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During this time my brother Louis and I would hang out with some of our buddies from the Projects guys like Black Buck, Shine, Lazy Luke, Johnny Sig, Walter Grad, Harold Coat, Handsome Johnny, Big Tunney, Rich Scott, Darnel Robin, Glen Chipley and Charles Richer the son of Mrs. Omega and her husband Mr. Bobby Richer.  Charles Richer Mother Mrs. Omega would feed all of us cold cut sandwiches and lots of Hawaiian Punch all day long and if it ran out she would make her husband Mr. Bobby go and buy more cheese and baloney from Mr. Edward Hun.  Mr. Edward Hun owned some old buses he converted into traveling stores from which people could buy food and other goods.

Mr. Hun did this because there were no stores or shopping centers in the Cherry Hill area for the black community in those days.  I can remember the older guys would call us eggs and hoppers.

According to them we were young and immature with nothing better to do than hop around like grass-hoppers getting into trouble.  Just across the street from the peach tree orchard was the city dump. The city dump was a place where we often looked for food. Don’t get me wrong we didn’t get food that was in the garbage we salvage food thrown away still in packages and containers.

We would find all kind of food in perfect condition in the dump.  We knew that businesses would throw away damaged packages and containers that food came in.  From a stand point of health other than being in the dump the food was edible. This was just another means of getting food in those days.

My stealing food had become so extreme on my mother’s emotion that it became necessary for the Juvenile Court of Baltimore to get involved with her predicament with me. Between the years of 1964 and 1965 the City of Baltimore Juvenile Court told my mother she was no longer capable of raising me alone. My mother’s mental health had deteriorated to such a point that the family had to put her back in a mental institution.  At some point the officers that were trying to help me got tired and gave up frustrated from all of the running and chasing me down with steaks, cheese, bologna and whatever else I could haul off.

My relatives knew that money was coming into the home but they weren’t aware of the day to day chaos of just how desperate things were.  I was trying to get enough food for myself and my siblings to survive on.  It was very painful the way we were forced to live emotionally. I was ashamed of what I was doing.  But because of the unbearable picture of having to witness the pain of hunger on the faces of my siblings I felt it was my duty to provide for them.  It was just too much for me to bear when I would come home and see them standing around the kitchen stove waiting.  I knew they would be wondering was I going to bring food home or would I eat what  little bits of scraps  left in a pot or skillet for me, or would I share it with them.  I always gave it to them.

In 1965, I was eventually moved into my grandmother’s home. My grandmother was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses a very kind lady.  I was in the fifth grade at the time attending school number 129.  My teacher was Mrs. Margaret Chan she gave me credit for being a good student she noted how I was an excellent math student. I was considered one of her most outstanding students. Mrs. Chan couldn’t understand why, I was three grades behind at age 13 in the fifth grade. I told her the same story I had shared with Mrs. Russell my fourth grade teacher.  I explained how we were starving in the Project.  I went on to tell Mrs. Chan the reason; I was missing school so much. I confessed to her how I would make the role call and then immediately sneak out of class and go hunt for food.  

After being placed with my grandmother, I went back to school.  I did well for about two years.  I even joined the Lions Club intermediate basketball team.

I was given the position of power forward under the supervision of our physical trainer Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Smith another teacher who gave us the rules and regulations in the discipline of playing the game of basketball. The head coach at the time was Mr. James Grain he was the director for the recreation center.  The recreation center was located at the 700 block of Washington Boulevard in South Baltimore. I played for the Lions Club from 1965 to 1968 where I won several trophies and plaques; I also participated in at least three tournaments.  At the time I was recommended by the Lions Club to play in the National Basketball Tournament in 1968 as a power forward along with another player by the name of Charles Bean Face Rhoads.  Charles Bean Face Rhoads was a great shooting Guard.  Charles and I were chosen to represent the city of Baltimore in the National Basketball Youth Tournament which was to be held in Boston Massachusetts.

Unfortunately for me my grandmother could no longer support me in going to school or pursuing my new basketball career.  My grandmother’s resources had to be directed towards other more pressing family issues at that critical time in my life.  My hopes of ever entertaining a fresh start in pursuing a basketball career with the prospect of gaining control of my life came to an abrupt end on June 9th 1968.

When my book come with the complete story of my life. It is my dream that it will add hope to a world that needs it so desperately.

James Joseph Owens-El

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