- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2016

ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. (AP) - Whether creating the heart of a gospel hymn in a chapel or just freestyling on a second-hand set of drums in his Rocky Mount bedroom, it is clear that Isaiah Kingston comes alive when he is performing.

“Drums are just the heart of a lot of music,” Kingston said. “I’ve always tapped on my binders in school, beat on tables with pencils in the house.”

With a smile on his face and a constant stream of jokes, it seems impossible that he was hospitalized after a brutal assault about seven months ago.

The now 17-year-old Rocky Mount Preparatory School student was in an alley behind his home in Baltimore when three young men approached him with the intent to rob him. The teen gave up his cellphone, but the assailants persisted.

“One had a gun and hit me in the back of my head with it and I went down,” he recalled stoically as he gripped his drumsticks March 4.

The men kicked him repeatedly, shattering the bone below his knee. Bloodied and battered, the teen crawled to his home where he fell into the doorway and shouted for his brother. His mom, Nicole Queen, rushed him to the hospital where nurses told her another teen had come in a week prior with similar injuries.

“Baltimore is just getting worse and worse,” Queen said. “Every time we turned around it was something else and when the Freddie Gray death happened, they were burning the city down.”

Her brother beckoned her to move to Rocky Mount and she was on the fence, but Kingston’s July 1 assault was the tipping point. On July 10, the teen had surgery to repair his leg and the next week, they moved into a Twin Counties home. Queen’s two eldest sons, including popular rapper President Davo, opted to stay in Baltimore, leaving Kingston as the role model for his two younger brothers, now ages 7 and 5.

“I had a lot of thoughts about giving up. I didn’t have any care for anything anymore,” he said, especially when he was in a wheelchair instead of playing football with his teammates. “When my older brothers weren’t coming down, I knew I couldn’t give up because my two little brothers were looking up to me and I had to show them the right way.

“I go to school. I play the drums and I teach them that there are other things to do other than getting in trouble,” he said.

Music is in the family’s blood, so Queen sought out lessons in her new southern sanctuary and found John Battle Arts. The musical outlet was a Godsend with the nonprofit organization’s namesake and founder helping find area churches for Kingston to light up on the weekends with his drumming.

“This is just another avenue to show the world the healing power of music and inspirational nature of the arts,” Battle said. “Isaiah is an incredible drummer and all-around musician who hasn’t let this trauma slow him down.”

While no one was ever arrested in connection with the teen’s assault and his mom still occasionally looks at pictures of the staples in his head or the footprints on his back, the family is enjoying their adopted hometown. Kingston exceeded doctor’s expectations for his recovery and said he won’t be restricted from sports - a good thing, too, since he has his eyes set on the NFL.

“Right now, I’m thinking the Army and if not, I’ll be a lawyer and if not, I’ll be an engineer,” he said. “I feel like it won’t come to that though because I’m going to the NFL.”

As for his mom, she appreciates the outlet offered by John Battle Arts and music in general.

“He puts down his bookbag and goes straight to his drums after school. If I make him upset, he goes to his drums. He wants to be by himself? He is on the drums,” she said with a smile. “He is happiest when he is playing the drums.”

Battle advocates for the positive impact arts has on the lives of area youth, adding many of his students’ parents have seen rises in GPAs when kids take music classes. Kingston said he isn’t sure whether his assailants were involved in a gang or what, but said he holds no ill will and is focused on his future.

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Information from: Rocky Mount Telegram, https://www.rockymounttelegram.com


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