Thu March 24, 2011
Social Entrepreneurs: Taking On World Problems

Two Anthonys; Two Tales Of Youth Intervention

It started with the kind of call every reporter has nightmares about.

"We made a serious error and are profoundly sorry," said Judy Stavisky, executive director of Friends of the Children.

In February, I profiled a boy named Anthony who had participated in Friends of the Children, a mentoring program for at-risk kids in Portland, Ore. His was a story of success, but there was one problem: he wasn't the right Anthony.

The story was supposed to be a follow-up to one that first aired 10 years ago and the mentoring group tried to help me find the Anthony I originally interviewed — they hadn't me his last name back then because he was just 8 years old.

Stavisky calls the mix up an "honest mistake."

"It just took our breath away," she says. "It was unintentional and, unfortunately, the result of a series of very unlikely coincidences."

Those coincidences begin with two Anthonys, both with last names that begin with B. They had the same interest in music, the same trouble controlling anger, the same mentor and even the same first grade teacher.

Anthony Blackmon, from last month's profile, is in college and said Friends of the Children helped him overcome the odds to get there.

But Blackmon is not the 8-year-old who in 2000 told me, "I learned to think positive and to be the best I can be. I just try to do the right thing."

I have to admit, I loved the idea that Anthony did go on to become the best he could be. But he didn't.

Anthony Barber dropped out of Friends of the Children in high school because he moved away. He's now 19 years old and not exactly what you'd call an inspiration.

While Blackmon is in college, Barber is in the Multnomah County Detention Center in Portland.

Barber's attorney would not let me interview him and Friends of the Children would not discuss him in detail, citing client confidentiality, but here's what I could piece together by reading court documents and talking to those who know him:

Anthony Barber spent much of his adolescence in a series of foster homes — then he started to get into trouble. Last year, he got caught shoplifting at a Safeway grocery store and fought with security guards.

Around the same time, he threatened to kill his landlord, Ray Ocampo.

"The guy had a pretty short temper," Ocampo says. "I mean, he was on the right track for a little bit. He wanted to do good. He just couldn't stay on that right track."

Court documents allege that on Valentine's Day this year, Barber joined two others in the armed robbery of an apartment, during which one of them pistol-whipped a man so badly he ended up in the hospital. If convicted, Barber faces nearly six years in prison, possibly more.

"I'm just devastated," says Latonya Fredue, Barber's mother. "I don't have no money. His bail is a million dollars. I don't have no money. All I can do is sit here and pray."

Fredue says Anthony had behavior problems from an early age that she was simply unable to handle. Barber's first grade teacher, Rachael Belcher, speculates that constant instability at home contributed to his problems.

Friends of the Children says only a small number of its graduates get into trouble with the law. The promise of early intervention for kids like Anthony Barber is that, with help, they can overcome the big challenges they face. Still, some simply can't avoid the undertow.

Despite everything, Belcher says she holds out hope for Barber.

"As much as we, as parents or educators, want every child to be successful, a lot of kids don't make it ... with or without support," Belcher says. "So I'm hoping that with Anthony there will be something that pushes him to find a different way." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.