Gang Tackled

Football star Jarvis Hicks couldn't resist the undertow of gang violence

It was just another Wednesday evening when Jerome Hicks got word that his son was targeted for death. The news came from an old friend on the phone.

¨The Haitians are saying that your son shot someone,¨ said Wayne Adams, a classmate at Deerfield High back in the early 1980s. ¨Watch yourself. These Haitians are talking about shooting up your house.¨

¨What?¨ Hicks returned. ¨I don´t need this kind of foolishness at my house.¨

Jarvis Hicks runs the ball for Salisbury, with his good friend and roommate Zach Johnson blocking up front.
courtesy of salisbury school courtesy of salisbury
Jarvis Hicks runs the ball for Salisbury, with his good friend and roommate Zach Johnson blocking up front.
Jarvis Hicks
Jarvis Hicks

His head reeled. It wasn´t supposed to happen like this. Not for him or for his youngest son, Jarvis. He was a good boy. Strangers would come up to him in restaurants and trains and tell him what a wonderfully behaved boy he was. Jarvis was loved by his teachers and fellow students at every school he´d ever attended.

Jarvis wasn´t a thug; he was a star. Aptly nicknamed Jock as a baby, he was one of the best football players ever to come out of Deerfield Beach High School. The University of Connecticut signed him to play in the Big East. Just a month before that phone call, the kid was attending a $40,000-a-year New England boarding school for free. That´s how much people believed in Jarvis.

But his father, a former Deerfield basketball star himself known around town as ¨Big Shot,¨ couldn´t escape this fact: Jarvis was sinking into the street war. He was being pulled between two poles, college football and gang fighting. And the dark side was winning.

If he´d kept up his grades or scored better on the SAT, maybe this wouldn´t be happening. If only football-worshiping Deerfield High had treated him like a student who needed to learn instead of a gridiron god who had to be pushed along. Jarvis was an academic mess, but the administration and teachers pushed him forward anyway, from test to test and grade to grade. It appeared that someone even arranged for him to cheat on the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test, the all-or-nothing test for Florida high school seniors.

But Jarvis´ problems now were more about blood than books. Two of his friends had already been buried in the shooting war raging in Deerfield between African-American youths like Jarvis and their Haitian counterparts. The violence was pulling him in; his sense of neighborhood loyalty was taking over.

And now, he was being targeted by the so-called ¨Haitian Mafia¨ gang. Adams, who made the phone call to Big Shot, had seen it with his own eyes earlier that day. Three carloads of Haitian youths, several of them hanging out of the vehicles with guns in full view, had driven down his Deerfield Beach street. They had stared out of the cars with lethal glares, seemingly ready to shoot anybody and anything. They were looking for revenge.

They were looking for Jarvis.


The boy called Jock picked a bad time to walk out on his future. It was springtime 2006, the threshold of the bloodiest period in Deerfield´s history. Some people, including the sheriff of Broward County, would later put part of the blame for the bloodshed on Jarvis himself.

The kid first registered on the sheriff´s radar on April 26 of that year, the day his dad got that phone call. It was just seven weeks after Chris Adamson, his coach at the elite Salisbury School in Connecticut, drove him to Hartford International Airport and made him promise he would come back after spring break. UConn still wanted him. He just needed get the grades and the SAT scores up to become eligible to play.

After Jarvis promised with a smile that he´d return, Adamson gave him a hug and $50 for travel expenses and watched him get on the plane.

It was the last he saw of him.

Back in Deerfield, Stephanie Young, the mother of one of Jarvis´ friends, remembers his immersion back into the neighborhood.

¨I was thinking he was going to pursue his football career,¨ says the 33-year-old Young. ¨I asked him, What´s going on?´ He never answered my questions. He´s a quiet boy, and I thought he was very good in school. That´s why I didn´t understand why he was at home.¨

She knew there wasn´t much hope in that town for Jarvis. Or for her own son, Brett Smith, for that matter. Brett had been expelled from Deerfield High School after getting into fights with Haitian teens. There´s a note of desperation in her voice as she talks about the expulsion, which she says killed most hope for her son´s future.

¨These Haitian boys come onto our street and show guns and have everybody running,¨ Young says. ¨Most American boys that live over here have been kicked out of Deerfield High School. That school shouldn´t have kicked my son out. They ruined our lives by doing that.¨

Now it´s the fear her son will be shot down on the street that keeps her awake nights, especially after a friend was shot in front of her house in December.

¨I can´t lay down in my house until all my kids are safe in bed,¨ she says. ¨It scares me; it terrifies me. I´m trying to move out of Deerfield. Deerfield has become like the wild wild West.¨

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