SOMETIMES IT MIGHT SEEM THAT not much good can come from a world in which a 5-year-old boy is dropped to his death from the 14th floor of a Chicago housing project because he refused to steal candy for his preteen killers. But Lloyd Newman, 17, and his buddy LeAlan Jones, 16, disagree. They are proof, they say, that hope can prevail, even here. The two, raised in the same troubled neighborhood where the shocking 1994 incident occurred, have created a 60-minute special for National Public Radio titled Remorse: The 14 Stories of Eric Morse (airing March 21), in which they explore the poverty and despair behind the crime in hope of preventing future killings. “I don’t want to have another generation of young black males growing up in violence and death like what happened with Eric Morse,” says Jones.
The budding journalists were already best friends three years ago when New York City producer David Isay, 30, discovered Jones through a national antidrug program and hired them to compile a verbal diary of a week in their lives. The resulting half-hour chronicle, Ghetto Life 101, earned them $500 each, won many awards and offered hope for a life beyond the streets. Newman and Jones admit that until then, they were like so many other neighborhood kids who hungered for the gold chains, fancy shoes and ready cash of local drug dealers. “Everything we wanted, they had,” says Jones, now an 11th-grade honor student and captain of the football team at Martin Luther King Jr. High School. “We knew what they were doing, and we could have done it.”
Though he still lives in a run-down row house with seven family members, including his grandparents, sister and mentally ill mother, Jones now envisions a life in football or journalism. “He’s the first one in my family ever tried to be anything noteworthy,” says Gus Jones, 69, his grandfather. “I’m glad for him.”
Newman, whose mother died of cirrhosis of the liver five years ago and who is being raised by two older sisters, has a simpler vision: escaping the projects. “And,” vows the Wendell Phillips High School junior, “I’m taking my family with me.”