Building for a Different Future

Chicago teen credits religion as he plans for college, teaching

WHEN Anthony Moultrie was 12, a friend of the same age was pushing drugs and ``messed up the drug dealer's money or something like that.'' The dealer killed him. Around that time Anthony and his mother came home one night to their apartment in a south Chicago housing project. A man robbed them at knifepoint at their front door. ``I was really helpless,'' says Anthony, who recalls the incident as his most terrifying moment growing up.

A lot of kids don't make it to 16 in neighborhoods like his. Of those who do, one in four black American men aged 18 to 29 are in jail, on probation, or on parole.

Anthony, a 16-year-old junior at Sullivan High School here, is building for a different future: graduation, a university degree, and a teaching career. ``Everything is falling into place,'' he says.

No change of circumstances deserves the credit. Home is still the Jane Addams housing project in the neighborhood where he grew up. The cheerless if solid-looking set of three-story brick buildings have their share of drugs, guns, and gangs. In fact, the project was used as the scene of the crime in a TV movie.

Anthony shares a three-bedroom apartment with his mother, grandmother, four sisters, and a baby brother. Inside, it's tidy but crowded. A lift-top freezer nearly blocks the hallway. A rollaway bed stands behind the front door.

``Girls, go do your homework,'' orders Marie, Anthony's mother, so he can talk to a visitor in the living room.

``I don't have any,'' one sister answers. ``Then get a book and read,'' Marie says. The sister takes one from a full cardboard carton - there's no bookshelf - and disappears into a bedroom.

Sitting on a couch, Anthony looks serene. It's not that he's getting used to publicity after being named ``outstanding youth of the year'' at his branch of the Boys and Girls Club. Rather, he seems to reflect a conviction that he states over and over: The decision he made a year ago to ``live for God'' is being rewarded. Says Anthony: ``I know it's God who helped me.''

Always a responsible child, Anthony got his first job at 10, sweeping the floor of a currency exchange. He would spend his $12 weekly pay on groceries for the family. ``I would just cry,'' Marie says. ``I'd say, `Tony, you don't have to spend your money.' And he'd say, `That's all right. That's all right, Mama.'''

His current after-school job at the Boys and Girls Club pays just $35 a week - minimum wage. But it's a big help to Marie, who raises the children on $574 per month in public aid. ``It's not ever enough,'' she says. Anthony's grandmother contributes $110 toward the family's $199 rent.

Anthony's sense of responsibility and years of attending church didn't keep him from temptation when he made the high school football team as a freshman and discovered the way girls ``throw themselves'' at athletes.

Sexual promiscuity is ``the basic attitude of today'' in high school, Anthony says. ``When I was doing it, I wanted to be with the `in' group.'' He says others want to prove their manhood, or are looking in vain for the love they don't get at home.

By last year, Anthony had had enough of that life.

``I tried to be the playboy but I was not the playboy type. What really made me give my life to God was that I just really got sick and tired of the things I was doing,'' Anthony says. ``I really felt that you could have fun just living for God, following His commandments.'' He attends the International Intercessory Prayer Guild, an evangelical Protestant church.

Now Anthony says he doesn't want a girlfriend. He hopes to finish college before getting married, and states flatly: ``I will not sleep with my wife 'till I marry her.'' He will look for someone who ``also lives for God ... and has a sense of humor. Somebody who's real.''

Anthony's new stance caught his best friends by surprise. ``What? You don't talk to the girls anymore?'' they asked. ``No, not in that way, I don't,'' Anthony told them. Now he's known as ``the sanctified holy boy'' at school, but he says it doesn't bother him. ``People really treat me with respect,'' Anthony says.

HE still enjoys playing basketball, reading Sports Illustrated, and attending professional sporting events. Isiah Thomas, the Chicago-born basketball star of the Detroit Pistons, is one of two national figures Anthony says he admires. The other is black Detroit surgeon Ben Carson, whose autobiography Anthony recently read.

Anthony turned his life around in other ways as well. Though capable, he had never applied himself in school. Suddenly he went from being a ``D'' student to making the honor roll. His teachers rave about him with words like reliable, conscientious, polite, respectful, mature.

``Anthony's never been in here,'' says Joy Alfonsi, who at that moment is presiding over Sullivan's detention hall. As his French teacher, Ms. Alfonsi says, she counts on Anthony to come up with the right answer and help move the class along. (Asked to speak French, Anthony offers a very suave ``Comment vous appelez-vous?'')

Charles Matthews, the senior program director at the Boys and Girls Club branch where Anthony works, says Anthony was named outstanding youth because of all the volunteer work he does.

He recalls that when some 10-year-olds at the club got into an argument over a pool game, Anthony was able to stop it and get the boys to shake hands. ``I didn't have to do anything. That's the good part,'' Matthews says.

Anthony has been nominated for a Golden Apple Award, a college scholarship for Chicago-area high school juniors interested in teaching. He wants to get a sociology degree from Northwestern University and work with children with emotional problems.

Anthony's heard what others say about more money in other careers, but he says he isn't interested. ``I really feel this is what I'm supposed to do. I want to be a help. I feel that I'm qualified to be a help.''

He says he's already getting valuable experience through the Leader Education Assistance Program at the Boys and Girls Club. LEAP teens help younger kids.

Anthony has worked with one boy on schoolwork and self-esteem. ``I let him know that I really care for him. He's doing real good,'' says Anthony. ``He's going to be a really nice young man when he gets older.''

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