CLEARWATER — He looked straight ahead as he threaded through the crowded courtroom, packed with more than 50 people who had filled in for his family.
His social worker was there, his mentor, his last foster mom. Even that lady from the church where he had stood up, more than a year ago, and asked someone to adopt him.
Davion Navar Henry Only, 17, walked past them all on Wednesday and slid into a wooden chair, facing the judge. His former caseworker, Connie Going, sat beside him. His face was blank. She couldn't stop smiling.
She had known him longer than anyone, since he was 7, since he grinned for that photographer from the Heart Gallery who wanted to help him find parents. She knew that he had been born in jail and shuttled between group homes. For more than a decade, she had been the only constant in his life.
On that day Davion had gone to church, Connie had tied his donated tie. When the Tampa Bay Times shared his story, and 10,000 people from around the world wanted to help, Connie had been with him during his first plane flight, to a TV taping in New York. When a family from Ohio wanted to adopt him, she had helped him pack. When he got sent back, she had him over to watch football.
When he asked her to adopt him, she knew she was meant to be his mom.
"This room is a testament to all the lives you have touched," Judge Raymond Gross told Davion. ''When you were given a bad hand, you didn't accept it. You stood up and said, 'I'm worthy. I want you to hear me.' You've waited a long time for this day."
In the audience, everyone was sniffling and dabbing their eyes. The bailiff brought Connie a box of Kleenex. Even the judge seemed choked up.
"This is all overwhelming, I know," the judge said. "But you have a say in this. Are you ready for Connie Going to be your forever mother?"
Connie looked at him, still beaming. Everyone else stared. The silence stretched on. "Okay," the judge said. ''You have every right to contemplate your answer, your future." More silence. "Okay, Ms. Going, tell us why you want to go forward with this adoption today?"
She set her hand on Davion's shoulder. "I've always loved him, the same as my other children. My commitment to him is for his whole life."
The judge asked her daughters why they agreed to this adoption.
"He reminds me of me when I was that age, all into anime and video games," said Sydney, 21.
"It feels right," said Carly, 17.
Taylor, 14, had been Davion's best friend in the group home. Connie had adopted him a few years ago. Now they were brothers. "It feels good to have him with us," Taylor said. "And to not be surrounded by girls."
And when the judge asked Davion to state his name for the court, he said softly: "Davion Only-Going."
Connie hugged him. The audience started clapping.
"Thank you," Davion said, finally turning to face everyone. "Thank you all for being my family. That's about it."
Contact Lane DeGregory at (727) 893-8825 or [email protected]