After expulsion for fighting, a Feltonville teen looks ahead to college.
Marcus McDonnaugh is unbreakable. It says so across his chest like he's a superhero, tattooed in black Gothic script, 2 inches tall, just below his clavicle.
"Physically, mentally, emotionally, you can't break me down," says the 17-year-old in a manner more matter-of-fact than boastful. "I never let nobody get in the way of what I'm doing."
He looks at his year-old tattoo in a wall mirror at his grandparents' Feltonville home, where he lives, along with his mother and 2-year-old sister Aaliyah. The home is immaculate, with polished wood floors, framed family photographs and plastic covering plush yellow couches.
Three caged birds chirp in the sunroom. Aaliyah glides across the room in pink slippers, her tight brown ringlets flying in the air as she singsongs sweet gibberish to anyone who will listen.
"That's my heart and soul right there," Marcus says, grinning as he watches his sister prance, pout and sass the birds.
Sitting on the couch conversing so politely, it's hard to imagine the rage and violence Marcus has experienced. He was expelled from Edison High School a year ago after a massive multistudent fight. It was his last of many, many brawls in and around the school.
"If you tap me and say you got a problem with me, I'm the type of person who's got no problem with that," Marcus says. "I'll fight you. I got no fear for no human."
He laughs uncomfortably. He realizes fighting is pointless and his anger could get him killed. But he has pride.
"I don't want to brag about it," he says, "but I'm good at it."
I'm here to learn about Marcus and the life of a teenage Philadelphian who's half-black and half-Puerto Rican, living in an area not so far from my home but a world away, really.
I'm here to experience an existence different from my own, an exercise everyone should undertake.
I'm here for inspiration.
We walk out to his car, a bronze-colored 2002 Buick LeSabre he just bought with money earned selling sneakers at a strip mall store on Cottman Avenue.
"I got the car last week," Marcus says. "Two days later it got keyed."
He points to two 3-foot-long lines etched above the rear passenger-side tire well.
"See what they did to my car?" he asks. "That's jealousy."