ST. PETERSBURG — As soon as they pulled into the church lot, Davion changed his mind.
"Miss! Hey, Miss!" he called to his caseworker, who was driving. "I don't want to do this anymore."
In the back seat, he hugged the Bible someone had given him at the foster home. "You're going to be great," Connie Going said.
Outside St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church, she straightened his tie. Like his too-big black suit, the white tie had been donated. It zipped up around the neck, which helped. No one had ever taught Davion, 15, how to tie one.
"Are you ready?" Going asked. Hanging his head, he followed her into the sanctuary.
This had been his idea. He'd heard something about God helping people who help themselves. So here he was, on a Sunday in September, surrounded by strangers, taking his future into his sweaty hands.
• • •
Davion Navar Henry Only loves all of his names. He has memorized the meaning of each one: beloved, brown, ruler of the home, the one and only.
But he has never had a home or felt beloved. His name is the last thing his parents gave him.
He was born while his mom was in jail. He can't count all of the places he has lived.
In June, Davion sat at a library computer, unfolded his birth certificate and, for the first time, searched for his mother's name. Up came her mug shot: 6-foot-1, 270 pounds — tall, big and dark, like him. Petty theft, cocaine.
Next he saw the obituary: La-Dwina Ilene "Big Dust" McCloud, 55, of Clearwater, died June 5, 2013. Just a few weeks before.
• • •
In church, Davion scanned the crowd. More than 300 people packed the pews. Men in bright suits, grandmoms in sequined hats, moms hugging toddlers on their laps. Everyone seemed to have a family except him.
Davion sat beside Going, his caseworker from Eckerd, and struggled to follow the sermon: something about a letter Paul wrote. "He was in prison," said the Rev. Brian Brown. "Awaiting an uncertain future . . ."
Sometimes Davion felt like that, holed up at Carlton Manor with 12 teenage boys, all with problems. All those rules, cameras recording everything.
Davion wants to play football, but there's no one to drive him to practice. He wants to use the bathroom without having to ask someone to unlock the door.
More than anything, he wants someone to tell him he matters. To understand when he begs to leave the light on.
"You may be in a dark place," said the preacher. "But look for the joyful moments when you can praise God."
Picking at his fingers, Davion wondered what to say. And whether anyone would hear him.
• • •
Davion always longed for a family. His caseworker took him to picnics, put his portrait in the Heart Gallery. But he had thrown chairs, blown his grades, pushed people away.
When he learned his birth mother was dead, everything changed. He had to let go of the hope that she would come get him. Abandon his anger. Now he didn't have anyone else to blame.
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"He decided he wanted to control his behavior and show everyone who he could be," Going said.
So someone would want him.
"I'll take anyone," Davion said. "Old or young, dad or mom, black, white, purple. I don't care. And I would be really appreciative. The best I could be."
All summer, he worked on swallowing his rage, dropping his defenses. He lost 40 pounds. So far in 10th grade, he has earned A's — except in geometry.
"He's come a long way," said Floyd Watkins, program manager at Davion's group home. "He's starting to put himself out there, which is hard when you've been rejected so many times."
Davion decided he couldn't wait for someone to find him. In three years, he'll be on his own.
"I know they're out there," he told his caseworker. Though he is shy, he said he wanted to talk at a church. "Maybe if someone hears my story . . ."
• • •
The preacher spoke about orphans, how Jesus lifted them up. He described an epidemic, "alarming numbers of African-American children who need us."
Then he introduced Davion, who shuffled to the pulpit. Without looking up, Davion wiped his palms on his pants, cleared his throat, and said:
"My name is Davion and I've been in foster care since I was born. . . . I know God hasn't given up on me. So I'm not giving up either."
Lane DeGregory can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8825.