Singular ceremony for Annapolis High grad

Threats forced him to skip public commencement

June 17, 2008|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,Sun reporter

Annapolis High School held a graduation ceremony last night for one student - a victim of a mall shooting 19 months ago who was held out of commencement because of threats against him.

From his seat inside the auditorium, Tahzay Lamont Brown listened to congratulations from his principal, the vice president of the Anne Arundel County school board and the deputy superintendent.

His mother wiped tears from her cheeks and yelled, "Tahzay! You go!" as he walked across the stage, a newly minted graduate clutching his diploma.

To avert trouble, school officials had told Brown that he could not attend his high school's June 6 graduation ceremony after learning that threats had been made against him and his family if they were to attend.

"It was better anyways," Brown, wearing a blue cap and gown, said outside the high school's auditorium after receiving his diploma.

Principal Donald R. Lilley called the threats of violence "an isolated incident," citing progress at the school this year: disciplinary referrals down, attendance rate up.

Yet, the solitary ceremony was a grim reminder of the potential for street violence in Annapolis to spill over into the schools and other public places.

"All kids should have the opportunity to have a graduation ceremony and feel safe about the environment he's in," said Robert Mosier, a spokesman for the county school system. "Hopefully tonight it will bring some closure to his celebration of being a graduate of Annapolis High School."

Since Brown was shot in the leg by another teenager in the food court of Westfield Annapolis mall in November 2006, he has studied from home. But he remained a part of the school community, playing defensive tackle in his same No. 43 jersey on the Annapolis High football team and going to prom.

But a remnant of the violence that struck him in the mall that day threatened to dampen one of his biggest accomplishments so far, his graduation.

Feuding between residents of the city's Annapolis Gardens and Robinwood public housing complexes had erupted at the school in the past. Early in the 2006 school year, Brown was involved in two fistfights, one at school, involving the rival groups.

The shooting at the mall, in which Javaughn Adams, then 18, was convicted of shooting Brown, then 16, and a secret service agent, stemmed from the school fights. Adams was sentenced last year to 65 years in prison.

Adams grew up in Robinwood, and Brown spent much of his time in Annapolis Gardens.

Brown's mother, Tanjala Brown, said yesterday that those fights are long forgotten and that her family and Adams' have made amends. Her son, she pointed out, had asked the judge to have mercy on Adams at trial.

"His special day was taken away from him," Tanjala Brown said. "But he's going to move on."

Michele Duncan, who had taught him since last year, said he did well in her classes - English, typing, biology and personal finance - this past quarter and made the honor roll.

"He always had his homework done - very polite, nice young man," Duncan said.

Perhaps fittingly, Bishop Craig Coates, who is pastor of Fresh Start Church in Severn and has worked to quell street violence among youths, was the guest speaker at the graduation.

"It's been a long and difficult road, and you've managed to triumph, despite the circumstances," Coates said.

"There are people sometimes that hate on your experience," Coates said. "We are here to affirm you and publicly celebrate you."

Brianna Davis, the senior class president, sat on the stage during the solo ceremony, proud to support a fellow graduate, she said.

"It's an unfortunate situation that he couldn't graduate with his classmates," Davis said. "I think it was really nice that he had his own ceremony."

The new graduate, who has a 3-month-old son whom he held and kissed after the ceremony, said he plans to take up a trade and is thinking about joining the Army.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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