What Happened to Marcus?


September 25, 2012

When the school year began in August, Marcus came back to Sharpstown.

He had thrown away all of his school uniform polo shirts at the end of last school year, in a fit of frustration.

Now, he was wearing a grey tank top and loose shorts.

He’d spent the last few months skipping summer school and blowing off the Spanish class he needed to repeat.

And he was ready to play football: “If I don’t play football I don’t wanna go to school,” he said. “I gotta play ball.” But school district officials still haven’t determined whether he is eligible to play football this semester.

Marcus, it seems, is right back where he started.

As much as his teachers have done for Marcus, his mother Tena has been trying all his life to keep him in school.

“If I could get all my kids to graduate, then I could have peace within myself,” Tena said, perched on the sofa in their ground-floor apartment. She saw her oldest daughter, Felecia, graduate high school and serve eight years in the Air Force. Her oldest son, Jonathan, finished high school and is saving up to attend community college. Both, she said, stayed out of trouble.

“Marcus has always been very independent,” Tena said. The baby in the family, Marcus liked to do everything himself, pulling away even when she tried to tie his shoes for him as a little child. He was outgoing and sassy, in second grade telling a teacher that she was old and needed to retire, much to his mother’s horror. He had trouble sitting still, like a lot of young boys, but channeled his extra energy into basketball and football.

The family didn’t have much money, but their home life was warm for much of Marcus’ youth. Tena put Marcus in piano lessons — “that didn’t work out too well” — and encouraged him to work hard in school. Marcus’ father Clee struggled to find work, so he stayed home to raise the kids instead. He played football with Marcus, and cooked and cleaned the house.

Tena printed and framed the kids’ school pictures every year and wrote them little notes about how proud she was to watch them grow. On her days off, she cooked special meals for the family and played Al Green and Whitney Houston while Marcus sat at the table, listening along. “There’s a lot of memories — good times,” Tena recalled.

But about 10 years ago, her husband, still unable to find work, slipped into depression. He began drinking heavily and soon did little else. He wasn’t abusive, but he no longer could contribute to the household, leaving Tena to handle it on her own.

It made her sons angry, and she says, they told her to throw him out. But she was determined to keep the family together. “I wanted them to have their father here,” she said.

Finances got tighter. Tena couldn’t afford to buy school pictures anymore. They lived in a place where drugs and gangs were rampant. Marcus fell in with an older, rougher crowd.

Tena didn’t like his new friends. They ate all of her food, and she worried that they might steal what little else they had. Worse, she said, Marcus started talking defiantly about money, and she worried he was getting into trouble. He said that they could live better, that he could provide more for the family.

That’s not what she wanted. Finally, about a year ago, Tena moved the family to a better apartment block, one with security gates and little grass plots. That’s when Marcus began attending Sharpstown High School. It’s harder to connect with the old crowd, and she appreciates all the efforts the teachers make to keep him in school.

Tena tells him to go, but often leaves for work well before he needs to get to class. She works long shifts at the deli counter at a local supermarket, walking or catching a ride because they don’t have a car. On her days off, though, she still cooks big meals for her son. The other night, she said, she whipped up a huge meal of bacon, eggs, grits and toast and watched him scarf it down with delight.

But Marcus still gives her trouble, talking about the tattoo he wants to cover his left bicep — a map of Texas, the 713 Houston area code, and some Southwestern images. He also insists on keeping a recently acquired pit bull named Isis, a large and somewhat menacing dog that nevertheless dotes on Marcus. The family also owns a second pit bull, named Diva.

As for Tena, she’s still trying to keep Marcus in school. On a recent afternoon, he was home sick with a stomach flu. Tena urged him to eat some leftover soup she had in the fridge but he refused, slouching on the couch and flipping through his phone.

“Ima thug it out, I don’t need no soup,” he pouted.

She sighed, and turned her blue eyes upward.

What About the Other Students?:


Lawerance stopped attending the Twilight program at Sharpstown. His former classmates said he still lives in the neighborhood, but has not been coming to school.


Marco shipped out for basic training with the U.S. Army on Sept. 11.


After Sparkle left school, she went to Dallas to visit her brother, Travis. During her visit, Travis was killed, she said. Sparkle said she planned to stay in Dallas to help Travis’ girlfriend care for their two young daughters.

Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Former Series Senior Editor, FRONTLINE

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