Death of a hoop dream

By MIKE MILIARD  |  August 28, 2008

“AWAKE is doing a good job,” says City Council President Williams. “They’re in the streets, day in and day out, talking to young folks. And I think they really do put a damper on a lot of incidents that would probably explode and get a lot worse. How do you measure that statistically? I don’t know. But I do believe with my gut that they’re out there talking to people and that sometimes that’s exactly what it takes: getting into the tough neighborhoods, and actually interacting with people. Building a rapport and a trust so they can communicate and that they can resolve their differences by means other than violence.”

Going along to get along
“This is all new to me,” says Hornsby Sr. He’s put everything he has into launching the Do It For Mario Foundation. In fact, it sometimes seems, three months after the murder, that he’s running on adrenaline — and perhaps undertaking this project to stay focused on something other than the loss of his son.

(“I refuse to cry because I have to be strong for my family,” he says. Several days after our interview, however, he confesses that, in private moments, his son’s death does “get to me.”)

In order to build his nonprofit, Hornsby Sr. is learning as he goes. He’s made it a point to surround himself with smart people, learning from those with experience. “The Puerto Rican Cultural Center has been in business for 45 years. They’re well-established. Reputable. Good accounting practices. Somebody I can learn from and grow my organization.” Ten volunteer staff members are on board with Do It For Mario so far, “and it’s growing daily. People are calling every day asking how to help.”

Hornsby Sr.’s grand plan is to buy one building, across from the Puerto Rican Cultural Center on School Street, to consolidate that group’s resources with those of Do It For Mario and AWAKE, and another, larger building, at 437 Bay Street, right across from his son’s grave in Oak Grove Cemetery, to serve as the foundation’s main headquarters.

All of this costs money, of course. “I took my 401(k) with $90,000 and cashed it in,” says Hornsby Sr. “Retire? I’m not gonna retire now. God forbid something should happen to me, but my wife’s gonna be well taken care of.”

Presumably, he’s referring to his employer, Peter Pan, a company that’s “supportive of everything we do.” Other businesses have also stepped up, establishing scholarships in Hornsby Jr.’s name and offering funding to the organization. Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Big Y supermarkets, and MassMutual have all offered assistance, says Hornsby Sr. He’s angling for more. “I’ll do what I gotta do. I’m not gonna beg, but I’m not gonna let my son’s death be in vain.”

Labrie is struck by Hornsby Sr.’s commitment. “You can’t describe how he must feel. I know how I feel. My first reaction when this happened was to get angry. ‘What the hell? Why this?’ It’s hard. But I never saw him really get angry. He’s trying to make something positive out of it. We can’t do anything about it. The only thing we can do is try to make others learn from it, and have others carry on the example [Hornsby Jr.] set forth.”

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