Gervonta Davis knows why the arrangement of balloons is tied to the light pole on the corner of Pennsylvania Ave. and Mosher St.

They're birthday balloons, commemorating a 21st birthday that never happened.

"I know that dude. Me and him, we were just talking about boxing like a couple weeks ago," Davis says inside Upton Boxing Center, five blocks northwest of the balloons. "His name is Gervontae, too, but it's spelled with an 'A' and an 'E'."

Gervontae Burgess, 20, was gunned down June 22 in a double shooting. Joyce Alston, 49, was also killed, a block southeast of the helium-filled memorial.

"All them dudes that have been dying around here, I know them," Davis says.

Davis, 18, has avoided a similar fate. He turned pro in boxing after winning the 2012 Golden Gloves, finishing with a 206-15 amateur record. He's 3-0 professionally in the featherweight division, each win via knockout.

His first professional fight in his hometown is Saturday night at Coppin State against Rafael Casias (4-7), a mile and a half from where Davis (Digital Harbor) grew up along Pennsylvania Ave., where headlining a pro boxing card seems more Disney than reality.

Gone too soon

Inside his Upton Boxing Center office, Calvin Ford, 48, discusses legacies — specifically how his appears increasingly intertwined with Davis'.

The more success Davis has in the ring, the further behind Ford's past seems. He was a lieutenant in the group that ran the notorious Lexington Terrace drug trade during the 1980s and was the inspiration for the character Dennis "Cutty" Wise on "The Wire."

Ford wants to be remembered for his post-prison work as head boxing coach at the recreation center, not as one of Baltimore's most famous drug kingpins. He has long envisioned an Upton boxer winning a world championship, providing neighborhood youth a road map off the streets.

"Shorty's making it happen," a choked up Ford says of Davis as a few tears run down his face.

Davis is Ford's hope. He isn't Ford's first.


Ford twists around in his chair, reminiscing about once-promising Upton boxers. He points out bulletin board newspaper clippings like a parent showing off their kids' high school athletic achievements.

Except these boxers' stories don't have happy endings.

There's Andre Lowery, currently serving an 18-month sentence for attempted robbery. There's Ford's son Qaadir Ford, who was once shot five times. There's Angelo Ward, shot to death last December.

"We came from God, we go back to God," Ford says.

And then there's Ronald Gibbs.

Gibbs was stabbed to death two years ago at 17 while defending his sister in an argument.