I am my own parent'

As they try to reach their goal of graduation, Iven Bailey and Gary Sells are weighed down by worries `about family

Special Report

October 10, 2005|By LIZ BOWIE | LIZ BOWIE,SUN REPORTER

Herman Harried, Lake Clifton's basketball coach, eased his SUV to a curb on Harford Road and deposited one of his players, a lanky senior named Iven Bailey, into a raw evening of early February. Harried, an imposing former forward for Syracuse University, was known as a rigorous coach. Any player who missed practice had to run laps with a brick in each hand. His six-day-a-week sessions went on hour after hour, long after the building had otherwise emptied.

But Harried had ulterior motives in keeping his players so late. He knew that if his kids were in the gym, they were safe, a certainty he didn't have once he discharged them onto the streets of Baltimore.

Now, after tonight's victory over Carver, he was dropping off Iven, but not before issuing his usual stern warning. Go straight home, he told him. Stay out of trouble.

The boy protested: "Coach, I don't do that. I'm going into the house." He slapped five with his best friend, Gary Sells, whom Harried would drop off next. The car pulled away.

Iven and Gary were seniors at Lake Clifton-Eastern High School. They had become friends after sharing a secret with one another: Each was living on his own, apart from parents or any other guardians. They were among Baltimore's 2,289 homeless students.

The streetlights cast odd shadows across the block as Iven made his way. Ahead of him, he spotted a group of boys he knew hanging out on a porch.

"How'd the game go, Iven?" someone called.

Iven climbed the steps to join them. No harm in jawing with them for a few minutes, he thought.

Then, he said, he heard shots and registered the ping, ping, ping of bullets hitting a metal roof. Without hesitation, Iven's legs were pumping, putting distance between himself and the gunfire. He sprang over one porch rail after another in frantic flight. Above the sounds of his own panting, he heard someone shout: "He's been shot! He's dying!"

In moments, he was in the living room of his rowhouse, peering through the curtains. Other kids in other places might not have had to think twice about what could happen if they stopped to banter with their buddies. But not on Tivoly Avenue.

Soon enough, Iven saw kids he knew being shoved into squad cars. Worried that the police had come for him, too, he grabbed a phone and dialed the number of one of the few adults he knew would come pick him up, a Lake Clifton teacher named Cheyanne Zahrt. Would she come get him and drive him to Gary's, where he'd be safe for the night? Zahrt agreed, and shortly, he heard her car horn honking outside his door. He scrambled into the car, and soon the two were sitting in a fast-food restaurant. "I could have got killed," he told her.

Perilous neighborhood

Iven knew as well as anybody how perilous Tivoly was. He also knew that he loved it.

He liked walking down the block to buy candy at the corner convenience store with his cousin, Isaiah Brooks, at 5 a miniature version of Iven with his own chin-length dreadlocks. They didn't dwell on the carcasses of empty buildings that surrounded them or the garbage piled nearly as high as Isaiah's waist.

Even in his short lifetime, Iven had seen the neighborhood deteriorate. He could remember a time when the street was almost pretty, when every third house wasn't boarded up or burned out and the frame porches didn't sag.

Iven liked that he knew just about everyone as he and Isaiah sauntered along. He could say who lived across the street and who had lived there before them. People moved at a leisurely pace here, and talk was plentiful. Iven always ran into friends from grade school or their brothers, sisters, parents or cousins. They sometimes came to cheer him on at basketball games, filling a bleacher section.

He liked seeing the children on bikes looping up and down the street or his friends, standing in bunches, cracking each other up. He liked hanging out at the little store, which was barely recognizable as a business from the outside. He'd idly listen to the gossip while perusing a wall of photographs from the neighborhood, of girls glowing in their prom dresses, of boys playing football in numbered jerseys, of smiling mothers showing off newborns.

Word spread quickly about what had happened the night of the gunfire. One brother had accidentally shot and killed another. Iven knew the shooter, knew his brother, too.

Police say the 2700 block of Tivoly is one of the worst in that area of Northeast Baltimore. About half the houses on the block have been raided for drugs in the past couple years, said Sgt. A.J. Bickauskas, head of the drug squad in the Northeast District. Heroin and crack cocaine are sold openly; marijuana is everywhere.

In 2004, within a five-minute walk of where Iven was then living on Tivoly, 12 people had been shot and four others murdered. It was no better where his friend, Gary, lived almost a mile to the south. During the same year, three people were killed in Gary's neighborhood and 12 others shot. Most of the casualties were under 30.

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