A tale of two lives

Poverty's grip: What gave Juan Dixon the power to overcome and left Derrick Breedlove dead?

March 19, 2002

ALL OVER Maryland these days, young people admire Juan Dixon, a Baltimore kid with a talent for life and for survival. Yes, of course, he's a basketball player, an athlete of grace and instinct. He and his Terrapin team may be headed for a national championship.

But Mr. Dixon has already won a bigger game - a game that took the life of Derrick Lemell Breedlove, a young man whose promise seemed, if not Dixonesque, sufficient to get him an education and a chance at life.

Juan Dixon grew up the hard way. Both his parents were addicted to drugs. Both died of AIDS. Still, they imparted intangible skills - immutable love - that remains in their two sons, one of whom is a Baltimore police officer.

Few will know of Derrick Lemell Breedlove. He was killed last week during an armed holdup. Police say he had robbed the same store at least twice before and possibly other stores as well.

Grieving friends say Derrick was polite and confident. He had a football scholarship to Hampton University in Virginia.

He threw it away. He chose to be a holdup man instead.

Theorists say some poor kids don't believe they have a future even when it's been laid out for them. So many of their friends get killed or hurt or lured into crime, they think it's their destiny. Potential and promise are useful only for people who can imagine a future. It's one theory among many.

If anyone knew what allowed Juan Dixon to trust his abilities, to see himself on a Final Four team, they'd use it to help others.

It's an imponderable, a mystery of human existence - which all the mourners of Derrick Breedlove have to keep pondering. We know he's not the last kid who'll have to make a life or death decision.

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