Teen pursues life's 'pearls' by attending King's college

August 16, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

ASK KEON Gerow a question and he'll pause a second before answering. Then he starts to answer slowly. Soon he's stringing together words, phrases and sentences -- mesmerizing the listener with soaring, almost lyrical oratory.

"I look at the world as filled with oysters, all filled with pearls inside," Keon says. "All I have to do is open the oysters and get the pearls."

Listen to him a few minutes and you'll understand why people want to help him. Keon, 17, graduated from Lake Clifton High School in June. He's been accepted at Morehouse College, where his education will cost him some $17,000 a year. Although he's eligible for scholarship money, Keon is hedging his bets by trying to raise extra money on his own -- with help from a few friends.

"I believe it's one of the greatest needs in the black community," Keon said of raising money for those who want to go to college. "I believe too many of us spend too much on liquor and cigarettes."

It sounds as if the youth has just challenged his elders to be more conscious of how they spend their money. Could black America, indeed, send an entire generation of its youth through college with the money we spend on booze and cigarettes? Wouldn't it be nice if we gave it a try?

Keon's received citations for academic achievement and community service from Gov. Parris Glendening, Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, the Maryland state legislature Black Caucus, Del. Clarence Mitchell IV and Del. Salima Siler Marriott. Former state Sen. Larry Young kicked in a donation. Cathy Hughes -- accused and convicted again of committing charitable acts -- allowed Keon to appeal for help on all four of the Radio One stations she owns in the Baltimore- Washington area.

Saturday before yesterday, Keon's godmother, Ertha Harris, held fund-raiser for him that netted between $3,000 and $4,000. On Thursday morning, he was on Larry Young's WOLB morning talk show to thank those who helped him. An hour later, he was sitting in Harris' Eden Street apartment in East Baltimore talking about his plans.

Dreams of law school

"I'm going to major in political science at Morehouse," he began. "Then, I want to go to Harvard Law School. Then I plan to work for a major law firm in Baltimore before I start my own law firm. By the time I'm 30, I plan to be a millionaire. By the time I'm 50, I want to be the richest black man in America, and by the time I die, I want to be the richest man in America."

Those are lofty dreams for a kid who grew up in subsidized housing in Cedonia and who comes from an environment where many boys his age get sucked into street life early on.

Guided by strict mother

"Many of our young men believe they are ghetto superstars," Keon lamented. "They know where the local penitentiary is but not where the local library is." Everything about his environment told Keon he should be either dead, selling drugs, in jail or have some girl pregnant at this stage of his life. His redeemer and guide has been Cynthia Trusty, his mother.

"I had a praying mother," Keon said of Trusty. "My mother was not afraid to put a foot in my behind. She stressed the importance of education and told me to put God in everything I do."

His mother's emphasis on education was reinforced when Keon worked for Baltimore attorney Warren Brown. Most of Brown's clients, Keon noticed, were undereducated and uneducated. But his plans for college started before he worked for Brown. While an eighth-grader at Chinquapin Middle School, Keon did some research on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and learned he graduated from Morehouse.

"I said I've got to be a Morehouse man, too," Keon recalled. "I've got to be a part of that legacy."

'Never give up'

Harris came up with the fund-raiser idea to help Keon become a part of that legacy. His church -- Mount Pleasant Baptist -- has been chipping in, too.

"I wanted to see if Baltimore City could send one child to college," Harris said. "We always say it takes a village to raise a child. I wanted to see if we were willing to put our money where our mouths are."

Aug. 8, some people did, dropping by the fund-raiser after attending the Ravens' game. Harris suspects some of them may have felt guilty about spending money on the Ravens and not Keon's education. Of course, it would have been nice if some of those Ravens had shown up to donate money, since most of them probably got through college with the help of something called athletic scholarships. Pro athletes won't hurt their cause if they send a message that they value education.

Keon has a message for his peers about the value of education and achievement.

"Never give up. Put 'can't' out of your vocabulary. On your way up the ladder of life, you're going to fall many times and catch many splinters. But when you fall, fall on your back. Because when you fall on your back, you can look up. And if you can look up, you can get up."

Those wishing to donate to Keon's education can make checks payable to Keon Gerow, P.O. Box 533, Baltimore, Md. 21203.

Pub Date: 8/16/98

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