"I have to just let myself get beat up," he says softly, staring at his shoes. "If I fight back, I will change. Isn't that right?"
Relegated to playing alone on the roof of his building, Kevin has long been desperate for a place to run and, he acknowledged, for friends. But he was skeptical of the park program. He'd been burned before.
Five years ago, when he was 7, he was hauled before a bank of news cameras while city officials promised to bring an unprecedented wave of community support and family services into skid row. Standing next to him at the news conference was then-City Council member Antonio Villaraigosa, who pledged to clean up -- "not just talk about it, as we are known to do, but do something."
"They didn't do nothing," Kevin said recently. "So I'm going to have to see this with my own eyes."
One Friday in January, the gates of Hollenbeck Middle School opened; a sea of 2,300 children in white shirts and dark blue pants spilled out. Most boarded buses along Soto Street to ride into Boyle Heights. Kevin shuffled down the block to Whittier Boulevard to catch the No. 18 bus back toward skid row.
The bus crested the 6th Street Bridge over the Los Angeles River. City Hall came into view, and the brilliant afternoon sun cascaded off the glass towers of downtown L.A.
He got off at 6th Street and Central Avenue, crossed on foot through an industrial area and then neared home, stepping over an abandoned high-heeled shoe and past an old man sifting through a dumpster, singing to himself.
Kevin walked into the park. Inside were five police officers, four park counselors -- and seven kids. Kevin made eight.
It's not easy, officials have found, convincing kids who've been effectively home-bound that they can suddenly start playing outside.
"What are you up to?" asked Officer Stephen Nichols, 49, an 11-year LAPD veteran and one of the officers overseeing the program.
"Nothing," Kevin said quietly.
"Well," Nichols said, "hang out for a while. This is your park."
Kevin plopped down on a bench, not bothering to take off his backpack, not convinced that there was anything for him here.
Soon, a few more kids filed in, then more, until there were 65 kids inside, a few whom Kevin knew from school.
Someone started a blacktop soccer game.
"Hey, little man, you want in this game?" a parks worker asked him.
"Nah," Kevin said. "I'm good."
He stood and watched for 20 minutes. It seemed, for a moment, that he might have forgotten how to play, how to be a kid.
Suddenly, he dropped his backpack to the ground and walked toward the game.
A kid pointed toward one of the goals. Kevin assumed the post, his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his sweat shirt.
He deflected one shot off the outside of his right foot, but a second shot sailed between his legs. Then another.
"¡En tu masca!" shouted the lanky boy who scored the goals. It's a colloquialism they use to one-up one another; it translates loosely to "In your face."
Kevin allowed himself a smile, put the ball in front of him, passed to a teammate and took off toward the other goal.
Around him, children were squealing and tumbling, and balls were flying through the air. The sun was starting to set. Outside the gates, the streets were heating up; it would soon be another night on skid row. But inside, at least for the moment, it looked like any other park, and Kevin looked like any other kid.