A Time For Celebration

After completing a tumultuous senior year, Iven Bailey and Gary Sells savor their rites of passage

Special Report

October 12, 2005|By LIZ BOWIE | LIZ BOWIE,SUN REPORTER

Last of four parts-- --In pristine white tails, Iven Bailey strode through a pungent alley and emerged, like a performer from backstage, onto sunlit Tivoly Avenue. Waiting for him there was his audience, neighbors eager to have a look at the cleaned-up senior on the evening of his high school prom. His two older sisters danced around him, giggling and snapping pictures. Car horns honked in approval. A woman yelled from her front steps, "Oooh, you look good. I wish I was young enough to go."

As collected as a movie star, Iven paraded around the block accepting compliments. Then he borrowed a cushion and placed it underneath himself before sitting down on the steps of an abandoned house. He wasn't about to risk smudging his pants.

His little cousin, Isaiah, squirmed up next to him. Music blared over the block from a stereo. A little girl inspected him, the lone disapproving soul. "You got too much glitter," she sniffed.

Iven did glitter, from the gold fronts on his teeth to his sparkly gold tie to the gold outlining the soles of his black shoes.

Iven and his best friend Gary Sells planned to wring every bit of fun from this night. Both boys were about to graduate from Lake Clifton-Eastern High School after a year that entailed so much more than schooling: incarceration, violence, arrest, homelessness and hunger. They were among 2,289 homeless Baltimore students.

Each still faced great uncertainty. Iven didn't know how he'd pay for Allegany College, the junior college in Cumberland to which he had been admitted. And Gary had no idea what he would do after graduation. Soon both boys would be out of money.

But now, as their high school careers came to a close, they felt they'd earned the right to celebrate.

Weeks ago, their dates had ordered their dresses from seamstresses after long negotiations with the boys to coordinate the colors of the tuxedos and gowns. Gary paid his prom expenses from $350 he had won in a dice game plus some money his father had kicked in. Iven used savings from an account that he had set up with the help of Lake Clifton's principal, Lisa Tarter. The money had come from the Social Security benefit he received as a result of his father's death.

Iven had once envisioned picking up his date, Kendria Manning, in a horse-drawn carriage but had conceded that was not a practical idea. On his part, Gary had been unable to borrow a fancy car from a friend.

For two usually impulsive teenagers, Iven and Gary had planned meticulously. Gary would play it cool. He would lounge on his front steps until just before it was time to go. He wanted to arrive late at Martin's West, when the event was in full swing. Iven, on the other hand, had gotten dressed early to leave plenty of time to show off in front of friends and neighbors on Tivoly.

He was enjoying all the attention while affecting an air of nonchalance. Then he spotted his mother.

Janet Bailey was sitting on the concrete steps outside Betty Jones' house. Iven had boarded with Jones for a few months earlier in the year.

When Janet had walked up, she was unsteady on her feet, and Jones had worried about Iven's reaction. "He is going to be so upset when he sees her," Jones said.

Iven had thought his mother might show up to see him on his prom night. He had deliberately distanced himself from her these past months. Seeing her now was bittersweet.

He walked over to her, looked into eyes that now glistened in the soft afternoon light and reached out to take her hands.

She gazed at him and began to wail. "I love you. My baby, my baby. You made it. Oh, my child made it." The words were joyful, but there was unmistakable sorrow in her voice. Iven teared up.

"Please don't cry," she begged. She was practically screeching.

The moment was interrupted by a pounding noise. Everyone turned in that direction and saw several teenage boys splayed on the sidewalk as men in black clothing held guns to their heads. Two doors down from where Iven and Janet Bailey clasped hands, other men dressed in black forced their way through the front door and began herding young men outside.

When the men with guns turned their backs, the white lettering on their shirts revealed who they were: "POLICE." They were carrying out drug raids on two houses. Unmarked police cars, their doors open wide, blocked the street. A police officer began putting plastic handcuffs on the suspects. The crowd on the street thinned as people retreated to their porches or went inside.

Iven could see it was time to go, and he climbed into a car driven by a friend. Off they went to pick up Kendria.

At their house in a middle-class neighborhood of brick duplexes, Kendria's mother and father watched her descend the stairs from the second floor. "Where is the rest of the material?" McKenneth Manning said, eyeing his daughter's short black dress. Kendria told him that the dressmaker had cut it a little shorter than she had expected. She yanked on the hem.

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