Nine Blocks From Home

Tiesha Sargeant at the age of 5.

On Friday nights, after another week of working twice as hard as everyone else—after proving yet again that she deserved to be in the position she was in; that, given a chance, she could probably do her job better than anybody else could—Tiesha Sargeant would IM her friends, and off they’d go to Lotus, or Boulevard, or any of the usual places the young and the well-off gather after work.

On this particular Friday, Tiesha and a friend were standing outside NA, the Chelsea nightclub that once was Nell’s. Like many of the people waiting to get in, Tiesha had pristine credentials. She had graduated from Brearley and Wesleyan, and gone on to Wall Street, where at 24 she was just starting out as an executive recruiter at Credit Suisse First Boston. She was beautiful as well as smart, with flawless brown skin, a dancer’s poise, an incandescent smile. But unlike the others in line that December night, Tiesha wasn’t born into this life. She was from a black working-class immigrant family from Crown Heights. At age 10, she had been tapped by Prep for Prep, the New York scholarship foundation that places talented minority students from poor neighborhoods into elite private schools. That, in a sense, is how she came to be here.

NA, it happens, was next door to a club called 2i’s. For all their proximity, the two clubs might as well have been on different planets. NA was mainly for white scenesters, with music you’d hear on TRL, only with bottle service and steep table charges. 2i’s, meanwhile, drew from Tiesha’s old neighborhood; that night, there was a hip-hop and reggae party, with beats from Trinidad and Jamaica as well as Queens. As Tiesha and her friend Natalie Swaby waited in line at NA, a doorman at 2i’s recognized Natalie and called out her name.

Keve Huggins was handsome and broad-shouldered, with a deep, radio-ready voice, long dreadlocks, and a Bob Marley goatee. Two years older than Tiesha, he was from the old neighborhood and knew Natalie from back when. He and Natalie hugged. Keve held out his hand to Tiesha.

Tiesha and Keve didn’t spend much time together that night; the girls went into 2i’s briefly, then went back to NA. But Keve was smitten; if anything, Tiesha was out of his league. And when he spotted her at Flow on Varick Street months later, in May of last year, he made his move. They danced all night, closed the place down, and Keve brought Tiesha back to her place at dawn.

After a summer of almost daily dates and Thanksgiving with Tiesha’s family, the couple moved in together in March, into a cheap second-floor walk-up on Bedford Avenue in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, blocks from where they both grew up. Friends wondered what Tiesha, so accomplished and driven, was doing with Keve, who said he designed T-shirts and Web pages for party promoters. But Tiesha said she’d never been happier. She said she was in love.

At 1:30 A.M. on May 14, Keve Huggins called police to say that intruders had broken into the apartment he and Tiesha Sargeant shared. The intruders, police say, had pulled a sheet over her head and bound her and Keve together. Keve—who police would later say had been dealing thousands of dollars in pot out of the house earlier that day—was unhurt. Tiesha, meanwhile, had been shot once in the head. She was dead.

Tiesha Sargeant was supposed to be the living embodiment of class mobility. At Brearley, she’s still talked about as a legend—lovely and brilliant, charming and determined, the beloved overachiever from Brooklyn. At Wesleyan, her friends and professors thought of her as an intellectual powerhouse, part of the next wave of black leadership. At Credit Suisse, and later Condé Nast, it appeared she was becoming just that. At 26, she was emerging not only as a formidable individual but also as the walking affirmation of a cherished New York story—the idea that a talented child of immigrants can, given the chance, become anything she wants to be.

Somewhere along the way the experiment went wrong. To all outward appearances, Tiesha had made it. But privately, she struggled with who she was. Airlifted from one world into another, she wasn’t really at home in either place. There were moments when she seemed to feel the need to reaffirm her connection to the old world, and Keve Huggins was a move in that direction—one that ended in the worst imaginable way. Now Tiesha’s friends and family are left wondering how someone so promising and self-assured ended up with a two-bit party promoter who, according to police, had a sideline in drug dealing. How did the girl who could have gone anywhere with her life end up shot dead nine blocks from home?

Tiesha Sargeant at 23, in 2003.

Henry and Imelda Sargeant had led a solid middle-class life in Guyana. Imelda was a mining-company clerk, and Henry was the company’s customs supervisor and a leader in an international labor union. They married in 1979, Tiesha was born the next year, and by 1982 the couple had settled in a rent-stabilized, one-bedroom, $300-a-month apartment on Clarkson Avenue in Crown Heights. Imelda worked late in a back-office job at Credit Lyonnais, and Henry trained for his electrician’s license.

In time, Henry, Imelda, and Tiesha were joined by two older children of Henry’s, Idi and Sia, whom Imelda raised as her own. Later came Tweba, born four years after Tiesha, and Malaika, who is now 13 and is physically and mentally impaired. The family lived comfortably, but this was the Brooklyn of the eighties, when crack and aids were still on the rise, and Henry and Imelda made a point of keeping their kids away from other children in the neighborhood. Tiesha never played double Dutch on the corner after school or on the weekends—not even once. Instead, she’d stay home and play Monopoly and memory games. In the summer, the children would visit relatives in California or Guyana. Later, friends would remark on how unconnected Tiesha was with the world she grew up in.

Imelda was the moral authority of the house—a loving but traditional West Indian mom. Henry was a hard-driving dad. He’d drill them in the alphabet until they could recite it forward and backward starting with any letter, and dispatch them to look up words in the dictionary. He also had a fierce sense of self-reliance. “People talk about Tiesha like we were a downtrodden family who went after the American Dream,” he says. “We don’t see ourselves as any embodiment of any dream of any place. We were the embodiment of the Sargeants. We think we should go to the best schools and do the best things. That’s how I taught my kids.”

As for race, that was a myth to be ignored. “I said, ‘Come on! You know the deal. Take all the white and black people in the world, and there are still more Chinese. How come no one is talking about the Chinese? No matter what, kiddo, people are just people.’ ”

None of Henry’s children took to his teachings like Tiesha. The local public school was a snap; she was reading Times editorials at age 4. Tiesha also picked up her mother’s moral sensibility. “Tiesha was like me because of her demeanor,” Henry says. “That highbrow, carry your ass around like you’re in charge, that confidence and arrogance. But when it comes to honesty, that’s from Mommy. No one wanted to say something bad about anybody else when she was around. She had a majesty about her.”Henry liked to tease Tiesha—even, especially, after she tasted success. “Tiesha would come home laughing and saying, ‘Daddy, I got a scholarship.’ I’d say, ‘Kid, one day we’re gonna have to pay for it.’

“She said, ‘But, Daddy, it’s free.’

“I said, ‘Kiddo, ain’t shit free. You paid for it with your hard work. One day, there’s gonna be an auditor, whether it’s God or the devil.”

Almost every poor, bright minority public-school kid knows the basics about Prep for Prep—how if you do well on certain fourth-grade reading and math tests, you can take more tests, including an IQ test, and if you’re among the best, you can get free access to a private school your friends could only dream of attending. Founded in 1978 by a South Bronx schoolteacher, Prep for Prep is aimed not just at helping poor kids, but also at grooming future leaders who will give back to their communities. Students embark on a fourteen-month training program encompassing the summer before and after sixth grade, plus Saturdays and afternoons during the school year in between. They’re usually placed in prep schools in seventh grade, and their training continues during weekend retreats and at after-school sessions through high school; there’s even collegiate and postcollegiate counseling.

Tiesha’s parents jumped at the chance for her to apply, and she was a natural. During her sixth-grade Prep training, she seemed to find a home she never realized she didn’t have. “You’ve finally found this place where it’s cool to be smart, to want to read, to be ambitious,” says Diahann Billings-Burford, Tiesha’s Prep counselor. Even among the best kids in Prep, Billings-Burford says, “Tiesha was more ambitious, more driven, more passionate.”

The training year prepared Tiesha academically for the switch to private school. But the only preparation she got for being suddenly dropped into an alien world was one course, the summer before she started at Brearley. She and the others were debriefed on “isms,” like racism and sexism. But the emphasis was on self-reliance. The course was called “Invictus,” after the William Ernest Henley poem that ends, “I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul.” The message was clear: It’s not about race. Or gender. Or anything else, but who you are. It’s on you to achieve—and to stay true to your community.

From left, Tiesha in 2004; with her friends Kimika Sergeant (left) and Natalie Swaby at a Prep for Prep fund-raiser in 1998; Keve Huggins in a film still from Rap War One (2004).Photo: From left, courtesy of Emilia Wiles; Courtesy of Natalie Swaby; Rap War One

As the saying goes, Spence girls date doctors and lawyers, and Chapin girls marry doctors and lawyers, but Brearley girls are doctors and lawyers. Of all the all-girl Upper East Side prep schools, Brearley has the most intellectually rigorous reputation. Having never known failure, Tiesha walked into Brearley with almost crushing expectations; she was determined not to disappoint her family, Prep, or herself. “To handle all that with grace is not easy,” says one Brearley classmate of Tiesha’s who was also in Prep for Prep. “But Tiesha was the get-it-done person. She was very serious.”Every few years, a school like Brearley has a superstar student who seems to be everywhere at once, and this was Tiesha. She was a co-head of the student government, the junior-prom princess, second soprano in the chorus, played field hockey, tutored younger kids. If the curtains opened, she was onstage, dancing and singing. Teachers and students got used to her speaking up in class, almost as a daily performance piece. Her teachers remember her as a sharp, persuasive writer—this in an English program that’s said to be better than those at a lot of colleges.

If Tiesha was beloved, she was also on display. “She knew all eyes were on her—the girl from Prep, the head of the class,” says Anna Mirer, a Brearley friend. “There was a feeling that her every success and failure meant more because it was her.”

Tiesha made good grades (Billings-Burford recalls a B-plus average), but to her they weren’t good enough. Prep kids are told that academic excellence is the most important thing in their lives; Ivy League colleges are considered Valhalla. “On her college-application brag sheet, Tiesha put, ‘I have always performed below the level I could,’ ” says Billings-Burford. “A good part of my time was spent saying, ‘You’re a great kid, don’t be so hard on yourself.’ ”

There were also the inevitable class issues. The other girls never took the bus or subway; they talked about the cars their parents drove, the second and third homes they had, and the vacations they took. “Class conflict at Brearley means which floor you shop at in Barneys,” one of Tiesha’s old schoolmates says. Tiesha, meanwhile, was self-conscious about her family. Most of her Brearley friends never saw where she lived.

As one of just four black girls in her 40-student class, Tiesha felt pressure to assimilate into the white girls’ world, and in some ways she did—she went to the same parties, played the same sports. But Tiesha wasn’t afraid to talk about race. When a white classmate would touch her hair and make a remark about how coarse it was, she would want to go back and teach that person about black people’s hair. Her yearbook page included six quotations from Alice Walker. She campaigned for the school to discuss the fallacies of The Bell Curve. It’s no coincidence that most of her closest friends were from Prep. Even her high-school boyfriend, Franklin Amoo, was a Prep kid from Collegiate. They were the only ones who understood what it felt like to belong to two worlds, and to neither.

At the same time that Tiesha was asserting her racial identity, her Prep friends say, she was somewhat naïve about the neighborhood she called home. “She wasn’t streetwise the way ghetto New Yorkers are,” one friend says. “We’d be on a subway and I’d get my Spidey sense and want to move to the next car, or I’d say, ‘No, don’t take the wallet out and buy that hot dog because those guys a half-block down are looking at us.’ And she wouldn’t understand.”

The notion that there were two Tieshas was never more clear than on the night before Brearley’s Senior Cut Day. The whole class was together at a party at one student’s large downtown apartment. A friend says Tiesha had something to drink that night, maybe for the first time, and that or the exuberance of the moment led Tiesha to start saying things she’d never said before—like telling someone they should do their hair a different way. This was a Tiesha none of them had seen—less polished, less perfect, more honest; not the Tiesha of the guarded white world but perhaps the Tiesha of the real, “black” one—and some of the girls found it intoxicating. In no time, girls were lining up to hear Tiesha’s real opinions of them. Part of them seemed to want to feel the bracing sting of a little cold truth about themselves, delivered by an outsider. Another part seemed to sense intuitively that Tiesha, the infallible black superstar, might say something ugly and bring herself down.

Tiesha’s closest friends told the other girls to stop, but they didn’t. As it turns out, Tiesha didn’t take down the other girls, but revealed her own perceived inadequacies.

“You’re so smart,” she told one white classmate. “You’re going to get into a great school. Because there aren’t enough qualified African-Americans, maybe I will, too. But my grades aren’t good enough.”

The next day, Tiesha made her rounds at school, apologizing for anything she said that might have made anyone uncomfortable. She was gracious again. The other side of Tiesha would wait for college to make a return appearance.

Tiesha was wait-listed at Yale, but never got off the list. There were those who blame Brearley for her not getting into an Ivy. “When they have five legacies at one school, they make a calculation,” one schoolmate says. “I don’t think they pushed her. They only have so many slots. It was sort of the Brearley way—She wouldn’t have gotten Wesleyan if she hadn’t been at Brearley. Wesleyan is good enough.” (A Brearley spokesperson says there are no slots, explaining, “The girls’ final decisions about where to make applications are their own, and Brearley enthusiastically supports each application.”)

Some in Prep for Prep consider Wesleyan almost Prep Part 2. A mini-Berkeley of the East, Wesleyan has a large percentage of minority students, and the campus is known for its progressive politics and multiculturalism. Tiesha began to shed the Brearley persona, plunging into an exploration of racial-identity politics. She steered much of her academic work to the study of a social archetype of her own creation that she called the Loud-talking Black Woman, or LBW. “The LBW was the woman who was not afraid to assert herself, who would risk being put down for not keeping her place, and who would challenge a black man trying to subjugate the black woman in order to assert his own manhood,” says Krishna Winston, the professor who coordinated Tiesha’s Mellon undergraduate fellowship, which funds minority students considering postgraduate work. In one paper on The Color Purple, Tiesha empathized with the mute narrator, Celie, but she clearly identified more with the bombastic Sofia. “She liked to see herself in that role,” Winston says, “as someone who was not afraid to speak her mind, who was prepared to challenge oppression, challenge assumptions about what’s appropriate.” The LBW, in other words, was Tiesha.

It’s no coincidence that most of her closest friends were from Prep. Even her high-school boyfriend was a Prep kid from Collegiate. They were the only ones who understood what it felt like to belong to two worlds, and to neither.

The politicized Tiesha was still as charming and ambitious as ever. Her Wesleyan friends e-mailed lovingly after her death about how she’d fly into a “race rage” about some social slight and then laugh about it for twenty minutes; about “seeing her walk—ass out, virtually horizontal—as fast as she possibly could on her way to no place in particular with that Tiesha screw face on.” When she was an R.A. in the Malcolm X house for African-American students her sophomore year, she helped throw West Indian–themed parties and held dance rehearsals for Isis, the women-of-color troupe she founded. Isis performed at Jubilee, an annual people-of-color festival that Tiesha emceed. Tiesha and a friend founded Wellness Day, a program of activities for women of color. Living with her friends, she’d cook her mother’s Guyanese recipes, slipping into an island accent for effect.

After college, Tiesha spent a year working at the campus career center and living with a college boyfriend. Yet she knew she’d soon have a choice to make. She’d tell friends she wanted to be a poet or novelist, an Alice Walker or a Toni Morrison, but she was better known as the one who could file the paperwork on time to launch a club or event or use her Prep for Prep training to help her friends whip up résumés. She was torn between corporate America and her writing career, or something else—something more true to the Prep ethos of giving back.

“This is a struggle of all of our students of color when they come to a white-dominated institution like Wesleyan,” Winston says. “The escape from the community is often felt as betrayal.”

In New York, Tiesha’s ambition and conscience were soon at cross-purposes again. During one summer at Wesleyan, Tiesha interned at Goldman Sachs, and friends say she was offered a job there. Plenty of her Prep friends had gone to Goldman, but Tiesha chose not to. Her first job was an internship with, where she set up Web pages for magazine contests and other projects. Tiesha was offered a chance at a real job at within a year, but she was unwilling to wait, and in 2004, she took a job as a minority recruiter for Credit Suisse. Her charge was to visit the campuses of Morehouse, Harvard, and other colleges to find minority students for the CSFB internship program. Here, she thought, was a chance to earn enough to live on her own and satisfy her social conscience.

Most of Tiesha’s friends in New York were from Wesleyan or Prep, and many of them lived in Brooklyn not far from her parents. She’d go to whiskey tastings for black professionals and media-world networking parties, IM-ing her friends to join her. D.J. Reach from Carson Daly’s talk show was a Wesleyan friend, and he got her into clubs. “It was always for free,” says Emilia Wiles, a close friend from Wesleyan. “We just walked in, batted our eyes, and got our table.” Men approached her constantly. “The next day I’d get calls: ‘Natalie. Who is your friend?’ ” says Natalie Swaby, who shared an apartment with Tiesha when she started at CSFB.

On her first day at CSFB, Tiesha struck up a conversation with a Guyanese woman who worked in the cafeteria; Tiesha leaned down to hug her, and she drew stares. “Most black executives would look the other way from that little old lady, but that wasn’t Tiesha,” says Ivan Thornton, a black former CSFB executive, who mentored Tiesha when he was at the firm. Within months, Tiesha lost faith in CSFB’s commitment to social change. It says something about her own innocence, perhaps, that she ever believed a bank would be as committed as she was to the cause. “She would take a holistic approach to recruitment,” Thornton says. “Taking these kids and nurturing them, when the reality was it’s kind of a numbers game—get them in, get them out.”

Tiesha knew how many Prep kids wound up in golden handcuffs. She saw how she and her black colleagues worked twice as hard to be accepted and how some became co-opted. She had a boss, a slightly older African-American woman, whose style clashed with hers; where Tiesha was about building relationships, this woman was about benchmarks. Was this her future? She told friends she had no time for her writing, and she’d take a few of her banker Prep friends to task for being just about the money. “Are you happy?” she’d ask.

By August 2005, Tiesha had had enough. CSFB offered her a chance to change jobs, but she decided to leave Wall Street. She called and landed a job as a freelance production manager. She loved the hours and the magazine culture. She told friends she finally had time to write. She started freelancing, channeling her Prep sensibility: For, she wrote a piece that featured “The WWB (Working While Black) in Corporate America Survival Guide.” One tip: “Recommend your talented, black friends for jobs. If they get an interview and can be successful candidates, you have increased the black population in your office tremendously.”

She also started dating more. In Tiesha’s circle of friends, dating anxiety runs high. You can’t be a professional black woman in your twenties without having been deeply affected by a Newsweek story from a few years ago that declared, essentially, that white women are four times more likely to be married by their mid-thirties than black women are. Tiesha told friends she wanted to be married with a baby sometime in her twenties, not later. The black Ivy social circuit offered a steady supply of I-bankers, and Tiesha was popular. But none of those relationships panned out. “She hated people being judgmental,” says a close Prep friend, Jaynemarie Angbah. “If she met someone, his occupation and income were the last things on her list.” Tiesha never got serious with anyone until she met Keve.

Keve Huggins lived in Crown Heights, about fifteen blocks from the Sargeant house. Like Tiesha, his family was West Indian, from St. Vincent; unlike Tiesha, he actually lived in his home country until he was 8—a stroke of authenticity she came to adore. He told Tiesha that he could have done Prep for Prep, even passed the qualifying exams, but didn’t because he didn’t want to leave home. As far as Tiesha was concerned, that only made Keve more real.

Keve went to Clara Barton High School for a time but stopped showing up and got his GED instead. He worked in a record store, deejayed, did some telemarketing, had a baby girl with a former girlfriend, and at the time he met Tiesha was seeking his fortune in clubland. Keve’s company, Hollagraphics Enterprises, always had a few things going at once, whether it was designing concert T-shirts and nightclub Websites or videotaping dance parties and selling the DVDs. He even P.A.’d for friends’ movies and had cameos in Rap War One and Ghetto Girls Too. A friend of Tiesha’s says Keve also made ends meet sorting bottles in a recycling center at night in New Jersey.

At first, Tiesha had reservations about Keve. “She wasn’t very fond of his business partners,” says Angbah. “She made it sound like Keve had all the talent and the others were going along for the ride.” She and Keve had talked about starting their own business—he had the artistry and club connections, she had the corporate skills and credentials. But she was concerned enough about how legitimate Keve’s operation was to call her old Prep and Wesleyan friend Jason Forde, now a business consultant, and ask him to look over some of the Websites Keve designed for dance parties. What Forde saw didn’t impress him. “Tiesha,” he remembers saying, “these people don’t necessarily look like the type of people I know you to hang out with. How do you feel about that? How comfortable are you with that?”

“Yeah, I know,” Tiesha told Forde. “I’ve thought about it, and this is the man I love. As long as he’s not disrespectful to me or the relationship, I’m good. I’ve told him that.”

Other people close to Tiesha expressed doubts about Keve as well. “They didn’t know why she was with him,” says Natalie Swaby. “People would say he didn’t have any money. A guy I was seeing met him, and the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘What is she doing with him?’ I said, ‘She likes him. Not everyone has to drive around in a Benz to impress someone.’ ”

One thing everyone knew about Tiesha was that it was in some ways a point of pride for her to be dating someone who, like Keve, didn’t look good on paper. “I think she had blinders on,” says Ivan Thornton. “She knew he wasn’t the best egg, but she thought she could handle anything that came her way. She was accepting of him.”

On December 15, 2005, not long before she moved in with Keve, Tiesha had a networking lunch with a black Brearley alumna and Simon & Schuster editor named Cherise Davis. “I expected to talk about publishing,” says Davis. “But it turned into a conversation about this guy. She was obviously smitten by him, but she wanted my opinion about certain things. He had a child, and so she was talking a little bit about that.”The more Davis heard, the less she liked the situation. “I was like, ‘Who is this guy? You’re 25. Leave the love thing alone.’ I had met this nice banker with Morgan Stanley. I said, ‘Hmm, I could set you up with him.’ But she said, ‘Oh, guys like that just aren’t interesting.’” Sometimes the guy on the block is what’s sexy to you, Davis says. “Sometimes you’re just looking at a person and how he makes you feel. It’s not good or bad. It’s just real life.”

The advice she gave Tiesha that day was specific. “What I remember telling her is, it is very easy, being Brearley girls, to come in and do a fix,” she says. “To be that person who comes in and types the letters and makes the phone calls. It’s very tempting. You should let him figure it out for himself.”

Tiesha’s father met Keve in November. Keve and Tiesha weren’t living together yet, and he was coming by to pick her up.

“You’re Keve, you’re my daughter’s boyfriend?” Henry recalls saying.

“Yes,” Keve answered.

“Do you plan to marry my daughter?” Henry asked.

What Keve said surprised him. “Yes, sir, I do. But I don’t think she wants to marry me, because right now I’m afraid to ask her. She doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would marry me.”

“I got the impression that he was genuinely intimidated by my daughter,” Henry says, “and he was speaking the truth.”

Henry thought about it for a second, then shrugged. “Give it a shot,” he said, smiling.

Tiesha and Keve moved into the Bedford Avenue apartment in March and threw a housewarming party in April, not long after Tiesha’s 26th birthday. The friends who came hadn’t seen her in a while. At least one was appalled by clouds of pot smoke, but Tiesha seemed more content than ever. “Once she moved in with him, it was hard to get her,” Natalie says. “A few months before she passed, she missed a big brunch we were all having. I figured she was just in love and she’d reconnect with her friends soon.”

The day before she died, Natalie called Tiesha to catch up. “You could hear the smile through the phone. ‘Everything is so good, Nat. We have to go get drinks.’ ”

Police arrived at Keve and Tiesha’s apartment at about 1:30 A.M. on Sunday, May 14. Keve was there, his shirt covered in Tiesha’s blood. The officers found three ounces of pot in the apartment and a .380-caliber gun in the backyard and took Keve in for questioning. Detectives say Keve admitted to selling $6,000 in pot in the apartment earlier that Saturday. Police arrested Keve on possession charges, but released him on bail; he says he passed a lie-detector test administered by his lawyer, but he hasn’t submitted to a police polygraph. Two months later, detectives are still working on the assumption that the killers are connected to the drug deal; whoever broke into the apartment, they believe, knew that there was something inside worth taking.

Some of Tiesha’s friends think they know what happened during the break-in: The Loud-talking Black Woman put up a fight. “Tiesha had a mouth on her,” says one friend. “She could talk some trash. ‘Who the hell are you? Don’t come to my house.’ I’m sure she sliced the guy up. Belittled him. And he’s the guy who took her out.”

The papers covered Tiesha’s story for several days but then lost interest. Her friends were furious. What separates a Tiesha Sargeant from an Imette St. Guillen, they say, is geography and race. “Tiesha unfortunately died on the wrong island of NYC, and was born black,” one friend wrote in a blog. Said another, “If she was a single white female lost in the Caribbean, we’d still be hearing about it.”

Late last month, on a sweltering Monday morning, Keve Huggins appeared at the Brooklyn courthouse for a court proceeding on the drug arrest. The whole thing took just a minute—a date for another court visit was set for September. “Just trying to keep me in the system,” Keve said, lighting a cigarette on his way out the door.

A little later, Keve and I sat down for breakfast at a coffee shop, and Keve shared his side of things. He pointed out that the papers misspelled his name—it’s not Keeve, but Keve. The truth, he said, is he’s not so much a party promoter as a graphic designer who works for party promoters. Keve didn’t betray the slightest notion that he and Tiesha were from different worlds. “I had late nights working, but she understood,” Keve said. “We were building a future together. She was institutionalized—she could get an interview with someone I couldn’t. At, she had an inside edge. But in the industry I was in, I had contacts, too.”

Tiesha wasn’t afraid to talk about race. When a white classmate would touch her hair and make a remark about how coarse it was, she would want to go back and teach that person about black people’s hair.

He spoke of Tiesha reverentially. “She wasn’t the club type,” he said. “I work with these people, and that’s not what I wanted. She carried herself well. She could hold a conversation. She wasn’t into material things. She was a lady. She definitely was the epitome of what a woman should be.”

He was helping her live within her means, he says, not in the white-collar aspirational mode she’d been stuck in. “She told me I was helping her learn to save money. She had student loans, but she’d take cabs and charge things. She consolidated her debt and was working it out. We had everything in common—music, lifestyle. We never had any bad days, no arguments. Just two days before, she told me I made her happy. I felt great about that.”

Then he told his version of what happened the night Tiesha was killed. He said he fell asleep around midnight, after Tiesha gave him a hug and kiss. He said he woke up with a sheet over him, laying on the couch with Tiesha on top of him and his hands bound around her with one of those plastic binds that police use. He said Tiesha never said a word, even though they were bound together and she was still alive. He said he heard voices asking where the money was, then fifteen seconds of quiet, then a shot, then scurrying footsteps and silence. That’s when he broke free and dialed 911. He said he told police that he had Tiesha’s phone with him at police headquarters, and that it rang once, and that the call came from his phone, which the intruders had stolen. He said the police won’t track down that lead.

I asked about drug dealing. “Police is police, man. They tell you anything they want to tell you because they want it in the papers. They don’t want to do their jobs. That was my girlfriend. She was going to be my future wife. I don’t have any reason to hold back information. But the police have nothing to go on. They need a bad guy.”

I mentioned that the police say he told them he sold $6,000 worth of pot that day.“Is that relevant to the story?” he said. “I don’t think so. I’m still the person I was. I feel whoever did this didn’t know who Tiesha was. I think their conscience is going to start playing against them.”

At her standing-room-only June memorial at CSFB, speaker after speaker painted the same picture of Tiesha—lovable yet iron-willed, ambitious yet idealistic. It took Tiesha’s father, an hour into the proceedings, to broach the inelegant reality of how she died. “The truth is, Tiesha was killed,” he said. “Tiesha was murdered. Execution-style. That is blunt and that is awful. I know you are all outraged. But I say this now—that I owe it to my wife and family and all of you to find out the truth.” He left the podium to thunderous applause.

Tiesha never wrote a senior thesis for her Mellon fellowship. But one essay she wrote, published in the Mellon annual journal, offers a glimpse of what she saw in Keve, why she was in that apartment. The essay is about another black woman who meets an untimely death: Bessie Mears, murdered in Native Son by Bigger Thomas—the literary epitome of black rage. Most readers focus on the white woman Bigger also killed, a main character named Mary Dalton, but Tiesha focuses on Bessie, a minor character and a black woman. “Utilizing Bessie as a mirror, Bigger sees nothing but his own inadequacy reflected back at him,” Tiesha writes.

In other words, Bessie died because she spoke her mind. She was a Loud-talking Black Woman. Just like Tiesha.

Never mind the vague foreshadowing of her own death. The most striking part in Tiesha’s essay, in hindsight, is that she doesn’t entirely blame Bigger for Bessie’s death. Instead, she sees him as something of a victim, too. She writes that he killed Bessie because she is “an externalization not only of Bigger’s environment but also of the self-hatred induced by that environment.”

Where others see a threatening black man, she sees a sympathetic human being.

A few weeks after the memorial, at a restaurant in the Village, Henry Sargeant is talking about Tiesha again. Tiesha and Keve. He shakes his head. “You got a woman that’s accomplished like that—he knows he’s got it made. He knows he doesn’t even have to work any place. Tiesha can just take care of him. She always empathized with someone who had promise.”

Then Henry pauses.

“I think she was in love with him.”

Nine Blocks From Home