Fabian J. Belgrave was the kind of child adults saw as having a choice between two paths in life, one of them bad. He was in high school then, at Roxbury’s Madison Park. His parents were separated. When he played basketball on city courts, often enough it was with the wrong crowd.
But Belgrave didn’t want the bad path. He wanted to be a police officer. Every time he met one at his part-time job at Rite-Aid, he would implore the officer to let him ride along. They all said no, but then Detective Larry Ellison said yes.
And the night in 2007 when Ellison took him in his cruiser made all the difference. Over the next few years, the two forged a lasting relationship. Ellison shadowed Belgrave at his school, urged him to go to college, paid a year of tuition. Belgrave came to think of him as a second father.
On Tuesday, Belgrave strode across the stage at the IBEW Local 103 Hall in Dorchester and became a sworn Boston police officer. On stage, Ellison pinned Belgrave’s badge, Number 3276, onto the chest of Boston’s newest officer.
“I always wanted to [be a police officer] but I didn’t know the correct steps to take,” Belgrave, 23, said. “Growing up in the city is kind of hard; you don’t always have those good role models to look up to and point you in the right direction. Luckily, I had Larry to tell me to keep my nose clean and stay focused.”
Belgrave said Ellison pushed him to work hard in school and stay out of trouble, reminding him regularly that getting in trouble would jeopardize his dream.
“Growing up in the city, going to a public school, playing basketball in different neighborhoods . . . sometimes you are hanging out with the wrong crowd,” he said. “The times when I knew my friends were up to something else, I would make up an excuse to not go along with them. I knew that the consequences would keep me from becoming a police officer.”
For Ellison, who said he has mentored dozens of teenagers, Belgrave is an example of a youth who could have made the wrong choices, but set a goal and worked tirelessly to achieve it.
“This is a success story in itself, just because of the person that he is,” Ellison said. “I’m proud today for him becoming a police officer, but also for him becoming the man that he is. So many young people today make choices that are contrary to doing the right thing. You can guide them, but he really believed in it.”
The two men have developed a special bond. Belgrave calls Ellison his father and said many people know Ellison as his dad. At the graduation ceremony Tuesday, Ellison was introduced as Belgrave’s father.
“Fabian is my son; there is nothing separating him from me, other than that I wasn’t there for the birth,” said Ellison, who has no biological children of his own. “People come up to me and say, ‘I didn’t know you had a son.’ He is at the house all the time, and he knows that if he needs someone to talk to, I’m there for him.”
When Belgrave began as a police academy recruit in January, the stressful days of physical and mental training led him to turn to Ellison, the man who gave him his first taste of what being an officer is all about.
“The first three weeks I called Larry every day saying: ‘I can’t do this; it’s tough. I’m going home and only getting two hours of sleep each night,’ ” Belgrave said. “Luckily I had someone like Larry to tell me: ‘Stick with it. The pain is only temporary, you’ll get over it.’ ”
During his time at the academy, Belgrave and the 69 others who graduated Tuesday experienced crisis firsthand when they were called to the scene after bombs exploded near the Boston Marathon finish line.
“They were called into action early,” Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said. “It gives them experience that, luckily, not a lot of cities have. This group is well prepared to go out on the street, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for coming out early and helping out in the aftermath of the explosions.”
Now that he is a sworn officer, Belgrave will patrol the streets of District B-2, which includes the Roxbury and Mission Hill neighborhoods.
“I’m looking forward to my first shift working with him and actually working in the car with him,” said Ellison, who has 28 years on the police force. “That, I think, is when it will really hit home. That night we were riding together, he had a different role. This time, we will be sharing the responsibilities, and that is a huge change.”
The work of a police officer, in Belgrave’s eyes, is about much more than making arrests; it’s about making connections to the community.
“There are a lot of city kids who dream of becoming cops, but they have no one to guide them,” Belgrave said. “Hopefully I can set an example that it can be done. It could keep them away from the drug life and away from getting caught up in the street life.”
To Ellison, agreeing to take Belgrave for a ride-along back in 2007 was one of the best decisions he ever made. He hopes Belgrave will help shepherd other youths.
“I’ve said to him,” Ellison said, “if he finds some young people out here who need some help and need some guidance, that’s the only thing he owes me back is to turn around and do the same thing.”