On August 29, 2005, Terrell Pough glimpsed fame when he was profiled in a four-page article in People magazine. The article praised Pough as an 18-year-old single father who was doing the right things: attending high school, holding down a job, and raising his daughter Diamond on his own. The magazine touted Pough as a national role model for teenage fathers accepting responsibility for their lives and those of their children. On Thursday, November 17, 2005, Pough was gunned down in front of his home as he returned from work.
Terrell Pough grew up on the tough streets of the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He never knew his father and his mother, Elizabeth Pough, was unable to support Pough and his two half-brothers, so Pough was raised by his maternal great-grandparents. As a child Pough spent most weekends with his great-grandfather, helping him to maintain the houses and apartment buildings that he owned. However once his great-grandfather moved into a nursing home, Pough began hanging out on the streets and fighting. After clashing with his mother Pough moved in with his grandmother, Jean Pough, in Southwest Philadelphia.
Pough was 15 when his girlfriend, Charmaine Houston, also 15, informed him that she was pregnant. The couple drifted apart but Pough promised to support the child. When Charmaine's sister called him on Thanksgiving Day of 2003 and told him that Diamond Houston had been born, he immediately went to see her. He told People in August of 2005: "I felt this warm rush of love. I knew it was time for me to do what I got to do."
Pough became one of about 100 teens a year enrolled in a Philadelphia public school-affiliated program called Males Achieving Responsibility Successfully (MARS). There he earned respect as a superior student while learning how to care for his child. Continuing to live in his grandmother's house, Pough worked six days a week as the night manager of a neighborhood Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits franchise restaurant, while sharing custody of Diamond with Houston. Sometimes he took Diamond to work with him. However within a few months, concerned that his former girlfriend was not meeting their child's needs, Pough sought and received full custody. Diamond came to live with Pough and his grandmother and spent weekends with her mother.
When the Popeye's suddenly went out of business, apparently without paying its employees, Pough became general manager of the West Chelten Avenue New Orleans Chicken restaurant in Germantown. In January of 2005 he used his savings to rent a walk-up, one-bedroom apartment in the neighborhood. It cost him $450 of his $1,060 monthly take-home pay. Pough found other ways to supplement his income. For years he had worked as an occasional disc jockey and party promoter. He sold hot dogs and sodas, and started a coat check. He earned a license to bid on cars at dealers' auctions. He bought, fixed up, and sold two cars, and kept a third for himself.
Diamond, now a toddler, was a full-time job all by herself. Pough told People in August of 2005: "Everybody says she's spoiled, and I just laugh. I just want her to be a kid while she can be a kid." Pough was part of a growing trend. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2005 there were about 18,000 teenage fathers raising their children on their own, an increase of 5 percent over the previous decade.
It was an exhausting life. Pough received help from his mother and grandmother but he was Diamond's primary caretaker. He cooked her meals, took her to the playground, braided her hair, and bought her clothes. He rushed his daughter to the emergency room at the onset of severe asthma attacks, a common but very serious disease among inner-city black children. Pough told People in August of 2005: "She's what I work for, what I live for, why I wake up. She's everything."
While Pough attended classes, Diamond was cared for at the high-school-based daycare. He took Diamond to school with him, joined her for lunch, checked in with her after school before his grandmother or the babysitter picked her up, and worked his 4-10:45 PM shift. After his car broke down, Pough brought Diamond home from the babysitter on the bus, a two-hour trip, put her to bed, and began his homework. He often worked six or seven days a week.
In the fall of 2005 Germantown High School dropped its daycare program and Pough transferred to the YouthBuild Charter School in North Philadelphia for his senior year. The school had a daycare and Pough was learning construction skills by refurbishing abandoned houses. He excelled in his studies. On November 1, 2005, the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team honored Pough and his daughter at a game.
After the People magazine story, which detailed how Pough spent his meager earnings, donations came in to help pay his rent. A New York City businessman gave him a 1996 Honda so he could drive Diamond to and from the babysitter's house. The cash donations enabled him to begin the process of buying a home. However a few weeks before his death, family members noticed that he seemed unusually quiet and withdrawn. They blamed it on fatigue.
Pough was planning for Diamond's second birthday party when he was shot in the back of the head, execution style, inside the gates of his apartment house on the night of November 17, 2005. He died within an hour of the shooting at Temple University Hospital. It was Philadelphia's 338th murder of 2005 and the fifth high-school student shot dead in the city within two weeks. Although Pough had not been robbed, his new car was stolen.
On November 29 federal officials received information indicating that Pough had been killed over a crack cocaine deal. The stolen car helped police track down two suspects. Antoine Lee Riggins, age 20, and Saul Rosario, age 18, were booked for murder, theft, and related charges. The young men had known Pough from the neighborhood and Riggins had been his classmate at YouthBuild Charter School. Riggins had apparently told at least two people that he had killed Pough over a $1,000 drug debt. Riggins told police that he had obtained 4.5 ounces of crack cocaine from a dealer and given it to Pough for a friend, but hadn't received his money after two weeks. Pough's family and friends refused to believe the story. At a preliminary hearing, family members claimed that the suspects were twisting the story to gain street stature that would benefit them in prison. The Philadelphia Tribune quoted Pough's uncle Muhsin Shabazz as saying that Pough "wouldn't do anything that would ever put Diamond in danger."
Trust funds were set up to cover Diamond's daily expenses and college, with contributions coming in from all over the country. Elizabeth Pough became Diamond's legal guardian and caregiver. More than 200 people attended Pough's memorial service, paid for by the Philadelphia 76ers, at Temple University's McGonigal Hall.
At a Glance …
Born Terrell Pough in 1987(?) in Philadelphia, PA; died on November 17, 2005, in Philadelphia; children: Diamond Houston.
Career: Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits, Philadelphia, PA, night manager, 2003–04; West Chelten Avenue New Orleans Chicken Restaurant, Philadelphia, PA, 2004–05.
Memberships: Males Achieving Responsibility Successfully.
Awards: Honored at a Philadelphia 76ers basketball game, November 1, 2005.
People Weekly, August 29, 2005, p. 90; December 5, 2005, p. 158.
Philadelphia Inquirer, February 27, 2006.
Philadelphia Tribune, February 10, 2006, p. 5A.
"Aid Pours in for Slain Teen's Toddler," blAckamericaweb, www.blackamericaweb.com/site.aspx/headlines/pough1123 (May 22, 2006).
"Pair of Young Men, One of Them 18, Charged with Killing Terrell Pough," blAckamericaweb, www.blackamericaweb.com/site.aspx/bawnews/pough1202 (May 22, 2006).
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