Determination keeps the dream from dying

January 17, 1995|By WILEY A. HALL

Troy Lamont Crowley, 22, was playing basketball at a recreation center in Southwest Baltimore. He got the ball, made a move and went up to sink the winning basket.

"Travel!" shouted an opponent.

"Travel?" responded Troy. "How's it going to be a travel? The ref is standing right there."

But the two players continued to argue, getting angrier and angrier: "Man," said the other player to his buddies, "let's go on out of here before I kill me somebody."

"Go ahead then," said Troy defiantly.

And that made the other player madder. He went to his gym bag and pulled a handgun. He stuck the pistol into Troy's chest and cocked the weapon. Troy grabbed the barrel and hit the other player in the mouth. They struggled, falling to the ground. Then the gun went off, wounding Troy in the lower right leg. Troy continued to clutch the gun. He felt that if he held on, police might be able to use the pistol to trace his assailant.

"Let go! Let go!" shouted the gunman. One of the gunman's buddies stepped up then and stomped on Troy's arm -- once, twice -- until Troy was forced to release the gun.

"I'm sorry man," said the gunman as Troy lay bleeding on the ground, then fled with his buddies into the night.

Both Troy and the other player are black. The shooting occurred shortly after 7 p.m. on Sunday, which would have been the 66th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, a champion of non-violence. And so, things have come to this: We could not have one moment's peace from the senseless violence, the wanton bloodshed, the careless, reckless, insane destruction of life and limb -- not even on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

"Some of these young people, they're just killing Dr. King's dream, they're just killing it," Troy's mother, Lillie Mayo, was saying passionately yesterday. "It's like everything Dr. King and his generation tried to do went for nothing, as though nothing he accomplished means a thing to some of these kids."

Ms. Mayo, a counselor at the Baltimore Detention Center, had just returned home from St. Agnes Hospital, where her only son remains in stable condition with a shattered leg. Doctors have told the family that it may be a year before the leg heals completely. The gunman, police say, remains at large.

Ms. Mayo's eyes are wet with tears. She takes several deep breaths to try to control herself. We are in the living room of her home on West Mulberry Street. Pictures of her son are on the wall: Troy as a bright smiling toddler, in a sailor's suit with a part in his hair; Troy and his girlfriend in evening wear on prom night. The pictures show a tall, handsome, broad-shouldered young man, beaming proudly.

"There are too many kids now, down at the Detention Center for fussing and fighting and shooting each other," Ms. Mayo continues. "Why does it have to be like this all of the time? Why is it that whenever somebody tries to pull himself together and get ahead, somebody else has to come along and try to take him down?"

A lot of people these days seem to be wondering what happened to Dr. King's dream. Self-hatred and despair seem to have gripped portions of black America. The community seems at war with itself.

But dreams are tougher than that and far, far more wonderful. The civil rights movement opened doors of opportunity to millions of Americans, black and white. Some people may choose not to take advantage of those opportunities. But the doors remain open.

Yesterday, Ms. Mayo was concerned about the effect of the shooting on her son's career plans. After years spent "running with a bad crowd" and getting into trouble, she said, Troy had returned to school and obtained a high school diploma in December. He was scheduled to start college this semester at Coppin State, majoring in business management and computer science.

But don't count him out. I spoke with Troy briefly at St. Agnes; he plans to start school as scheduled. "Yep," he said weakly. "February 15. I'll be there. No question."

It is this kind of determination -- not the violence -- that is the true reflection of Dr. King's dream. And it lives on.

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