Terryon Mckinnie shoots a basketball on an empty court in Tiefenthaler Park in Milwaukee’s Midtown neighborhood while a group of men and boys play a hustle on the court beside him. Mckinnie says he would rather practice than join in — there are too many people and Mckinnie, who has a slight frame, doesn’t want to get hurt.
But none of that keeps him from dreaming big. “When I see Kobe Bryant and LeBron James play, I want to play,” he says. “It’s my favorite sport.”
The 16-year-old Mckinnie grew up near 23rd and Chambers. He says his childhood was “amazing,” mostly because of the influence of his brother and sister, who are both much older. “I always wanted to be like them, grow up [and go to] college and stuff.”
Mckinnie’s father is unemployed but worked as a construction worker; his mother is a care worker for the elderly, just like his sister. “I can’t describe them but I know they’re caring,” says Mckinnie as his phone rings. It’s his mother.
He tells her he’s at the park “hoopin,’” which she doesn’t quite understand until he clarifies. “I’m playin’ basketball,” he says, finally giving in.
Mckinnie is with a group of friends who attend the Hope Christian Schools high school, 3215 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. Mckinnie, who is entering the 12th grade, said he likes school because “they teach us a lot of stuff and help you become smarter.”
At the same time, Mckinnie has struggled with his vocabulary. “My hardest subject is reading, so I hate reading books and stuff,” he says. “When I read big words, I can’t pronounce them.”
“When I look at the word, it just … like, when I look at a big word, it’s just like, ‘man, this a word?’ My teacher, she helps me, like, pronounce the words and stuff, like ‘enthusiastic,’” Mckinnie says, with a hint of self-consciousness as he sounds out the word.
“I had trouble … my mind, it don’t … I read, like, certain words and stuff but it just like … longer words, I need help on,” says Mckinnie, who attended a reading group at the Boys & Girls Club over the summer.
Because of the difficulty with which reading comes to him, Mckinnie’s favorite subject is math. “I like it ‘cause it’s the easiest subject for me,” he says. “Multiplying and dividing, that’s so easy for me. Algebra, geometry … it’s all easy. The other subjects, like social studies and science, I’m sort of okay.”
Mckinnie, who likes to explore, as he puts it, and enjoys building things, can’t put a finger on why he likes the things he does or whether they’re connected in any way. “I don’t know how to say it, I can’t put it all together in one word,” he says. “I don’t know … I just do it.”
As far as the future goes, Mckinnie’s aspirations are a little more modest than first stated. “I want a job that … like, a job,” he says. “Just a job to do something [so] I can put some money in my pocket.”
“I’d use that money to get me a house, help my family out … if I had kids I would take care of them,” he says.
But he’s not ready for kids, yet. Maybe at some point, he says, but not yet.
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