father invited him to go along on a robbery, he refused, knowing it wasn't right.

Somehow young Tavon Johnson learned right from wrong. He learned to take responsibility and to set goals and then to see them through.

It seems unlikely that his parents taught him these values. Yet while his parents usually weren't there for him, others were.

The Boy Scouts held daily meetings in a recreation center of the public housing project where he lived, giving Tavon something else to do after school when his peers were hanging out and taking drugs. The Take Back Our Streets program, which was started by state Sen. Michael Wagner (who, incidentally, was defeated in last week's election), introduced the youth to police officers who befriended and encouraged him. A Legal Aid lawyer helped him to win custody of his brother. The workers at Sarah's House, the homeless shelter at Fort George G. Meade, found he and his brother a subsidized apartment on Fort Meade grounds. And since the article about Tavon appeared two weeks ago in The Sun, hundreds of readers have offered to help.

Obviously, public and private initiatives only work when recipients are willing to help themselves. But after so much complaining about all that is wrong, we must praise the many dedicated volunteers and professionals who are out there helping people such as Tavon to change their lives.

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