After expulsion for fighting, a Feltonville teen looks ahead to college.
An independent person, Marcus began working when he was 14. Now he's got money and a pretty girlfriend to spend it on. He thinks his shiny Buick represents his success.
He picks up a 3-inch-thick SAT prep book from the passenger seat and tosses it into the back. Then we drive down Whitaker Avenue toward the city skyline that appears far off in the distance in the hazy midday air.
I first met Marcus a week earlier while speaking to a group of Fairhill Community High School students about journalism. The five students were engaged and well-mannered, and I was surprised to learn they'd dropped out of other schools or were otherwise troubled kids.
Marcus sat in the front row and asked several questions despite the fact that he has no desire to enter journalism. He wants to be a lawyer, he thinks. But he was charming and seemed genuinely curious about everything.
I wanted to know how this impressive young man wound up there.
We cruise past boarded-up factories and spartan row homes in Juniata and Kensington, ominous-looking places where Marcus hung out with cousins and friends when he attended Edison. On Lycoming near L Street, he points to a corner.
"That's where I got arrested," he says.
As a 13-year-old, he fought a kid who filed assault charges. That's when he got his first taste of the legal system and decided law would be his future path.
Of course recognizing his calling didn't stop him from scrapping with anyone he thought had disrespected him.
"I don't start problems," he says. "But I'm easy to provoke. That's how you got to be. I was a beast."
Most of his numerous fights were about stupid things like looking at a guy's girlfriend or other perceived slights. He punched so savagely he once broke his right hand.
We roll up to a red light, and I ask him if he was ever scared someone might pull a gun on him during a scuffle.
He leans back in his seat and answers, "If people are so angry they want to kill you, there's nothing you can do about it."
We return to his home and watch a Denzel Washington movie on the family's 5-foot-wide television. This is where Marcus spends most of his free time these days, not on the street.
"I always ask God to take care of him on the streets," says Marcus' grandmother Gloria Ramos. "You could walk out the door and you don't know what's going to happen."
She stares at him with a melancholy look. Marcus is much more mature now but their world is still dangerous.
His new school has given his life focus and shown him there are other ways to survive this concrete jungle. He avoids confrontations. He hasn't been in a fight since leaving Edison. He's already making college plans for after his January graduation from Fairhill.