Last Updated: 11 hours and 56 minutes ago
By Carlos Frias Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
A kid at the Tropical Fruit Shop counter in Palm Beach notices the graduation photo of a young man with a colorful honors sash as he waits for his change.
He looks over to see the same young man, surrounded by family and friends, chatting with a guest, and he looks back at the picture, just to make sure. A tip jar next to it is labeled for graduate school donations.
When he gets his change, he drops it in the container, looks over at Nick Young and says, “Hey, man. I just contributed to your fund. It’s not much, but”
“Every little bit helps. Thanks, man,” Young stops talking to say, and the family around him harmonize to thank the young man, who leaves the store with a smile on his face.
Twenty-two years later, people are still coming to Nick Young’s rescue.
What look like little more than chickenpox pockmarks on Young’s face are the physical reminders of the way his life began. It was the story that spread across the country: A newborn baby, umbilical cord still attached, left to die in a Martin County orange grove, near an anthill.
But his story took an unexpected turn. Found covered in ant bites by a passerby, raised by a Riviera Beach foster family desperate to raise a child, Nick Young – named only Sam when he was rushed to Martin Memorial Medical Center – will walk across the stage as a graduate of Florida A&M on Saturday.
No doubt, he bears the scars, particularly the ones on the inside, the ones that ask what police could never answer: Who was his mother? Who left him near that anthill? And why?
Those questions, Young keeps for himself.
But they have not darkened the soul of a man determined to embrace the life that was nearly taken from him at the start.
Dorothy Young was watching television that Wednesday afternoon in August when the news broke locally, then nationally. Her screen flashed pictures of Baby Sam and her heart broke.
She had given birth to a daughter, Tunesia, who was 12 at the time. But she had not been able to have any more children. Since then, she and her husband, Carl, had recently signed up to be foster parents through the One Church One Child program, which encouraged adoption, specifically of African-American children, who are the least often adopted.
When she saw the baby on the television, she ran out of the room, dragged in her husband and told him, “That is my baby,” she said.
A sacred name
Born at 6 pounds, 5 ounces, Baby Sam was six weeks old when he came to live with Carl and Dorothy Young. But by then, the Youngs had known him for weeks, sitting by his hospital crib, watching his eyes follow them around the room. The ant bites that had caused his face, eyes, nose and tongue to swell still covered him like an angry rash.
But Dorothy Young seemed not even to notice. Weeks later, she would call his social worker, Carolyn Lester, and tell her she had to come over and see how much the ant bite rash had cleared – although, to an outsider, Lester remembered, it clearly hadn’t.
Dorothy Young looked at the baby with the eyes of a mother. When he was 2, the family adopted him.
“If we had a lot of families like them, we would not have any children in foster care,” Lester said.
When it was time to choose a name, the Youngs, practicing Christians, decided on a biblical name. They chose Nicholas Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”
“It had to be sacred because of how he came into the world,” Dorothy said.
For the Youngs, it was as if Nick had been born to them. He quickly became the spoiled little brother to the once-spoiled only child, Tunesia, who doted over the brother she had been asking her parents for years.
Tunesia was the one who would pick Nick up at school, and she could tell immediately if he had a rough day, if someone had made cracks about the marks on his face, which were more pronounced in his childhood. Tunesia fiercely came to his rescue.
“Where is he? I’m going to take his head off!” she’d growl when picking him up at school.
“There’s my rock,” Nick says today, pointing at his mother.
“And there’s my second mom,” he adds, nodding to his sister.
He got an allowance, enough to buy two PlayStation 2 games a month. He drew a circle of friends for his quick wit, snappy comebacks and hilarious observations.
“If she was a spoiled brat,” he says, jabbing a thumb toward his sister, “I was the second coming … I never wanted for anything.”
Looking for an answer
If ever his moods darken, it’s only when he thinks about his biological mother.
He has often talked about taking on the long arduous task of finding her – visiting hospitals near the edge of Indiantown, where he was found, looking for the names of women who might have come in looking as if they had recently given birth.
He wants to know why he was left. He wants to know whether there are illnesses he should worry about in his family. He wants to know if he has siblings.
“I would want to know from her mouth,” Nick said. “I think I deserve an explanation.
He stays quiet for a long wait.
“That’s got to be something to walk around with” Nick said.
But his dark moods do not last. He quickly recalls all the ethnicities he thinks he might be. Caribbean? He asks his sister. Maybe Jamaican, he adds, and breaks out into a Jamaican accent, mon.
They have all watched him grow, including the Tropical Fruit Shop owner Stephanie Bojokles, who remembers Carl Young, a sanitation worker for the town of Palm Beach whom she’d known for years, coming to ask her for a job for Nick. Now, she sends him funny picture messages of her in the store throughout the year.
And if anything gets him truly leaning forward in his chair at the shop – where he has worked for Bojokles during school breaks in high school and in college – it’s talk about his hopes for the future.
It was his social worker, Lester, whom he thanks for “giving me a family” and his high school counselor for easing the rough spots in high school. They helped make him want to go to graduate school to study social work and school counseling.
“I came into the world without a family. The love of a family is God’s greatest blessing,” he said.
A Palm Beach resident, Dede Merck, paid for two years at FAMU when she heard the family’s story, and the Youngs hope someone else will sponsor Nick’s grad school dreams. He certainly has made the most of his studies, preparing to graduate magna cum laude.
“When the rest of us were struggling, Nick was getting A’s,” said his girlfriend, Shandia Anderson, 24.
“So far, I’m impressed,” Tunesia adds. “We set the bar high and he reached significantly above it.”
They hope someone will come through to help. And why wouldn’t they?
In Nick Young’s life, someone always does.