This is a Christmas story about a child who saved a man's life.
It's a story the child hasn't finished yet.
No, it's not that Christmas story. This one is happening now, here, in the shadow of Pikes Peak, America's mountain. Back then, the man was a gang member, by his own account and others, who attended 14 funerals in a span of three years. He knew all the murdered and most of the murderers. He says his own home once was shot up with 137 bullets. "They missed me on that one," the man says.
He is Lawrence Scottie. He was raised by his grandmother. She taught him grandmother things he's carried through life, like, "Don't let them put you in a Crayon box," and "be thankful God let you fail; now you're prepared for next time, tomorrow," and "it ain't the names you're called that matters; it's the name you answer to." God blessed the angel who, three years ago, carried Ella Stephenson through the pearly gates. Hope she's reading this.
"That woman was stronger than every man I ever had in my life," Lawrence says. "But that's a short list."
Lawrence never knew his own dad. Says he still doesn't know his own dad's first name. There's a single photograph of his father in their home, and family members agree there is a slight resemblance in their appearance. The parallels stop there.
Lawrence was going the wrong way on the wrong path when he got the right phone call. It was from Cynthia — "The most beautiful spirit in the world," he says — who's now his wife of 19 years, partner for 22. Cynthia informed Lawrence that she was pregnant, and he was going to be a dad.
"My father, his name was just 'him,'" Lawrence says from his home outside Fort Worth. "So I didn't do what my dad did, run and act like this boy wasn't mine. I didn't want him to think that was OK. I didn't want to have a son and a baby mama. I said, I'm going to marry this woman and stay with this woman."
A child was born unto them, and he is here for a reason. Lavelle Scottie now is a young man, an Economics major, a member of cadet squadron 6 at the Air Force Academy. He's a sophomore basketball player for the Falcons, a versatile athlete who chose 6 a.m. alarms and survival training over the palm trees at Santa Clara and NCAA tournament hopes at Stephen F. Austin. Why?
"I'm here to break the cycle," Lavelle Scottie says.
This is a Christmas story about a man who's changing the world.
Lavelle Dehwayne Tehshun Scottie is 20. His birthday is Feb. 20. He wears No. 20 for the Falcons, just as his father wore No. 20 as a baseball player, just as his dad's childhood home, the one striped with bullet holes, was in Long Beach, Calif., on 20th Street. They are numerical coincidences that can be explained away as mere happenstance. Then you meet his dad - Lawrence Scottie - and it seems foolish to even try.
"If you can't see how this was all lined up," he says, "I can't help you."
Let's be real clear on something about this story: this has been a hard life for the Scotties. It didn't suddenly get easy when Lawrence ditched gang-banging and disallowed men he didn't know from entering their apartments. After rent and bills were paid, the $50 they were left with didn't multiply. The marriage is hard. They've split up at times. Mom was medically discharged from the Army following a diagnosis of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Lawrence says. At one point, after his junior year of high school, Lavelle moved out. He stayed with the family of a teammate from the basketball team.
"Our school, Arlington Heights, we have the richest of the rich, the poorest of the poor," says Jon Wagner, his high school coach. "We have kids coming from great situations. Then we have kids like Lavelle who don't know where the next meal's coming from."
Lavelle says their home life was chaotic enough he refused to bring over friends after school and basketball practice.
"It hurt my heart, how we were living," he says. "When it's happening to you and you're 16, it's a real awakening. That (senior) year, everything in basketball was good; bunch of schools were wanting me to come play for them. But on the flip side everything was so messed up. I told myself then — I remember that day — I'm going to do everything I can to get us all out of this."
Money was hardest, he says, which made Lavelle's Christmas presents memorable. The red-and-white Jordans in sixth grade, the Nintendo in eighth. Christmas Eves were spent on his grandmother's lap in church, singing "Silent Night" under candlelight. Their best day was the 12th of each month. That's when the food stamps arrived and grocery shopping turned into a family outing. Lawrence Scottie once was a cook for the Dallas Cowboys. As the cupboard went bare, often around the 5th or 6th of the month, he would combine red sauce, noodles and peas for a dinner that shouldn't taste good but did.
"Something out of nothing," Lavelle says. "It's what he does."
"I never make no promises," Lawrence says. "Except that we do our best."
Lavelle Scottie averages 10.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists for Air Force. I think he's their best player, a 6-foot-6, 200-pound forward the Falcons can build around in coming seasons.
"Lavelle is right where he needs to be," Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich says.
Last week he finished the last of his six final exams, a grueling time for any cadet. He's most proud of the 80 he scored in Law, a test that had kept him awake at night. When I joked with Lavelle that final exams at the Air Force Academy represented the toughest week of his life, he laughed along.
"This isn't even about me," he says.
Lavelle Scottie is breaking the cycle, but not for himself.
Lawrence "L.J." Scottie is 17, a high school junior. He's the second of the four Scottie kids, flanked by 13-year-old Cynthia and Isaiah, who's 14. L.J. is a bookworm. He loves reading as much as his dad, Lawrence Sr., loves "Star Wars." Science magazines, books, Wikipedia — anything he can find, he reads.
L.J. has no interest in sports. His dream is to attend M.I.T. He wants to become an aerospace engineer. He wants to build rockets.
"He seen what his big brother is doing," dad says.
Neither parent graduated from high school. In 18 months, Lavelle Scottie will be the first in the family to graduate from college. His down-the-road plan is to enter the financial world, push his brothers and sisters through college and, later, start a "huge" program for kids raised in unfortunate circumstances.
"I've got the greatest chance in my life right in front of me," Lavelle says.
I tell him about my conversations with his father, how Lawrence said this, without a hint of doubt: "This is a fact: If my wife did not get pregnant I would be dead or serving a life sentence in jail. My son being in her stomach kept me alive. Inside, I had a dead spirit. I didn't like who I was becoming. And suddenly I get a phone call that says I'm pregnant? Come on. I knew that baby was going to save my life. I thank God for him. That boy saved my life."
Lavelle looks to the floor, tries to collect himself.
"I'm sorry. I'm tearing up. That hits home," he says. "Give me a second ..."
For unto them a child was born, unto them a son was given.