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Fred Brookins Sr., Michelle Williams, and Ricky White Photo by Alan Pogue of which the Brookins’ were devoted members, was folded into the larger white church. Most black families didn’t feel comfortable with the arrangement, but the Brookins family stuck it out for years. When they finally decided to leave the church, they were the last black family attending regularly. Sheriff Larry Stewart was a deacon in the church, and Fred’s children grew up hearing him sing in the church quartet every Sunday. There were some things about black Tulia that Fred could not stomach. As a young man, Ricky White had been one of his closest friends. The times Fred spent with Ricky working with the Lobos softball team in all its various incarnations were some of his favorite memories, outside of his own glory days in high school football. By the early 1990s, however, the two families seemed to be on divergent tracks. Fred found himself spending less and less time with Ricky and worrying more and more about his children associating with Ricky’s kids and that crowd of friends. Ricky was living in a house a few blocks from Fred on Briscoe Street, in a part of the neighborhood that had long hosted a number of popular party hangouts. With their mother, Mattie, in and out of their lives, and Ricky involved with a new woman who had kids of her own, the White kids were beginning to fall through the cracks. Fred knew that Ricky’s oldest son Cecil was rumored to have dealt drugs in high school, along with a cousin named Michael Smith. And it was no secret that Donnie and Ricky, Jr., high school football teammates of Fred’s son Kent, were using drugs. Soon the cops were after Ricky Sr., allegedly because he was dealing marijuana. Fred did everything he could to keep his older sons Kent and John from running with the Briscoe Street crowd. “He didn’t mind us talking to them,” Kent recalled, “but if we did anything with them he’d bust our butt.” Kent always marveled at how Ricky and Mattie’s kids could get away with anything. At his house, there were consequences for getting caught. Kent, John, and their sister Mary were model students and athletes. Kent was a star running back and John made second team All-State as a cornerback. Mary was a key member of a celebrated women’s track team that went all the way to the state tournament in Austin. They always did what the coaches asked on the field and in class they were deferential and polite. But playing by the rules had its own special price. Kent was a star on the football team, which made him popular in school. Yet he never seemed to fit in with the kids in his own neighborhood. Kent spent countless hours working out with his black teammates, including fel low standouts Donnie Smith and James Barrow, and they got along well enough on the field. But he seldom partied with them or shared a joint after practice, and his companions resented him for it. The bottom line, Kent said looking back on it, was that he wasn’t black enough for them. “Their attitude was, `you don’t belong with us,'” Kent said. “Still today, they don’t like me for that reason!’ The way Kent carried himself in school and around town, the way he kept to himself, the way he always had something to do when the other kids were just hanging out: it all seemed to say that Kent was going places and they weren’t. In the end, Kent didn’t go too far. Slowed partly by a shoulder injury in his junior year, he never reached his full potential as a football player, and he was passed over for a scholarship, though few believed that the handful of boys who did get offers were more talented than Kent. Without a scholarship, there was no money for college, although Kent had the grades to go. He applied for jobs all over Tulia but found that the goodwill he accumulated as a high school star evaporated. When his dad questioned his diligence, Kent challenged him to apply for a city job himself, to see what kind of reception he got. Fred Sr. came back chastened by the experience. In the end, Kent went to work at Excel. Eventually he settled down, married his white girlfriend, and got a job as a maintenance man at West Texas A&M University in Canyon. His younger brother John, an even bigger star at Tulia High, joined the service after graduation. Freddie idolized Kent. He was crushed when his older brother wasn’t offered a scholarship. But he still believed that he himself would make it, and he listened to Kent’s counsel to always give 110 percent on the field. By the time he was a freshman in high school, it was clear he would be another star Brookins. He made the varsity track, basketball, and football teams that year. By his junior year, he was the starting tailback, the most coveted spot in all of high school sports. Like his older brothers, Freddie navigated white Tulia with relative ease. His best friend was a white boy 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 9, 2005