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James Berry III is in the fight of his life

SOME MORNINGS, PERHAPS EVEN ON A morning like this one,

James
Berry
III

will lie on

his

mother's couch at 4 a.m., unable to sleep. The only light in the living room will be the flicker of the television. The thoughts inside

his

head will collide and carom off of one another until he cannot sit any longer.

He'll slip into

his

athletic shorts and a black hooded sweat shirt. He'll walk through the living room and pass the shiny silver and gold boxing trophies that bear

his

name. He'll open

his

front door, step off

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his
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porch and soak up the quiet, cool darkness of Ellerslie Avenue.

He does not like to run. But he will run anyway. He wants to strengthen

his

legs, prove he can take a punch in the late rounds and stay off the canvas.

His

coach, an ex-fighter with long arms and a smoky, dry voice, believes

Berry

can

fight

in the Olympics, that he has the talent to win a gold medal. But only if he gives himself to boxing without reservation or hesitation.

He

is

quick, he

is

fierce and he has heart. Already, he has won Golden Gloves state and regional titles at 141 pounds. He has learned, for the most part, to control

his

anger inside the ring. When he lifts

his

shirt,

his

abdominal muscles are the smooth, curved shape of river rocks, the kind that have been sculpted and carved into form by a century of movement and force.

He

is

19 years old.

Berry

runs because it helps him think. The streets of Baltimore are quiet at this hour, except when birds chirp, or a siren wails in the distance. Running in the dark, the temperature rises as

his

heartbeat quickens. On mornings like this, he tries to find the patience to be the kind of man people expect, and are begging him, to be.

He

is

stubborn. He can be difficult. At times, he has been foolish and selfish. He has sold marijuana, and has been arrested by police three times. He pleaded guilty to one count of drug possession.

His

reasons for dealing - he won't call them excuses - are simple. And they are also complex.

The simple version: He wanted money to buy new clothes - Air Jordans, Polo shirts. Money that would give him status, money he couldn't ask

his

mother for because most of her paycheck was going toward paying the bills. And he wanted it now. He was the kind of kid who could spend hours in a gym, sparring or pounding on a heavy punching bag, but he couldn't focus on a nine-to-five job. When he saw friends flush with cash, he wanted a piece for himself. It was materialistic, but the truth. Having a little money made him happy.

The complicated version: The Game, and the

life

that surrounds it,

is

in

his

blood.

His

mother was a drug dealer.

His

father was a drug dealer.

His

mother grew up in a household of drug dealers. The profession, like bad genes responsible for a fatal disease, was inherited from one generation to the next. For much of

Berry's

childhood, the sale of

heroin

and cocaine put food in

his

family's refrigerator. It paid for

his

clothes. It put a roof over

his

head.

It also came very close to destroying

his

family.

Getting in "The Game'

Seeing

his

mother's face each day

is

a reminder of the havoc drugs have wreaked on the lives of the people he loves. And yet he chose to stand on a corner not far from

his

house and sell marijuana. When

his

best friend, someone he looked up to for years, started hustling,

Berry

joined him. He knew right from wrong, and chose wrong anyway. He told himself he would be smarter and better than those who let it ruin their lives. He would only sell weed, and he would not use. People around him thought

Berry

was trying to be in The Game, but not of it. He didn't judge

his

parents for their past sins. To him, it was a means to survive.

When asked if he thinks he'll deal again, he pauses before he answers. He leans

his

head back, sticks out

his

lower lip until a half-frown forms on

his

thin, angular face. In a rapid mumble, he gives

his

best and most honest answer.

"It's what's around me," he says. "It's my habitat. It's everywhere I go. If there wasn't nothing else for me to get money from, I know in the back of my mind, I still got that to back me up if everything else [with boxing] falls through. I'm still struggling with it. I still don't have no money. Anytime I could slip back. It's hard because I know I got to keep my focus and stay on that straight path."

Boxing became

his

salvation,

his

way of dealing with anger. He was a fighter and had always been one, in some fashion, since he was 4 years old. That too was in

his

blood. For Christmas that year,

his

father gave him an inflatable plastic heavy bag, one with

Sugar Ray Leonard

's face on the side. He spent hours throwing haymakers, hooks and jabs at Sugar Ray, knocking him over, only to watch him spring to

life

again, wobbling like a buoy in the ocean.

The thirst he developed for standing toe-to-toe with another fighter only intensified as

James

grew into

his

long arms and

his

muscles developed, giving him power to complement

his

quick hands. Inside the ring, he looked emotionless, the blank expression on

his

face never changing. But he was fearless.

In New Jersey, on the day he won

his

regional Golden Gloves title, he charged forward against a larger, taller opponent, throwing sharp jabs and pounding away with

his

vicious left hook. Stubborn but strong, he absorbed heavy shots to the temple in exchange for position, and unleashed sharp uppercuts that snapped the other fighter's head backward. Only when it was over, when the referee raised

Berry's

right hand, did he show emotion. He fell to

his

knees, looked up at the ceiling, and very briefly put

his

hand over

his

eyes. He punched the air with

his

fist and held up

his

Golden Gloves trophy, feeling like anything was possible.

But was it? When he runs, usually circling the old parking lot on 33rd Street where

Memorial Stadium

once stood,

Berry

thinks about

his

parents. As he heads west toward

Johns Hopkins University

, he thinks about

his

mother, Yolanda, a former heroin

addict

. She's been clean now for nearly 10 years, and he tries to make her proud. He

is

closer to her than he

is

to anyone. Over the years, they've shared everything from laughter to a cell phone. He remembers, as young as 8 years old, holding her hand as they marched into burned-out, broken-down neighborhoods, seeking her next high.

He thinks, too, about

his

father,

James
Berry

Jr., locked up in the state prison in Hagerstown, 85 miles away. Inside a tiny cell, the father's days creep by,

his

hours full of remorse. The son

is

not ashamed of the man he was named after, nor of what he did. He loves him. More than anything,

James

wishes

his

father could come home and start over. He wishes he could watch one of

his

fights.

Berry

will run until the sun peeks out above the horizon, and until he

is

exhausted.

His

mind, though never truly clear, will feel less cloudy, less crowded. He sees it as a chance to reflect, to work through

his

thoughts, one at a time, until he feels at peace.

James
Berry
III

- "Little

Berry

" to

his

parents and to

his

coach - will likely run again tomorrow. He'll run the 3 1/2 miles that separate

his

house and UMAR Gym, on the corner of North and

Druid Hill

avenues. The building that houses the second-floor gym overlooks a stretch of concrete as crooked and broken as the nose of a beaten fighter. It shares the street with a pair of bail bondsmen, two liquor stores, a pawn shop, a funeral parlor and a vacant row house that

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decaying. Across the street, there

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a church.

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At UMAR Gym,

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Berry

will spar, work out, and listen to rap music and the wisdom of

his

coach, Marvin McDowell. At night, it's likely he'll be unable to sleep. And so he will climb out of bed, open

his

front door, leave the safety and comfort of

his

quiet neighborhood behind, and sprint into the dark.

He will try to find the strength, on the streets of Baltimore, to be a better man.

Most mornings, perhaps even on a morning like this,

James
Berry

Jr. will open

his

eyes well before the sun rises. He'll crawl out of bed and try to exercise, desperate to loosen

his

back. He knows that if he doesn't stretch and relax

his

muscles, the pain will cripple him. The 50-year-old

Berry

, known to Maryland's Division of Correction as prisoner No. 288-729, will sit patiently in

his

cell until the guards unlock

his

door at 7:30.

He

is

one of the lucky ones. In the 7 1/2 years he's been here, he's had a single cell to himself. He'll sit in

his

room, read the Quran and pray. He coaches a prison basketball team, organizes and attends meetings for former addicts, and sweeps and mops the floor of the prison's bakery. He tries to keep to himself, to steer clear of trouble. He writes letters. Letters on lined, yellow notebook paper in cursive script that

is

clean and meticulous. He wrote one recently to McDowell, asking him to please look after Little

Berry

. On the days

his

son fights, the father paces the length of

his

cell, sometimes for hours, trying to calm

his

nerves. Often, he won't hear the outcome of the

fight

until well into the next day.

A father's regrets, fears

To hear

his

story, one must travel through a metal detector, acquire a yellow plastic visitor's bracelet and receive a hand stamp visible only under ultraviolet light. Escorted by guards,

Berry

Jr. clutches wrinkled newspaper clippings that mention

his

son and finds a seat in the corner of a room full of convicts. He wears a white, baggy T-shirt that stops at mid-thigh and blue jeans. Like

his

son, he gestures with

his

hands when he speaks.

He thinks often about the events that brought him to Hagerstown, where he spends nights behind steel bars, in a building surrounded by 30-foot-tall fences laced with razor wire. A low-level, independent drug dealer for nearly 20 years,

Berry
is

serving an 18-year sentence, the result of a 1999 guilty plea for first-degree assault, drug possession and handgun charges. The assault, according to

Berry

, took place while he was high. Initially, he was charged with attempted murder, but prosecutors dropped the charge when he agreed to plead guilty to the assault.

"I hurt somebody," he says, staring at the floor.

He says he'd like to explain further, but cannot. He cringes at the person he used to be. He was so despicable, he says, he and

his

friends used to brag about Baltimore's high murder rate.

"What kind of person does that?" he asks. After seven years in prison, he still doesn't know the answer. "All my

life

, I feel like I've failed everyone who ever loved me," he says. A white knit prayer cap covers

his

head. "The insanity of drugs took me places I never had to go. But I take responsibility for it. I knew right from wrong. ... Growing up, I was always so insecure about myself. I think that's been the cause of most of my problems in

life.

"

He

is

tormented not only by

his

regret, but also by

his

inability to fix it. More difficult, he says,

is

the knowledge that he cannot be there to ensure that

his

son does not repeat

his

mistakes. On occasion, the son will visit, and each time the father gives the same sermon. Look at me, the father says.

Is

this how you want to spend your days? With someone's foot on your throat, telling you when you can eat, sleep and use the bathroom? You're too good for this. You have too much talent. I did this so you wouldn't have to. The son nods, says he understands. The father

is

skeptical. He senses that

his

son thinks he can deal drugs and not be a drug dealer. That and the money are why he won't leave it alone.

"I'm so scared for him, man,"

James
Berry

Jr says.

His

once-proud voice

is

now dry and raspy, a condition that he believes was caused by years of drug use.

His

beard, with the passing of each year, shows more gray. "I know he's the kind of kid who won't back down. They've got guns out there on them streets, and he only has

his

fists. Right now he thinks he can nibble a bit and pull back. I don't know. I'm just so scared for him."

The son was 12 when

his

father went to prison, already aggressive and looking for an outlet to

his

energy and frustration.

Berry

Jr. assumed, at the time, that missing

his

son's childhood would hurt the most. He was wrong. It

is

the present, with

his

son

is

on the cusp of manhood, that torments him more.

"I hate being here,"

Berry

Jr. says. "But I'd spend an extra seven or eight years here if I knew he wouldn't get caught up in this. I just don't want this for him."

Their skin

is

different; the father's

is

light, almost like caramel, and the son's

is

dark, like

his

mother's. The father's nose,

his

chin,

his

hands - all bear little resemblance to

his

son.

James
Berry

Jr. and

James
Berry
III

appear to share only a name. But their eyes, up close, are almost identical. Large, dark brown, intense. There

is

a hint of sadness in both.

"He's so deep and profound," the father says of

his

son. "Always has been. But he's got that rebel thing in him. He's never been a follower. He's always been a leader. He's aggressive, and The Game, it preys on kids like him. ... I know if I was home, he wouldn't be caught up in all this. I'd drag him off that corner."

Later, when the son hears

his

father's words, he agrees. But for different reasons.

"If he wasn't in there, I wouldn't have to be out there trying make it for myself," Little

Berry

says. "Financially, I know he'd take care of us. But he can't do that right now."

Berry

Jr.'s past

is

not all sorrow and unhappiness. He says he worked hard to keep

his

family together after Yolanda Williams, the mother of four of six

his

children, wasted away in a spiral of addiction. Williams, in a separate interview, confirms this.

It was

Berry

who went Christmas shopping for the kids when Williams was too strung out to leave the house, or when she used money he gave her, intended for the gas and electric bills, to get high. It was

Berry

who enrolled the kids in school, then eventually sent them to live in New York for several years with

his

sister, Rose, while he tried to make Williams go through rehabilitation. It was

Berry

who gathered

his

family in the living room to laugh each Sunday, to sing along to Boyz II Men songs, to celebrate their love for one another.

"It was the happiest time of my

life

,"

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Berry

Jr. says. "I'll always remember how much fun that was. I would do anything for my family. I'd kill for them. But at the same time, I know I'm the one that hurt them the most."

Before he has to return to

his

cell, he carefully unfolds a letter

his

son wrote to him in sixth grade, shortly after

Berry

Jr. was locked up. It hurts to read it aloud, but he does so anyway.

"Dad: I love you from the bottom of my heart. I will keep my head up and look for the stars because I believe in miracles. Don't get in no trouble in there. Get knowledge and come home and teach me. I love you and will do anything to get you out of there. When you get home, please don't go back out on them streets."

Berry

Jr. finishes reading. He folds the letter again and places it on

his

lap. Visiting hours are almost over. For several seconds, he does not speak. Sunlight pours through the window, but it stops several feet short of

his

chair.

His

eyes are filled with tears, but he will not let them fall.

Mother: "I', an addict'

Most Sunday mornings, perhaps even on a Sunday morning like this, Yolanda Williams will sit in church and ask God to give her strength. The strength to stay clean.

It's been almost 10 years, she says, since her last high. But she still battles the urge to stick a needle in her arm, and suspects that she always will. Months ago, for the first time in years, she got the horrible, seductive urge that all former heroin addicts are familiar with. She could taste it in the back of her mouth. Her stomach did somersaults. It scared her. She couldn't understand. After all this time, why was her body still begging her to get high?

"I just went and prayed on it," says Williams, 39. "I went to my church on Mount Olive and prayed on it, every Sunday, until it went away. I talked to my neighbors about it, to my co-workers about it, and to my children. I'm an addict. I have to talk about it. It's part of my sanity. I don't care who knows. I couldn't understand why, after all these years, I was getting that taste again. Eventually it went away on its own."

Williams' voice, and her entire body, shakes when she tells this story. Tears slide down her face, until her daughter, Tanganyika, hands her a paper towel to wipe them away. Her son sits next to her, but

his

expression does not change. He stares straight ahead, chewing gum, staring at the wall.

Berry

has heard these stories before. He can remember going through much of it. It

is

difficult to listen to her relive so many painful moments.

Her round cheeks still bear faint scars from her days as an addict. At her lowest point, when she stopped caring how she looked and only cared where her drugs were coming from, she began to claw at her face with her nails. A nervous habit; she was constantly nervous. When her face scabbed over, she scraped and picked at the scabs. But the worst scars are the memories. And the shame that comes with them.

"Little

Berry

and I always been so close. He never wanted to leave my side," Williams says, still dabbing tears from her face. "Ever. So when he was real little, I'd go into the bathroom to shoot up, and I'd have to tell him, `OK, turn your back.' "

Sometimes,

Berry

Jr. would give

his

son money and tell him to go to

his

grandmother's house. Little

Berry

would give half to

his

mother. He knew she would buy drugs with it. He didn't want to see her in pain. There was nothing he wouldn't do for her.

Addiction's vicious hold

For as long as Williams can remember, drug addiction, and its fallout, has played a role in her

life

. Her mother, she says, dealt drugs. Her father used them. Two of her brothers, she says, were killed as a result of drug-related violence. She fell in love with a drug dealer, bore

his

children and got high from

his

supply. For decades, the Baltimore drug trade was a whirlpool, slowly dragging her or another family member into its deep, violent waters.

She stole, she lied, she took her kids with her into hellish neighborhoods where people walked around like ghouls, telling the kids to wait around the corner while she went to get drugs. She even staged a fake robbery at the house she and

Berry

Jr. shared, turning over tables, tearing apart her belongings and ripping down clothes from the closets, just so

Berry

Jr. wouldn't suspect she was the one who stole

his

money and drugs. When her family tried to send her to detoxification, she said goodbye to her children, who were to live with

Berry

Jr.'s sister in Montecello, N.Y. Williams slipped out the back door of the treatment facility seconds later, knowing it would be awhile before she saw them again.

It took a long time to get clean. But she can remember, vividly, when it happened. On Oct. 13, 1996, she says she was arrested trying to buy heroin on Towanda Avenue. She gave police an alias. After a night in jail, they released her. Less than 24 hours later, the same police officer arrested her again, she says. This time police ran all her aliases, as well as her real name. A probation violation, five years old, turned up. She was sentenced to a year in prison, and spent six months in Jessup. Prisoner No. 914346.

When she got out, Williams knew she had to stay clean if she ever wanted to get her children back. Little

Berry

missed her so much, he broke every rule he could think of, hoping

his

aunt would give up in frustration and send him back to Baltimore to live with

his

mother. Even when Williams had to stay in her mother's house, with no gas, no heat and rats slowly taking over, she didn't return to selling drugs. She knew she could make enough money by flipping a small package to pay the bills, but she wouldn't do it. Instead, a friend offered her a minimum-wage job at an optical center, and when she passed a drug test, she was hired.

Within months, Williams says, she did her job so well, she earned a small raise. Another soon followed. She got her kids back. Tanganyika had to be slowly won over, but not Little

Berry

. He needed

his

mom.

"I said, `If I'm nothing else in this world, I'm a mother. ... And I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired,'" Williams says.

She worried about her son, though. He was rebellious. He was obsessed with boxing, but he was getting into fights outside the gym, too. He was decent in school - bringing home mostly A's and B's from Douglass- and he was laid back and quiet most of the time. But he wasn't afraid of anyone. Drug culture, Williams understood better than anyone, turned boys like Little

Berry

into pawns.

When she heard he was selling marijuana - right up the street from her house - she confronted him. He denied it. "She knew I was lying," he says.

She wasn't outraged. She knew it was motivated by money, money she couldn't give him. Every time he turned on the television, he saw street

life

glorified in music videos. And she knew every person he'd looked up to had sold or been caught up in the world of drugs. Even

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his

best friend had started selling. She tried to be rational and logical. There are better ways, she told him. Your father and I made those mistakes so you wouldn't have to. Do you understand?

He swore that he did, but he kept tiptoeing back. The first time he was locked up on a minor drug charge, she broke down in tears.

"Little

Berry

, he got that mentality that he a thug," she says. "And I want to save him from that corner."

Her son, still sitting next to her, says nothing. He loves her, and considers her

his

other half. Sometimes, he feels like he knows exactly what she's thinking. People say how much they look alike. Every night, he kissed her goodnight, even if she was already asleep. He knows she's right. He knows how much it broke her heart when he was arrested.

But he has nothing to say.

Coach is a fighter at heart

Most afternoons, perhaps even on an afternoon like this, Marvin McDowell will walk through a dark hallway, and slowly climb the 26 stairs necessary to unlock the door to UMAR Gym. Above the door, a video camera glares down at him, projecting

his

image onto a grainy black-and-white television inside

his

office. The walls and floor of the gym are cracked, the paint

is

peeling, the air musty. The windows reveal a neighborhood full of broken homes and broken spirits. But it

is

a place that feels like part of

his

soul.

When

his

fighters arrive, McDowell will fold

his

long arms across

his

chest and tuck one of

his

large hands under

his

chin.

His

fists are worn and weathered, the result of years lived and thousands of punches thrown. He'll sit in silence, purposefully ignoring, for now, the 11- and 12-year-old boys hungry for

his

attention. He'll watch

Berry

shadowbox from across the gym, then watch him hammer away at a leather speed bag shaped like a teardrop. He feels, most of the time, he

is

reaching him.

McDowell

is

a barber by trade, but a fighter at heart. He learned to box as a way to survive growing up in a neighborhood not much different than this one. Seven times he was a South Atlantic Boxing Association champion, and for several years he fought professionally. He was inducted, in 1996, into Maryland's Boxing Hall of Fame. But when

his

fighting days ended, after he had participated in countless nostalgic barber shop debates about boxing, he realized he needed to run

his

own gym. Not for ego's sake, but because he sensed that he could save some of the young men who were dying in the streets. Years ago, boxing set him on the right path. He believed it could do the same for others.

In time,

his

"No Hooks Before Books" program started to take shape. Kids could come to UMAR and learn the sweet science, but not until they completed two or three hours of schoolwork. Two city teachers, paid for with a grant from the city, served as tutors. Every kid had a folder to keep track of

his

academic progress. Dave Schorr, an accountant for the Bozzuto Group in Greenbelt, read a story about McDowell's program in the newspaper and volunteered

his

services. Schorr helped raise money through charity golf tournaments, apply for grants and establish tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. In time, UMAR's annual operating budget bloomed to $100,000.

All McDowell had to do was take care of the boxing. To help, he recruited an old friend,

Dennis James

, an ex-heavyweight and former addict with huge hands and a big smile no one could forget. When McDowell laid eyes on the 14-year-old

Berry

for the first time, he saw a boy with quick hands. He saw someone who wasn't afraid to get hit, someone who knew how to get leverage each time he threw a punch, bending low like a thick-armed stevedore about to jerk a heavy crate off the deck of a ship. He saw an angry kid who needed

his

guidance.

"He was an aggressive cat, man. A mean little cat," McDowell says. "And he did not like to lose."

Berry

did lose at first.

His

first three fights were all defeats. But he kept returning, kept thundering away at the speed bag, learning to move

his

feet and learning that he could channel

his

aggression into strategy.

His

jab became lethal.

His

left hook, a refined, pernicious hammer. He traveled to tournaments, left Maryland for the first time, and made friends. Most of the boys, like him, had no father in their lives. He racked up victories, but he couldn't completely leave the streets behind.

In September 2006, McDowell arrived at the gym one afternoon and opened

his

mail. Someone had sent him a letter from the state prison in Hagerstown. The return address said: Mr. J.

Berry

#288-729.

"I'm writing to you because I have big concerns about 'Lil

Berry

as far as the path he might be headed in," the letter said. "I am speaking of the street

life

that could lead him to this

life

, behind these walls or worse. I get to talk to him, but not as often as I would like and not enough for my words to make a difference. (Feel me?) But I know he sees you just about every day and he respects you. Please speak to him about what's going on with him, and about what he wants to do with

his
life

, and about how one bad decision could kill

his

dreams. ... I don't want this

life

for him."

McDowell didn't tell

Berry

about

his

father's letter. Instead, he pulled him aside one day and looked him in the eye. Give me this year, McDowell said. This

is

an Olympic year. You have the potential to

fight

in Beijing, maybe even win a gold medal. No one out there can stop you ... except you. Don't throw your

life

away on something foolish.

McDowell felt as though

Berry

took

his

message to heart. But he wasn't sure.

The day he was scheduled to

fight

for the Golden Gloves regional title at 141 pounds, April 2, he was also scheduled to appear in city court because he'd been charged with marijuana possession.

His
fight

was moved at the last minute. A random stroke of luck. He went to court, pleaded guilty and went home with time served. The next day he won the regional title.

Two losses, one chance

It's an ordinary day, not unlike yesterday, not unlike what tomorrow will likely bring.

Berry
is

running again. This time, the sun beats down on

his

face. There

is

much to think about.

He had two chances to qualify for the U.S. Olympic boxing trials - one in Tennessee, one in Colorado. He lost in the first round of both tournaments. Both losses were devastating. McDowell worried initially that all their hard work was on the cusp of unraveling. The hours he'd spent trying to keep

Berry

focused would not be enough.

Drug dealers needed muscle, men who aren't afraid to use their hands, and every so often, one of them would drop by the gym and greet

Berry

like he was an old friend. Some were old friends, kids from

his

neighborhood, now hardened into grown men.

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Berry

could never turn

his

back on them and didn't want to. It was never as simple as just walking away. There was no walking away. This was

his
life

.

In Tennessee, McDowell had a long conversation with Al Mitchell, an ex-fighter from Philadelphia now running the boxing program at Northern Michigan University. The program

is

part of the U.S. Olympic Education Center, in the town of Marquette, on the southern shore of Lake Superior. Its mission

is

to train athletes with Olympic potential, as well as give them an education. McDowell pleaded with

his

friend.

I've got a kid who needs someone to take a chance on him, McDowell said. A chance to get out of Baltimore. He's a smart kid, a good student, but he needs an education. He needs to figure out a way to survive, with or without boxing. Can you help me?

Mitchell thought that he could, but first, he wanted to meet with

Berry

.

Listen, son, Mitchell said, it's not going to be easy. You're going to be up there in the snow and cold. We're in the mountains, away from everything. You'll be getting up early each morning to run and work out, and schoolwork

is

going to be hard. You're going to have to keep up your grades. If you don't get the grades, you can't box. But if you think you can handle it, there

is

a full scholarship waiting for you in the fall.

Little

Berry

didn't have to think about it. He accepted on the spot. He knew it would be difficult, that he might struggle being away from

his

family. But this, he realized, was

his

chance. Without boxing, he had no plans to attend college. A trade school was a more realistic destination. Now he had visions of himself as a businessman. The more he thought about it, the more it appealed to him.

"I know it's all for a greater cause," he says. "I know school can make things better. I know it can get me out of this town, get back on track and keep me focused."

And so today, like every day,

Berry

will run. He'll try to think as he moves

his

feet and sweats. Some days, he'll see the police cuff and arrest someone

his

age, and for a second, he'll think: That could have been me. He'll continue to run.

When he arrives at the gym, he'll begin

his

workout in front of the mirror by flexing

his

biceps.

His

large hands will knife through the stale air. Right jab. Left hook. Jab again.

His

combinations will dart and flicker,

his

fists changing directions like a dancing flame. He'll punch mostly in silence.

His

expression will not change. He'll duck, bob

his

head, throw a quick jab, then step to

his

left and unleash a graceful and violent combination of punches. When he finishes,

his

hands will fall to

his

sides.

He'll stare at the image of himself in the dirty mirror and turn around. In the gym, men young and old will watch closely, eager to see what

James
Berry
III

will do next.

Sun reporters Jennifer McMenamin and Gus G. Sentementes contributed to this story.

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