Fending off despair with lessons of hope

Father recovering from a family tragedy has turned his job into a lifeline for others

May 06, 2007|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun reporter

Most were mothers, with a few fathers scattered in the wooden benches. Either way, they were angry to find themselves in a city courthouse listening to some official types implying what miscreants their kids were and - by extension - what failures they were as parents.

All had received a letter recommending that their children be enrolled in a truancy court program. Now, here were a judge, law professor, public defender and principal showing them a video on "educational neglect," yet insisting they were only there to help.

As the speakers continued, parents and guardians hissed complaints to one another.

And then another man, a very large man in a dark green suit, stepped forward and said a few words that changed everything.

"You parents are blessed," he said.

He recalled how much he had relished taking his daughter to school and how he would never have that pleasure again.

"She is no longer with us."

The room went silent.

The man, Anthony "Bubba" Green, once a Baltimore Colts lineman, now runs a mentoring program for students in the truancy court. He has loved working with kids nearly all 49 years of his life.

But he never realized that helping young people would be the way to save himself and the way to keep himself engaged in this world. Then again, he never realized such things were necessary. Until a freak accident in a church softball game that made front-page news a year ago, he never realized how quickly you could lose what is most precious to you.

Deanna Camille Green was a stubborn child, a lefty who played first base right-handed. She had her father's wide-set, almond eyes and her mother's lighter skin and thin eyebrows. She grew tall like her parents: 5-foot-8 1/2 by age 14.

Candor was a trademark. After her dad lost his job at a foster care agency in fall 2005, she got mad at him for complaining. One day in the car, she smacked him on the ear, as Yolanda Adams sang "Victory" on the stereo.

"Daddy, listen to the words of the song," Anthony and his wife, Nancy, recall her saying. "Daddy, where is your faith?"

Truly I been through the storm and rain / I know everything about heartache and pain / But God carried me through it all. ...

As her love of fashion and big hoop earrings and gabbing on the phone increased, so did Anthony's vigilant monitoring of her clothing and makeup. He permitted the earrings, which grew larger every year in the annual school pictures, but everything else had to be conservative.

The first time she and her friends went to the movies without a parent, he and his wife and their other child, Tony, four and a half years older, sat in the parking lot peering into the lobby to make sure she was behaving like a lady. She was.

A girl with a voice

What distinguished her most was her voice. By middle school, she was training to sing opera as a lyric soprano, and her parents shuttled her to singing, piano and acting lessons.

Her maestro thought she could be the next Kathleen Battle, one of the country's most renowned lyric sopranos. Deanna sang at an 80th birthday party, at a family reunion, at a banquet for the city Housing Department, where her mother works. She brought a church crowd to its feet with "O Divine Redeemer."

Yet she was shy about her abilities. When an aunt asked to hear her opera singing, she shut herself in the bathroom and sang from there. She didn't tell friends what she was learning to do.

Last spring, Deanna was weeks away from her eighth-grade graduation at Deer Park Magnet Middle School in Randallstown. She had been accepted into the music program at Carver School of Arts and Technology.

Most days, Anthony drove her to school.

That Friday morning, May 5, 2006, Anthony was heading to a Colonial Baptist Church men's retreat in Leesburg, Va., and he asked Nancy to drive Deanna to school. But at the last minute, he took her. In the school parking lot, Deanna kissed her father goodbye. He reminded her he'd be away overnight, but he would see her the next day.

That day he played golf, and in the evening gathered with the other men to share life lessons in the retreat center. Then, suddenly, cell phones began ringing and vibrating. Wives at a church softball game in Baltimore were calling. There had been an accident.

When Anthony spoke to his wife, she said Deanna had fainted. His first thought was that his weight-conscious daughter hadn't eaten enough. As he and a friend started to leave, Nancy was on the phone again: "Get here now."

At Sinai Hospital, Anthony was led to a room packed with family and friends. There, on a bed beneath the covers was his little girl's lifeless body, still in her No. 18 softball jersey. For hours, he held her and prayed for a miracle.

He can't remember when he first heard the word electrocution. The doctors probably told him as night turned into morning, but he didn't want to hear.

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