A dream died on March 13th. Derrick Lemell Breedlove robbed
a liquor store and was fatally shot by a frightened clerk. Police
found Breedlove's dead body on the floor of Modern Discount Liquors
with a pellet gun in one hand and a bag full of cash in the other.
According to his accomplices, two teenagers who were charged as accessories to the crime and will be prosecuted as adults, Derrick had robbed the store twice before and was attempting to do so again to get money to pay for the apartment he was renting. Derrick was just 17.
Those are the facts, but they don't begin to tell the whole story. Derrick Breedlove wasn't some typical street punk. By all accounts, he was a nice kid - well-mannered, well-liked and a good student. He had a full football scholarship waiting for him in the Fall at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. This was his ticket out of his tired Turners Station neighborhood in Dundalk, Maryland. He simply threw it away.
Why did he do it? Why wasn't he sitting in class at Dundalk High School that weekday morning? Had he decided against going to college, or did he really think he could commit a felony in Maryland and still go on to school in Virginia as if nothing had happened? We'll never really learn the answers to these questions this side of Eternity, but I do have some ideas.
There is a siren song heard by black kids all over the country at some point in their lives. Kids in the inner-cities hear it more often than others. This sly, lying song whispers in the ears of our children and tells them that things like going to college and similar achievements aren't really black things. The kids hear this message on television and the radio - especially from rap music with its glorification of ignorance, ugliness and violence. They also hear it from some teachers and adults who privately believe blacks aren't able to cut it academically anyway. And they hear it from their peers as well.
I heard the song myself. When I was in school, most of my neighborhood friends scorned my ambition to go to college and become a writer. The idea that anyone from our block could be something other than what we already were was crazy to them. Two things saved me from traveling the same dead end road as my friends. First, I simply wasn't allowed to stray while under the watchful eyes of my parents. The second thing was knowledge that I'd have to give up the dreams I was working so hard to reach in order to fit in.
Derrick was loved, but he was living on his own. He'd left
the discipline and protection of his stepfather's home back in
December, and probably found himself unable to cope with adult
responsibility. One relative claims Derrick got involved with
the wrong crowd. Apparently, he had everyone - his old friends,
family and teachers - fooled. Nobody saw the bright boy with the
easy smile and confident charm turning into a criminal. There
was nobody to step in and pull him back from the edge.
Derrick made a terrible and foolish set of choices. None of Derrick Breedlove's friends and teachers publicly blamed anyone for Derrick's death but Derrick. Deanna Fleming, chairwoman of the neighborhood community center, lamented that Derrick's actions were a huge disappointment to the younger Turners Station kids who saw him as symbol of pride and hope because of his football stardom and his chance to go to college.
The legendary singer Nina Simone once wrote a song called "Young Gifted and Black." In the song, Simone sings about the "lovely precious dream," the chance to make one's life a success and the chance to get an education. Derrick Lemell Breedlove's dream is dead. That's something to be both sad and angry about because it's a loss to the black community that can't ever be made up.
Why Derrick decided to give up on himself and his dream we can't ever know, but I think we all know that we can't lose another dream.
(Kimberley Jane Wilson is a member of the African-American
leadership network Project 21's National Advisory Board and a
conservative writer living in Virginia. She can be reached at
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.