When Morgan walked through his old neighborhood in January, the calls came out. “What you doin’, man?” a man yelled. “You playing ball?”
He is, and he will, for himself and for them.
“To impact those people the same place you grew up — the same people,” Morgan said, and he nodded across the street. “The people who watched me right there in that park come to the games. The same people that came to my junior high games, that said, ‘You’re special.’ I didn’t even know what they were talking about.”
‘He had some anger’
Those early days, Dennis and Lawanda Morgan wanted their three sons to take advantage of where they grew up: 13 blocks from the U.S. Capitol, just up the Hill from the museums of the Smithsonian. When Joshua walked to and from Maury Elementary School, he was defined by the bag of books on his back and the basketball bouncing off his fingertips or the football tossed to himself. But Dennis Morgan didn’t want that to be his son’s identity.
“I didn’t want him to be pigeon-holed or stereotyped,” Dennis said. “I dragged him to the zoo. I dragged him to the opera. I dragged him to the ballet.”
The family would ride bikes to museums. The boys had their library cards. They would read an inspirational quote each day. Josh said he found schoolwork easy. “Too easy,” he said. Home, though?
“My parents made me work so hard in school at such a young age,” Joshua said. “I never understood why I was reading the biography of Malcolm X, and it was never mentioned in school. I was like, ‘Come on, man.’ They’d make me sit in the house. ‘Sit in the house and write this. Sit in the house and read this.’ I’m like, ‘Man, I’m in elementary school. The biography of Dr. King? Reading about Frederick Douglass?’ He had me in there playing chess. It’s like, ‘Dad, what are you doing?’ ”
What the Morgans were doing, they believed, was preparing their boys to be in position to resist what they knew existed on the street. But they couldn’t shelter them entirely.
There were, too, the bruises that come from a family falling apart. When Dennis and Lawanda divorced — Lawanda is remarried and goes by Lawanda Ware-Brown — the two younger Morgan boys went to live with their mother in Upper Marlboro. Joshua, already in high school — during which he would transfer from Eastern to Woodson, and switch from quarterback to wide receiver, for his senior year — stayed with his father in the District. But he grew ashamed of his circumstances. His father was always employed, and his mother works for the Navy and also is a Navy reservist, but Joshua often went without. His room had holes in the wall, he said, holes for rats to climb through. If the electricity was turned off, he’d get warm by the oven. He had no cable TV, so when friends spoke of watching “Martin” at school, he’d pretend he knew the plot, the characters, the jokes.