There are so many places where this story could have gone wrong. So many switches where the train could have been derailed.
There was, after all, an absent father, leaving Markeith Brown and his seven siblings to be raised in Portland by their mother and grandmother. There were five different high schools, and a few months as a drug dealer, and enrollment at Clark College followed a year later by dismissal because of poor grades.
There are so, so many instances where Brown could have been left standing next to the tracks, watching the train of success roll toward the future.
“If I look at my family, it hasn’t always been a good picture,” Brown said. “We had it rough.
“Alcohol had a lot to do with that, with people not being a success in their lives.”
And while it is tempting to chronicle Brown’s past and what could have gone wrong — as The Columbian did in 2007 and 2010 — it is much more rewarding to inspect where he is now. To see the hope among the despair. To talk about how Brown earned his way back to Clark, finished school there, and came to flourish at a small rural college in Illinois.
That’s where Markeith Brown is these days, playing basketball for Greenville College and staying on track to graduate in December with a degree in sports management.
As a 6-foot-3 guard, he is the leading scorer for the NCAA Division III Panthers, averaging 13.9 points in 23 minutes a game in his second season at the school. He has teamed with Evergreen High graduate Travis Garrison to help Greenville to a 10-7 record. He has become a living, breathing example of the redemptive power of athletics.
“We just love him,” Greenville coach Dr. George Barber said. “He’s a great kid. He works hard; he’s very compliant. He is well-loved on our team and our campus.”
Not that the transition has been easy.
“I thought college would be like you see on TV — big city, lots of people,” Brown said. “It’s nowhere near that; it’s a 180 degree turnaround.
“It’s a small town. When I first got here it was difficult; I didn’t think I’d be able to do it because there’s nothing to do. It benefitted me because my grades went up. I haven’t failed one class; at Clark I didn’t do that well with my grades.”
Which points out the lessons to be found in Brown’s story.
Lessons that people such as Clark College financial aid officer Nancy Heidrick and Clark basketball coach Mike Arnold make a genuine impact on the lives of others. Lessons that such an impact can have a ripple effect, washing over the families of those who have been helped.
“I think it would mean a lot,” Brown said about the prospect of being the first person in his family to earn a degree. “It would show them we could break the cycle.”
There’s a cliché in there somewhere. But clichés become clichés only if there a modicum of truth behind them. And the truth is that Brown’s background is not one that typically leads to a fulfilling, secure adulthood. Now he is playing college basketball and closing in on a degree.
“What would it mean to me?” Arnold said, repeating the question. “I need to be careful here because I get emotional. Markeith is a very special kid to me. They’re all special, but he came from a very difficult spot.
“Markeith and I used to talk about how college is your ticket to get on the train and build a life for yourself.”
So long as you can stay on the tracks.