"I've got expectations for you."
Centennial High guidance counselor Juan Ball, above, learned of the June 14 shooting of 15-year-old Dovon Harris by phone (see entry). She rushed to UCLA-Harbor Medical Center, where the tall teenager was on life support after being injured in a Watts drive-by.
Ball had taken a particular interest in Dovon, a 10th-grader at the Compton school. "I've got my eye on you!" she would tell him, pointing a stern index finger his way. "I've got expectations for you!" Dovon, usually a blur of affectionate energy, would be stopped short--reduced, for once, to blushing speechlessness.
He loved to hang around her office, cracking jokes, talking incessantly, being silly--dawdling when he was supposed to be headed to class. "Dovon, get out of here! Go to class!" Ball would tell him, exasperated. "He would make you laugh, and you just couldn't stay mad," she said.
Teachers came to Ball declaring that Dovon drove them crazy, then say they wanted to work with him anyway. More recently, Ball sensed progress. Dovon seemed to be maturing. "Dovon, what are your plans?" she demanded one day. "To go to college," he answered. Ball pointed her stern index finger at him. "Now remember: that came out of your mouth not mine, and I'm going to hold you to it," she said.
At the hospital last weekend, she saw him on the ventilator, swollen, his face burned. She learned he was brain-dead, but still could not believe he was dying. She felt sick, near collapse.
At home later, she lay awake. She kept seeing Dovon's face in the dark. She considers herself a "realist counselor," she said, urging students to prepare relentlessly for a world that won't do them favors. But "I did not prepare for this," she said.
(Above, guidance counselor Ball at her office at Centennial High, three days after student Dovon Harris' death. She reads aloud from her students' college admission essays to show how homicide pervades their worldview. "Living to age 18 is an accomplishment in itself," she reads from one essay, then flips to the next: "I've seen my peers lost to dope and death." And from the next: "They say I'm only going to make it to 18." After more examples, she let the pages fall. "I'm tired," she said.)