Let me put a face on one “Angry Young Black Man.” I have known Antonio Carter for eight years, since 2008, his senior year at St. Louis’ Roosevelt High School. That fall, Antonio was an 18-year old high school football star. I wrote extensively about his football career in the 2008 book “Riding the Storm Out: A Year of Inner City High School Football.” At the time, like many of his Roosevelt Roughrider teammates, he dreamed of a college football scholarship as the vehicle that would provide him with a one-way ticket out of the St. Louis ghetto.
Carter, as a senior in high school; stood 5’5” tall and weighed, with rocks in his pockets, 150 pounds. On the football field he was fearless, more guts than a fish market. Sheldon Richardson is today a multi-millionaire and NFL Rookie of the Year for the New York Jets. In 2008 he was a 285 pound lineman for Gateway Tech High School. When Carter and Richardson met on the gridiron that fall, Carter on his first carry of the game, intentionally cut back to the inside for the opportunity to run over the twice his size Richardson. Big Sheldon was AWOL for the rest of the game, a three touchdown Roosevelt win. As a glib assistant coach at Roosevelt told me, “that little fellow will knock your dick stiff.”
An image from that season of eight years ago that will be forever etched in my memory: Carter, on a picture perfect Saturday afternoon, on the green grass of Roughrider Stadium, with the football secured in his strong grasp, sweeping the left side of the line, headed for the end zone. For three hours each fall Saturday Antonio Carter did what he loved – and for an all too short interlude, his world spun in greased grooves.
Today, Antonio fits perfectly white Middle America’s stereotype of the fulminating rock throwing rioter: black, raised in the ghetto, dreadlocks, 26-years old and chronically un(der) employed. I, however, know Antonio Carter to be courageous, tenacious and loyal. Everyone should have the opportunity to call such an angry young black man, friend.
Just like at Roosevelt eight years ago, Carter in 2016, to facilitate his football dreams, still rides from the south side home of his mother, the city bus. Twice for weekly practices and again on Saturday’s for games, he dresses in his football gear, sans his shoulder pads and helmet, which he carries with him, and boards the public transportation link for an hour long sojourn each way to the North County Jennings High School field. Carter, who lacks a car, makes due with the bus. “I ain’t too proud to ride the bus,” Carter says, “If that is what I got to do to keep playing football.”
I know Antonio Carter; know his grit, know his courage, know his character. He has so much potential, yet on the surface and in consideration of his current lot, “what a waste,” would be an apt assessment. Antonio Carter is reaching a demarcation line for young black men who live in urban cities - 25 years of age. If by that age the streets have not taken hold, then there is hope. But if the allure has become to strong and the frustration borne of lack of economic opportunity so overwhelming, then the dye has been cast and I am afraid my friend has a bleak future.