Sunday, March 30, 2003

Antwone Fisher, meet Delvar Barrett

Elmon W. Prier

Denzel Washington-directed Antwone Fisher was the best movie I saw last year. Based on a real-life story, it depicted how the physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse suffered by Fisher as a child transformed him into an angry, out-of-control adult.

Fisher joined the Navy and met Washington, who played a psychiatrist, whose job it was to rid Fisher of his demons. Just when I thought my two handkerchiefs were full of tears from watching Fisher's woes, a friend named sent a story about a young man named Delvar Barrett.

Barrett is a 6-foot-8, 275-pound junior basketball player for Ohio University. His father left him, his mother and two sisters when he was 4. Barrett grew up in the poverty-stricken, gang-infested Robson neighborhood of northwest Detroit. His mother, Vivian, worked two jobs; one at Hudson's department store and another as a phone solicitor for a security company. Delvar was teased in school because he wore mismatched clothes and because he was always broke. Hearing gunshots in his neighborhood was as common as breathing.

Perhaps the defining quality that separates Delvar Barrett from other Ohio University students and student athletes is the fact that he had to bring his mother to college with him and care for her.

Vivian Barrett, 57, uses a wheelchair and is nearly blind from diabetes. She wears dark sunglasses to cover her eyes left bloodshot and swollen from three surgeries in the past three months.

When no one in Delvar's family would take on the responsibility, Delvar took his mother with him while he was enrolled full-time, played a hectic Division I basketball schedule and studied.

Delvar described his mother as having a heart of gold. "My entire life she did everything she could to raise me and my two sisters. So I'd do anything for her." But his acts of selflessness have caused Delvar to struggle. He helps his mother monitor her diabetes. He administers insulin to her. To add insult to injury, Delvar himself was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 14. He has thrived by improving his diet and modernizing his insulin intake from injections to pills.

Delvar, whose nickname is "Baby Shaq," lives off-campus with his mother in a government-subsidized Section 8 apartment. It costs the Barretts $132 a month. They live off Vivian's disability checks of $545 per month, $85 worth of food stamps and the $1,300 a semester Delvar receives from a Pell Grant.

On an eight-day road trip from Toledo to Chicago to Boston and back with the basketball team, Delvar had to put her in a nursing home temporarily. "I promised myself I'd never do that to her," Delvar said. "But I just didn't see any way around it."

Barrett, perhaps, has spread himself too thin. He cannot devote 100 percent to anything. His basketball game hasn't reached its potential. His grades are barely average. But if he can survive two years at OU and get a degree in accounting he can do more for his mother and his 3-year old daughter, Kierra.

Move over, Antwone Fisher. Meet Delvar Barrett.


Elmon W. Prier, Middletown, is a retired teacher and minister. Prier is a member of the Enquirer's Local Voices panel, which contributes columns to the opinion pages twice a week.

Politicians say the dumbest things
War in Iraq: Missile strike
Collaborative: BUF bails out
Development: What's next?
Antwone Fisher, meet Delvar Barrett
Readers' Views