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Clemson defensive back Ray Ray McElrathbey - Please Help

ndpthepoetress Jean Michelle Culp // Sunday, October 22, 2006

Clemson defensive back Ray Ray McElrathbey appeared in a segment of the Oprah Winfrey Show on Friday, Oct. 20.

I have been following this story for awhile now and would like to share it with you. This is a real life story about Ray Ray still struggling to help his Family get out of the ghetto life of hardship, drugs, etc.. The below article is long, however; the story will touch your hearts and hopefully some wallets. Thank you for reading.

From my Local Newspaper: The Post and Courier, Charleston SC Charleston.net

Ray Ray's worries, pain far from over

Mother, rest of family still facing hardships
Friday, October 20, 2006


Tonya McElrathbey, mother of Clemson football player Ray Ray McElrathbey, recalls patting down Ray Ray for money when he was 8 years old, because she wanted cash to buy drugs.



Cornelius McElrathbey picked up the phone, paused for a moment, and started dialing his older brother's cell number.

The weekly rent of $176 was due, and the hotel was hours away from evicting him, his sister and their mother. Ray Ray already had swooped to their rescue a few weeks earlier, and mom was too embarrassed to plead for his help again on this weekday morning in mid-September.

So Cornelius, 16, reluctantly made the call that would ultimately extend the family's stay in what 13-year-old Brittany called "the worst hotel in Atlanta."

"It kind of felt sad," Cornelius recalled. "It was hard to ask him. But if he said no, we'd have been in the streets."

The television features, the newspaper articles and the adoration from strangers paint something of a fairy-tale picture of Ray Ray, a 20-year-old Clemson football player who is raising his 11-year-old brother Fahmarr because of their mother's drug addiction and father's gambling problem.

The courageous story is so heartwarming that the NCAA relaxed its stringent rules against extra benefits, allowing outsiders to provide Ray Ray with support - financial and otherwise - as he juggles football, school and surrogate fatherhood.

But beyond the feel-good vibes and the nice, tidy endings that have been applied, Ray Ray remains afflicted with worry and grief. Because he still has siblings who are stuck in the same unpredictable hell that he and Fahmarr managed to escape.

A few days ago, mother Tonya and the two kids were scraping by in Atlanta. Today, mom is in a rehabilitation facility and the children are with an older sister in North Carolina.

What's next? Ray Ray wishes he knew.

"There's not a happy ending to this, because they're going through the same thing I went through," he said. "People don't realize that it's not over for me."


'It's all around us'

Despair was the prevailing emotion last week at Sunset Lodge, a four-story hotel that overlooks the bustle of I-20 about nine miles southeast of downtown.

In August, Tonya made the decision to bring the family back to Atlanta after a failed attempt to reconnect with her husband in Las Vegas. The hotel stay was intended to be temporary, but Tonya lost her job at a warehouse after three weeks and had tried unsuccessfully to find employment elsewhere.

She has been cycled off welfare rolls, and the only steady support has been food stamps and a monthly disability check the government provides Cornelius, who has a mental disability. Tonya said her husband remains in Las Vegas and is essentially out of the picture.

Brittany attended a nearby middle school, and Cornelius took the city bus to Southwest Dekalb High. There was no desk for them to use as they completed homework, no table for Tonya to serve canned dinners that were heated by a small microwave.

Brittany and her mother slept in one bed, Cornelius in the other. There were no family pictures on the walls or the night stand - nothing around to remind them of better times and better places.

Outside, the sight of drugs changing hands did not raise eyebrows.

"The environment, the drinking and drugs and stuff, is so close," Cornelius said. "It's all around us."

Ray Ray and Fahmarr went home last weekend, visiting the ramshackle hotel for the first time. Ray Ray didn't like what he saw.

Brittany's big brown eyes, bright smile and bubbly persona lit up the drab and depressing surroundings. But her expression changed when she was asked about the 300 square feet that served as home.

"You can see when you drive up that it's nasty and it's not a place for a child," she said. "You wouldn't want to be here, would you?"


Hoping for change

From that same hotel room, Tonya, 40, began sobbing as she recalled her most haunting image from Ray Ray's childhood. Deep in the throes of her addiction to crack cocaine, she'd frantically rummage through his clothes searching for money.

One of eight siblings ages 7 to 23, Ray Ray spent most of his formative years bouncing around foster homes and living with coaches. His mother's problems began when he was 7.

That's about when she took Ray Ray to a crack house and left him in an adjacent room while she went to get high. She said she was stunned to read that revelation in a recent newspaper article.

Ray Ray and his siblings took turns standing watch at night so Tonya wouldn't try to sell the television. They also guarded the food so she wouldn't take that. When mom rifled through their pockets looking for cash, the money was hidden in their underwear.

"I think about that now and I'm like, Oh my God. What was I thinking?" she said. "Ray Ray would say, 'I don't have any money, Mama.' "

Tonya said she began to confront her addiction more seriously after her problems were broadcast to the world. She said pieces by ESPN, ABC, and other national outlets, following the initial Aug. 19 article in The Post and Courier, have made her "the most famous drug addict on TV."

Ray Ray has used the visibility of his story to find people who are willing to help. Last week, a day after she partied for most the night, Tonya agreed to commit herself to an inpatient facility in Atlanta.

Cornelius and Brittany are moving to Elizabeth City, N.C., where their 21-year-old sister, Sabra, lives with her 2-year-old son.

Tonya's problems began in the early 1990s when she started drinking with friends after her husband lost his job. That led to a few snorts of cocaine every now and then, but recreational fun quickly became a raging and relentless addiction.

Before long, she moved to crack. She said the only respite in the past decade came four years ago, when she joined a treatment program and discovered she was just the latest person on her mother's side of the family to suffer from depression and chemical dependency.

She said she stayed clean for two years before relapsing. In September 2005, she cleaned up enough to regain custody of Cornelius, Brittany and Fahmarr before she took them to Las Vegas.

Now, Ray Ray's fame and the reasons behind it have inspired her to try again.

"It makes me want to change," she said. "I want to get the family back together as much as possible. I want it where everybody can come back to our house or apartment to visit. And maybe barbecues in the backyard, dinners. You know, stuff that families do."


'What about us?'

The setting on the second floor of the hotel stood in stark contrast to the environment Ray Ray and Fahmarr enjoy at Clemson.

Ray Ray, a redshirt freshman defensive back who gained temporary custody of Fahmarr in July with Tonya's consent, uses an off-campus living stipend to rent a two-bedroom town home about five miles from campus.

After the NCAA relaxed its rules, Clemson set up a trust fund to help Ray Ray support Fahmarr. The most recent estimates have shown more than $60,000 in contributions in little more than a month. The money will eventually be put into a college fund for Fahmarr, and he will incrementally receive whatever is left as an adult.

Susan Spence, wife of Clemson offensive coordinator Rob Spence, has played a large role in taking care of Fahmarr. She gives him rides to and from school with her two daughters, and on Monday nights Fahmarr sleeps over because Ray Ray doesn't return from practice until late.

Ray Ray and Fahmarr have become virtual celebrities at Clemson as their story has grown. Meanwhile, Cornelius and Brittany watched it all unfold from the hotel with conflicting emotions.

"When they saw Fahmarr on TV, they said 'Oh my God, he is so lucky,' " Tonya said. "I try to promise them they're going to be OK. But they're like, 'What about us?' "

Cornelius and Fahmarr share a tight bond from years spent together in foster care. Cornelius said he experiences pride and relief knowing Fahmarr is in a better place, and he pledges to live by the example set by Ray Ray.

But when the credits roll on the glossy television shows, Cornelius and Brittany look around and wonder what their future holds.

"It kind of makes me wish I was there too," Cornelius said. "I wish I would have went with Fahmarr, but I know it would be too much for Ray Ray."


Hidden pain

Expressive and gregarious, Ray Ray rarely reveals his deeper emotions publicly. He admits to being tormented by the despair back home.

"I just keep it to myself for the most part," he said.

His oldest sister, 23-year-old Tanea, has no job and no home in Atlanta. She is trying to regain custody of her three children after two years without them. His two youngest siblings, 9-year-old Tatiana and 7-year-old Alanta, live with a grandparent in Decatur. Ray Ray feels as though he barely knows them.

"He doesn't show you he's worried or feeling pressure," Cornelius said. "But if you've been around him long enough, you can tell when he's keeping it in."

A little more than a month ago, Ray Ray had every reason to feel as if he was on top of the world. ABC News and World Report, which named him its "Person of the Week," was following him around with cameras. Two days later, ESPN would profile his story to the nation on College GameDay.

But after receiving the phone call from Cornelius that morning, Ray Ray was finding it impossible to be happy. He wired the $176 to his mother to stave off eviction for another week, and then the folks from ABC wanted him to be engaging and entertaining and enlightening.

He tried his best and managed to pull off the act. But deep down he hurt, because he knew his happy ending wasn't even close to the end of the story.

"When I think about it, I really don't know how I cope with it," he said. "I just take it how it goes."


On Oprah today

Ray Ray McElrathbey and his brother Fahmarr will appear on 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' as part of Oprah's 'Childhood Interrupted' story.

When: 4 p.m. today

Channel: WCBD (NBC)


To contribute

All checks to the trust fund should be made payable to First Citizen F/B/O Fahmarr McElrathbey.
They can be mailed to: Fahmarr McElrathbey Trust, C/O First Citizens and Olson Smith Jordan and Cox Attorneys at Law, P.O. Box 1627, Clemson, SC 29633.


Reach Larry Williams at lwilliams@postandcourier.com.

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