Marquis Barnett hopes the New Year brings a change of fortune for himself and his family.
“I just want everything to be normal,” Barnett said. “I hope things change. I really do.”
The 17-year-old Cardozo senior forward has already endured more trying times than most people his age.
Barnett, his mother and two younger siblings moved into a shelter on the lower East Side of Manhattan early last month, after the three-bedroom apartment in which they were living in Far Rockaway, Queens, was plagued by dangerous mold and flooding. It’s the third shelter in the last three years that Barnett and his family have had to call home.
It’s also the latest setback in a whirlwind of difficult times in Barnett’s young life.
Last February, his 11-year-old half-brother, Tavon Turpin, died in a fire that he’d set when left unsupervised in their grandmother’s Ocean Towers apartment in Coney Island.
Turpin, who was autistic and could barely speak, had used matches or a lighter to ignite the fire in a hallway closet. His grandmother, Melinda McLain, had gone to a nearby deli when Turpin set the fire. McLain was charged with reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child, police sources told the Daily News.
Barnett also had to help his mother, Francine Baker, try to cope with the horrors of a physically abusive relationship that dragged on for more than five years.
In the fall of 2008, he followed his mother’s screams to find Baker being choked by her then-boyfriend. Barnett had to step in and yank the man off.
Baker didn’t return voicemails left by the Daily News, but in an article last winter, she called Marquis her “little old man.”
“I don’t go to hit him with adult issues, but they seem to find him,” Baker said in the article. “He carries a lot of weight, and I don’t want him to do that forever.”
Longtime Cardozo coach Ron Naclerio agrees.
“I really hope he gets a break,” Naclerio said. “He’s like the father of the house. He’s worried about his mom. He’s just a kid.”
After the shelters and the transfer to Cardozo, from St. Raymond HS in the Bronx, before his junior year, Barnett and his family finally seemed to have found a bit of stability.
They had been living in their Far Rockaway apartment since May 2009, but this fall they were hit with the devastating discovery of mold on their walls.
“My little sister has asthma,” Barnett said. “…We just had to get out of there.”
His family has been staying at a shelter on the lower East Side since Dec. 4.
“It’s not a regular place to live, but it’s alright,” Barnett said. “It’s a little better than the last shelter, but nothing great. My mom is so unique…she never lets it get to her, and stays strong for us.”
He says that Baker, a home attendant, continues to search for an apartment to relocate the family, but it hasn’t been easy.
“When we find something, it’s not that good or the rent’s too high,” Barnett added. “The landlord wants the money up front or a certain thing.”
Through it all, Barnett has refused to use his circumstances as an excuse.
Naclerio calls him his “hardest academic worker” with a team-high 87 average and dreams of becoming a nurse.
He hopes a college takes a shot at him.
“He’s a kid that I think a lot of people are missing the boat on,” Naclerio said. “He’s as strong as anyone in the city. When his offense catches up to his defense, he can really be solid. He deserves a break.”