IMAN Authors Circle 2018

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Introduction In the fall of 2017, on Orientation Day of our first large inter-generational Green ReEntry cohort, I pulled into the IMAN parking lot and ran into an altercation between a youth and adult participant. I unintentionally bumped into the young man as he was throwing his arms around and yelling at the older brother who allegedly attempted to bully him out of a parking spot. Pulling the young man aside, I asked him what the last 48 hours of his life had been like. He gave me a glimpse into his world with the all too familiar stories that accompany the crippling effects of poverty, trauma, and neglect in our communities. He also affirmed what so many of us who have the honor of working with this population already knew–that he was a young brother, brewing with undirected energy, who just needed to be heard and respected. In addition to everything we do through our construction and life skills training and housing programs, among the most critical is giving young men and women who have been chronically failed by our structures and systems a safe and loving space to tell their stories. Their stories are not just stories of pain, struggle, loss and anguish, although unfortunately, there is no lack of that. Their’s are stories filled with hope, dreams, ambition, and a vision for a better future, for them and for all of our communities. Most importantly, their stories are our stories. The stories in this collection are stories that we must all reckon with–either as indictments on our collective indifference to the challenging realities in urban centers across the US, or as agitation that awakens us to our collective responsibility.

I hope that these stories will inspire and compel us to invest in the systemschange necessary for holistic, lasting solutions. I also pray that these stories will serve as a source of inspiration for the many who find themselves in similar situations across the country. The refrain that we are "one link, one chain" is part of the language used in the daily pledge at IMAN. Reading these brief reflections should challenge us all to consider what we are doing to strengthen the chain that holds us together with the authors of this brief anthology as one nurturing and loving family. Peace and Blessings, Rami Nashashibi Executive Director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN)

This compilation features writings from the following Authors, in this order: James “Lil James” Collins Matthew Glass Eugene Saunders Javon Johnson Gemali Ibrahim Paris Green Antonio “Mook” Alsup Kanoya Ali Deontae “D-Man” Allison Lenard McKinnis Hayes Jackson Marquist Evans Najm Anderson Antoine “Tug” Evans Edward “Tron” Borden Jr Danny Lee William “Billy” Moore



am from a war zone, From killing and drug dealing. I am from the city of lost souls, Good and bad. I am from the Windy City, Freezing weather and sunny days. I’m from pizza and Harold’s Chicken, Fom Venit and Christine. I’m from the wild side and ghetto, From “Hardhead make a soft ass” and “Play pussy get fucked.” I’m from Christian and fatherless. I’m from Chicago. Love and respect. From the red tape, police flying, baby dying, mamas crying.

Dear Lil D, James “Lil James” Collins

Damn big bro. I keep having dreams of that night they took you away. Like how we let ‘em creep up on us like that. Everything happen so fast. We was just chillin, playing the game. Talking about the old days and how you didn’t want nothing bad to happen to me. Little did we know it was somebody outside lurking, ready to take somebody life. But still we decided to go to get something to eat. You left me traumatized mentally and physically, cause all I remember you saying to me before we left out was, “Lil bro, leave your gun. We don’t need it.” Now look what happen. I’m out here all alone with the thought of you pushing me back in the gangway to save me from getting shot. And me sitting back there listening to you die slowly. Why they keep shooting? Knowing I can’t do nothing about it at the time made me more angry. ‘Cause it wasn’t your time to go. And the fact that I didn’t know who did it meant everybody had to get it. I didn’t know who did it meant everybody responsible. Somebody had to feel the pain I was feeling. They took somebody I looked up to. Now who suppose to watch my back out here? Make sure I ate at night? They don’t make em like you no more. You didn’t even get to see your son be born. He look just like you, with that fat nose.

December 22, 2014 when you died. I was just 16. My homie Dreski was killed by gun violence on March 13, 2016, when I was 18. Other people died, too, between you two. Maybe eight people. But Dreski was innocent. He was just 16 when he got killed. He wasn’t in the mix. That’s when I started carrying a gun everyday, not just sometimes. And that’s when I got caught. Early in the morning, walking through the alley. I got caught in my homie’s grandma’s backyard. I got a year at 50. Six months in jail, seven days in Stateville. And came home on house arrest for three months. That’s when my uncle told me about IMAN. He didn’t want me to go back to what I was. And I didn’t want to go back to jail. I know you would be so proud of all the stuff I’ve accomplished. I finally got my high school diploma after all them times I told you I wasn’t going back. Funny how things change. I went from being in the trenches every day, gangbanging, running from the police and dodging bullets, praying I didn’t make the news. But now I’m working. Got a job. Learning a trade. I’ve finally learned to take the blinders off. I can see myself, and Lil D, I can still see you.

I never dreamed I’d be here.

Seen my brother in a casket.

No matter what, never show emotions. James “Lil James” Collins



am from P Street. From fist fights and hustling. I am from the Avenue, Friends, enemies, death. I am from the Blacktop, House Music, skating and manhunt. I’m from life and loyalty, From honor and respect. I’m from the Gospel and 70’s music, From storytelling and lies. I’m from Baptist, David and Goliath. I’m from Motherland; Antique watches, chicken, From Show Me state. That standing alone makes you strong. Family reunion, Arkansas, Blood is thicker than mud.

A Simple Grab Eugene Saunders

Out drinking with the guys on the block, cracking jokes and talking about past times. Everyone’s there. Drinking, smoking, playin music, laughter. But most of all, no negativity and no police. Before I knew it, it’s one o’clock in the morning so it’s time to go home before my girl begins to think the worst. I was promised a ride but that guy was too intoxicated to drive. I tell my homie to take me home but he had other plans. I couldn’t call my family back out at that time. So I asked my other buddy and he agreed. But he had some chick with him. As we began on the ride to my house, his lady friend became hungry and wanted to stop and get something to eat. But the place she wanted to go was a bad place at those hours. I disagreed with the stop, but the alcohol and female gave my homie courage and a lack of reasonable thinking despite my thoughts and words. He decided to make the stop. It was dark and empty, so I figured it would be a quick and simple grab. Then three guys walked into the restaurant. Oh, how wrong I was… As we ordered, you could see and sense the bullshit in their aura. I was right cause they weren’t even trying to order food. One of the guy’s attention was on my buddy’s female friend, but once my buddy let him know that she was with him, their attention switched to us, but mainly my buddy because he was the one that spoke up about his female friend.

Compromising words turned into hostile words which turned physical which turned into gunfire. Seven shots inside of a 10x20 room. I was hit by the very first shot in the shoulder which fractured my collar bone and for some reason, my vision left. All I could see was darkness, but I heard the other shots. Suddenly my sight returned only to see a gun directly in my face. My buddy and his friends are nowhere to be seen. The gunman saying, “I should kill yo ass,” but one of the guys say, “He shot already, fuck him, let’s go.” The gunman agrees and all three run out of the restaurant only to be met by more gunfire. About 15 rounds were fired. Then complete silence. I waited a couple minutes, then I rush out of the restaurant only to be met by the gunman and him pointing his gun at me and continuosly pulling the trigger. I run back into the restaurant and plead for the cashier and cook to let me in the back with them, but all they do is shake their heads and holler in a language I didn’t understand. The gunman comes back into the restaurant and points his gun at me again and begins to continuously pull the trigger again. Nothing comes out. He aims the gun downward. I hear thunder as I’m knocked off my feet. That night left me unable to walk for two years. How could a night filled with friends, fun and laughter end in such a way?

Acting rich, when you’re actually broke.

Being alive, but not actually living.

Surviving, coming from where I’m from. Eugene Saunders

A Letter to the Cohort My Brother, Through our time together I’ve found more reasons to love myself. In our moments shared I have been in awe of the man you are and I admire the love and compassion you show for your children. By way of reflection on your story, I have marveled at God’s majesty and been humbled by the possibilities that lie within the human spirit. When you asked me, what you would do if you were me? The more and more I heard this, I realized that’s a question from a man who wants better for himself. Not because your Case Worker has all the answers or can solve your problems. But because through humility comes unveilings. When you were brave enough to challenge yourself I knew you’d be alright. When you’re father was killed I couldn’t imagine how you felt. I couldn’t imagine what that would be like for my son to have to endure. But what I don’t have to imagine, because I know it to be true, is how proud he is of you. I don’t have to imagine that even though he’s not here in the physical form. He’s grateful that you’ve found a community that loves you for who you are and for the man you’re becoming. When you shared your real self in the space, regardless of what others thought, you were brave and allowed us all to be brave. You pushed me time and time again to live up to the values I claim to hold. Be proud of yourself for all that you’ve accomplished in spite of all the obstacles you’ve faced. When you shared how every once in a while it hits you. How every once in a while you’re stopped in your tracks by the thought of yourself having spent so many years in prison. You were locked up as a young man and came back

to the world decades later. I wonder how the world looked in the 1970’s and 1980’s or how it will look in the 2030’s and 2040’s. We are forever grateful that you share your pain with the hope of saving another from going through it, too. When I remember hearing that you were gone, it still hurts real deep ‘til this day. But when I learned how you went out I was proud to say I knew you. If I was ever in that situation, God forbid, I can only pray that I could be a piece of the man you were. My heart breaks when I see your wife, she’s a soldier no doubt. It was once said that you died for your ideas, that you died because you believed in something greater. Just know that these righteous ideas and beliefs that you held haven’t died. These ideas and beliefs are the things that we fight for every day we wake up. These are the things that allow us to strive towards our purpose. Dear God, all I can do is thank you from the bottom of my heart that you gave me so much more than I deserve or could have ever asked for, when you showed me yourself by giving me a brother. With the utmost love and respect, Your Brother for Life,

Gemali Ibrahim Case Worker



am from Englewood, From Timbs and Air Force 1’s. I am from the Hood, 62nd & Laflin, violence, love. I’m from pain, Killing, stealing, lost. I’m from a loving and caring family, From Carla and Carlos. I’m from the best and wonderful family, From up’s and down’s. I’m from the land of beautiful people. I’m from Chicago, Illinois, A loving family, who cares about me, From the hood.

Legacy Antonio “Mook” Alsup On the 9th of October, the sun was shining down so hard. I know my father and Steven Ward were shining down on me. It was my father’s birthday and we were cutting the ribbon for the Steven Ward Residential Center. My little brother was crying that morning when he got to the building. He was wishing that my daddy could’ve been there that morning, to see what we was doing. He would’ve been happy to see us doing something right instead of something wrong. My pops was a great father. A great leader. I never thought my daddy could die. But he got killed. I still remember the last time I saw him, when I walked in the house to see my father. He was walking through the house, smelling good, clothes laid out on the table, music loud, getting ready to go out to the bowling alley with his friends. I had just stopped by to talk to him and I told him I was going to get my little brother in the program. He said, “that’s all I want. I hope you get him in.” And before I left out the house, I told him I love him. “I love you, too,” he said. I went home, went to sleep. I woke up to a text message saying: Daddy dead. I had twelve missed calls and 30 messages. I called my father’s wife back and she told me that they killed my father. And I broke down. Shocked. Didn’t know what to do. Immediately I started crying. Felt like I was lost.

Now on October 9th, this sunny day, my daddy was shining down on me. But we were there cutting a ribbon for someone else who was no longer around. Steven Ward was in the program. He was a cool cat to be around, always smiling, always had high spirits. When I first met Steven, we started playing Casino. He always beat me, I never could beat him. I ain’t never really seen him down. He could’ve been real accomplished, taking care of his family. He was always real, telling you what it is and how it is. But Steven got killed at a stop light in a car with two kids and his fiancé who was pregnant. Somebody came up to the car and shot the car up, shot his fiancé in the arm. And killed him. Now, the Steven Ward building is a residential center for people who need housing. I helped do all the electrical work in the building. Steven put up all the carpentry. I remember seeing him put up studs, putting up walls, smiling as he was working, like he enjoyed it. The house wasn’t supposed to be named after Steven. Until Steven got killed. He couldn’t finish it, so we finished for him. I know he’s proud of me, of us, for finishing it for him. Steven was and still is a part of the chain. It’s not like he’s gone, like he’s still with us. The chain is a brotherhood that can’t be broken. Steven is still in that brotherhood. I never thought I would be cutting the ribbon on my father’s birthday. It’s like there’s a connection between Steven Ward and my daddy and me and all the guys I’m working with. That we carry on their legacy. The legacy isn’t that they got shot or killed. It’s not the worst parts of them. It’s the best parts of me.

My father got killed. People changed.

Antonio “Mook” Alsup



am from Foster Park, From gangbanging and doing construction. I am from Chicago, Illinois. Police sirens. Beautiful city, the smell of good food. I am from Foster Park, Where everybody want to be from and where we have fun. I’m from the Allison/Edmunds and we don’t play about each other. From Bessie Germaine and Robert Allison. I’m from getting money and coming together, From “Stop running in the house” and “If I don’t make a dollar, it don’t make sense.” I’m from Chicago, Illinois. I’m from Tennessee. Good chicken, good pizza. From getting a lot of money to surprising everybody with gifts.

All I Can Think About Deontae “D-Man” Allison

April 19, 2016 Moments later, after the video-shoot being shot up, I pop my eyes open, laying on the pavement looking up at the sky thinking to myself WTF just happened. I look around to my left, look to my right. Seen a body laying next to me. I’m in shock. This ain’t never just happen like that. I said to myself, “It’s quiet as hell. Where everybody at?” I tried to get up but my leg was half way off. I start hopping to the car and just laid there on the pavement and thought to myself, “Damn I just got shot again.” Holding on to my leg to keep it in place, I turn my head and seen my brother running. I called him, “RARA!” He came over and started crying. I laugh in my head, “Nigga come on and pick me up and put me in the car. I’m good.” Moments later I’m at the hospital, the people looking at my leg broken. I’m feeling weak but still here. In the hospital bed, not even an hour go by, they taking my clothes off, counting how many times I been hit. I’m thirsty but they don’t let me drink anything. They put the hospital gown on me. Put the IV in me. And I just laid there and went to sleep. SLAP! I wake up and say, “WTF You just hit me for nigga?” My cousin said, “Bro, they said you died. Everybody think you dead.” Now I’m thinking this is crazy as hell. I ask my cousin was I the only person that had got shot? “Who else got hit?” He look at me and put his head down. I looked at him, he looked at

me. “Thugga got shot and died.” I put my head down and he pat me on the back and said, “Kechianna got shot, too.” Eyes got big, tears came down. I called her phone. I heard it: “ring, ring, ring.” I’m looking. My sister came in told me that it’s not looking good for Kechianna. Now I’m going through it. My cousin died and my girl been shot. It’s time to get better fast cause they got to die. My other cousin came in my room and just sit there. “Bro, they killed my brother.” “I know, bro.” We just in the room. Quiet. They took me into the trauma room for my surgery. Lights on everywhere, my leg bleeding through the wraps. Eyes closed, time ticking, it’s cold but my body is numb. Moments later I wake up in my room. I look around the dark. I double look and see my old man on the side of the bed in the chair asleep. I wake him, “Pops.” He look at me all ugly, but I’m knowing he was drunk so that pissed me off. “Get out my room!” I said. “I’m not going anywhere. I love you,” he said. All I could do was shake my head and go to sleep. Next morning I wake up in pain, but what I really wanna see is how my leg was. I was hungry. I had my iPad so I call this girl and told her to bring me some McDonalds. She came through. While I’m laying down all I’m thinking about is Kechianna and how she was doing. So I ask the doctor, “Aye, excuse me, what room is Kechianna Hunter in? She was in the incident with me. I’m worried about her.” She looked it up, came back and told me that she was down the hall. I get up slowly in pain, told my old man to put me in the wheelchair and take me down the hall. I got to her room, heart pounding. I open the door, her room packed with family just looking at me. Some mad and some asking me how I’m doing, but I’m not trying to talk. I look at Kechianna, tubes running all through her. Tears instantly went down my face. She looking at

me, I’m looking at her. I shake my head. I whisper in her ear, “I got you. I love you. Them niggas gonna get what they got coming.” I give her a kiss. Before I was about to leave her Momma stopped me. “Deontae,” she said. I look at her and didn’t say nothing. She came over with her phone and showed me a picture with somebody with a gun and dreads and ask me was this the person who shot us. I look at her and said no. In my mind I knew exactly who did it and it definitely wasn’t him. But I can tell from her facial expression she thought I was lying. I look away from her and Kechianna and I look at each other. I told her, “I love you,” and left.

I almost got away with it. I’m on my way back to my room and all I can think of is how they could’ve just lost a daughter because of me. All I can think of is how they were looking at me, mad and wanting to say some smart shit to me. I get back in my room, family visit me but I definitely don’t want to be bothered by nobody at all. Few days go by. Now I’m on the way to the hotel room. I’m in so much pain from my leg from what had happened. All I can do is think. Knock, knock. I look up. I’m thinking to myself, “Damn I don’t feel like getting up.” Knock, knock. “Here I come.” Grab my crutches and open the door. It was my family. Loud, irritating but they just checking on me. We are in the room talking, laughing, but I’m going into a daze thinking about everything. Before the night was over with, I had my friend Kayla come keep me company. We was laying down together. I sat up told her to unwrap my leg. She looked at me crazy. “Unwrap my leg,” I said again. We’re both scared because my

leg still bleeding bad and I haven’t seen my leg since I been shot. She’s unwrapping it. I’m just looking. The wrap came off, my eyes got big. “Damn, they did a good ass job!” She turned her head away, it looked so bad. But I’m thinking in my head you should have seen it before. My leg was all big, all types of holes in my leg. She took care of it and rewrapped it. Getting ready for my cousin’s funeral I’m mad because I only can put one shoe on because my foot too fat, plus it hurt. Driving on our way to the funeral, it’s quiet. Me and my cousin just looking, driving in peace. He look at me. “Bro, this shit fucked up.” I said, “Yeah, bro, I need to get better so we can do what we gotta do.” We arrive at the funeral and everybody outside talking. They seen me, coming up to me questioning me, irritating me and all I can think of is my cousin and hopefully they get the fuck away from me. At the funeral they playing Crossroads by Bone Thugs. The song made the funeral sadder. I’m just thinking to myself like this shit ain’t never just happen like that. I’m sitting down by myself, high.

(Flashback.) Couple hours before we got shot, we on the block: me, Thugga, Richianna, Bear and Pooh. “Bro, we been fucking the block up. Let’s go out of town to Minnesota and really check this bag,” Thugga said. We laugh. “If we go out there, we go make a decent amount of money.” “It’s up to y’all. I’m with whatever you with,” I said. Everybody agreed to going out of town and we just hurried, because we knew we were about to make a lot of money. “Aye. When we get back we’re grabbing that jeep. Damn,” Thugga said. “Say less bro,” I said. I look at Bear and he just gave me that it’s that time to get money so I just laugh.

(Back to reality.) I’m ready to leave the funeral. I’m getting mad. His brothers going up there talking about how much they’re going to miss him, how much they love him. Shit was so sad. Funeral over with and we viewing the body. I’m looking at him. “I love you bro,” I said. People gather around. I’m looking at him for the last goodbye before we bury him. After, everybody went to the repast and chill and vibe with everybody. It was a cool day. Everybody was just vibing, eating, drinking, dancing. It was just a good experience. I’m putting back on my crutches, watching everybody enjoying themselves. “Damn, how you doing?” Muffin said. ”I’m good.” But really, in my mind, my head all over the place and all I can think about is my cousin. Everybody leaving, saying their goodbyes to everybody. Me and my cousins in the car looking, listening to music, smoking. Just quiet. I looked to him. “Bro, I’m high as hell.” We all laugh.

May 7, 2016 My cousin was going on prom. I was in the hotel where we was living at, getting dressed so I can see him go off. I’m thinking to myself like always, wishing I can walk again but I’m knowing it takes time. “Ring, ring, ring.” I answer. “Yooooo!” I said. “Come outside and look what I’m driving to prom,” my cousin said. He sounded happy and I finished putting on my clothes and use crutches to go downstairs. The car he had was over-nice. I was just happy for him because I never went to prom before and I know he was going to have a nice time. Later on, I was in the hotel, he came back with his girl and it’s this girl I been wanting since high school. They was drinking, I was smoking and I’m just thinking to myself, looking at shorty, like my cripple ass finally got her where I want her.

May 8, 2018 It’s mother’s day and we just got dressed and put some clothes on to go see the family. I had got in one car with my shorty and my cousin got in his car with his shorty. I wasn’t supposed to be driving but I wanted to see if I could drive especially with my leg broke. Even though his car was faster than mines, we on the expressway racing, having fun. My sister called me. “Hello! Wassup, Cresha?” She instantly got mad. “D-Man why the fuck you outside? Go back inside to get some rest!” I told her I was on my way to our OG crib but she wasn’t trying to hear that. On my way to my OG crib I had made a stop to my cousin crib. I needed my gun. I pulled over, hop out, and went to the trunk. Went inside his crib. I greet everybody and I pulled him to the side. “Aye, cuzo let me get my gun.” No hesitation he gave it to me. “Aye D-Man be safe,” my cousin said. “I Gotchu, bro,” I said. Gun on my waist on my way to the car, police drove past me looking hard as hell but I’m not thinking nothing of it. I got in the car I made a U-turn and soon as I did that I look in my mirror why these bitches behind me. I’m off pills and I’m so high out my mind I even forgot I got shot, so I’m thinking I’m about to take off as soon as they pull me over. They hit their lights, I grab the gun, I pulled over, I jump out I tried to run but I fell. “FUCK!” I forgot I got shot. I got up and I tried to run but it didn’t work out at all. They caught me with the gun. I’m just on the ground thinking. This have to be the worst year ever.

Don’t get killed trying to fit in. Never go broke trying to fiT In.

Hayes Jackson

A Letter to the Cohort Hey Beloved Brother, There's a truth in you waiting to be free. Far too often, the world gets it wrong when it comes to you. Being black often comes with false narratives, portrayals, and stereotypes. It's almost like there is a process of indoctrinating us against ourselves. I can remember growing up and being told I wasn't going to live to see the age of twenty-one, that I would end up dead or in jail, or simply that I would not amount to anything! Sadly, as I looked around, me other black boys were being fed the same "nonsense" (and I wanted to use the other word). The adults in our lives essentially relegated us to the status of persona non grata, an unacceptable or unwelcome person. And when the people you sometimes look up to tells you that you're nothing, nobody, and a non-factor, it tends to become prophetic. Me, personally, I swallowed other's expectations and internalized their "truths." You see, I was too young and too impressionable, perhaps much like you. I allowed other people to define me, thus I became the gang banger, the drug seller, and the destroyer of lives and communities. I'm willing to bet you fed into the same idea for a while. We sometimes lose hope and confidence when we allow someone else to paint the picture of who we are and what might come of our lives. This can have grave and dire consequences in the end. However, as I began to mature, I realized that what others had to say about me and even what I accepted at the time did not have to become self-fulling. My inner voice assured me that I wasn’t a bad person. I wasn’t by birth or nature evil, and that with much effort, I could turn things around. Gradually, I started regurgitating all that negative junk that others fed me. I held a truth in me far beyond what they saw. I no longer saw the gang banger, but a

brother who would rise out of that and bring brothers together in peace. I ceased poisoning people with drugs just to make money and I got a job (two, in fact!), and I have been on a path to positively contribute to my and other communities instead of ruining them. You see, Brother, this is what happens when you listen to that small voice inside and begin to redefine yourself. A light in you the size of pinhole illuminates an entire room. Life's a journey taken one step at a time and as you move forward, just recall the times when you shut out other people’s voices in your head, especially when they didn't have anything good to say. Nobody can live for you so why let them define you or represent "your truth?" What you think of yourself is what really matters the most. Author Michael Josephson says: "Don't let others define you. Don't let the past confine you. Take charge of your life with confidence and determination and there are no limits on what you can do or be." Embrace your truth and set your real self free!

Najm Anderson

Case Worker



am from P-Block, From 72 and Princeton. I am from the trenches, Grimy, treacherous, unforgiven. I am from Dirty Lowe, I’m from go-getters and hustlers. I’m from Grandma Linda Wells and Leonard McKinn. I’m from the Akademiks and Athletics, From “You can be anything” and “You ain’t gone be shit.” I’m from tough love. I’m from the Midwest, aka the Go. Watermelon, chicken, From Remember our cousin Maurice Cheeks, Come to the family reunion. My family, Legacy, Grandma’s house. Your legacy and story, Only need told by you.

Never Edward “Tron” Borden Jr Anytime I reflect on my childhood memories, I instantly begin smiling. I grew up with a loving mom who taught me by example on how you get out what you put into life. My grandmother was there for any issue or concern I had. Multiple uncles, who I took certain character traits from each, whether it was fighting, sports or girls. But at times, I would notice that I was missing something. Never really thought about it until report card pick up or basketball games, where I would be hearing cheering dads excited to see their son play. That’s when it really set in; I don’t have a father. And I was unconsciously envious of father-son relationships. One day, while I was on Facebook, I searched my name, which is the same as my dad’s. I noticed that my uncle was actually in touch with my father. I sent him a friend request and messaged him. He contacted me the same day and we started talking like we hadn’t been disconnected for twenty plus years. He was so confused about why I didn’t have any animosity or malice toward him. I told him I live in an environment where people die every day, and you only get to tell them you love them when they are in a casket, and it’s all too late. We talked four times a week for over a year, building a genuine father-son relationship. He made an effort to be in my kids’ lives, and have a grandfather relationship with each individually.

We had built a relationship that grew into something I looked forward to. He began asking about my mom and how she was doing. I sent him her information, not thinking much of it. Maybe a month went by and I noticed our communication line was different. When we did speak, he told me he had been sending flowers and gifts to my mom, but she had not been responding. He stopped talking to me, stopped answering my calls, stopped responding to my text messages. At first I was confused, I thought something was wrong. I’d text him: How R U? How’s it going? R U aight? Then it changed. Fuck you. You ain’t no man. You a bitch. And I swore and I swear that I will never do what you did to me to my own kids. Not what you did the first time you weren’t there, or when you disappeared again. I’m not the man you is I have my own family, and coaching basketball and training kids is my passion. Now, I’ve not received another phone call or text from the nigga. And it’s been two years.

Sounded much better in my head.

“I’m different,” said everybody at once.

La’Ron Hood



am from a Man, From Randy and Tammie. I am from the comfortable, Caring, modest, Glass family. I am from the richest soil. I’m from the Lane and Carolyn family, From loyalty and love. I’m from the hopeful and overachieving, From beauty and ugliness, I’m from ups and downs. I’m from Chicago. A big city, a violent city. From the nitty gritty.

Taking Time Matthew Glass The difference between me and a lot of my peers is the fear of not fitting in. A lot of my peers ended up having to take the violent road so they could fit in, so they didn’t have to deal with being the oddball. Me, I have a different outlook on how life treats you, and how people perceive you. My friends were trying to act tough, putting on this front for the girls. This was around high school time, freshman year. You know how dudes be. They were going out of their way to pick on people. Territorial stuff. Front them off. But not me. I liked to watch people first before I opened up. I played baseball. That led me to being more like a community guy. Volunteer to teachers. Volunteer to underclassman. I had a bright spirit. Me, I just wanted to be fly. I didn’t want people to be afraid of me. I wanted them to like me. I didn’t want to fit in. I wanted to stand out. And I needed money to do that. I knew that scared money don’t make no money. What that means is, I knew that I couldn’t be scared to put up a little bit of money to make more money. To flip money. I didn’t want to punch a clock because that would tie into my sports career. I could make more in one day than what people’s parents made in three months. That turned me on to my scheme even more. I used my charm and good personality traits to my advantage.

But that led me to the streets anyway. That led me on a path to destruction. I wanted to be The Man right from the jump. I didn’t know there were levels, that you had to wait your turn to shine. Especially on the sports field. I was a freshman on junior varsity, but I wanted to level up with the upperclassman before I’d even earned it. I didn’t realize the value in experience. I just wanted to get where I was going fast. I didn’t ever appreciate that I was advanced for my age. Mid-sophomore year I stopped playing. That year the team went to State. They said in court I was charged with three counts of credit card fraud. The judge told me, “This is a white-collar crime.” He sentenced me to four years probation. I get off next August. While I was in jail, I prayed to God to show me who my real friends were. I was locked up for four months awaiting bond. And that’s when I was praying. I knew the money was good but I also knew the people around me wasn’t genuine. When I came out, I got my own lawyer because I didn’t want to get charged with my friends. And that made them think I was on some telling shit. That caused commotion, confusion. My supposed homies thought I was betraying them. But just like always, I’m my own man. My sister told me, I’m not in the same predicament as them. They don’t have money for a lawyer. I did. I got myself in this mess, I could get myself out. That’s how I learned that fast money ain’t good money. That on the field and in life, got to take time.

I’m not afraid of any consequences.

javon Johnson



am from Chicago, From 15th and Christiana, the holy city. I am from the bungalow on the corner, Dull, loud. From church music. I am from concrete, Mud pies and dirty kids. I’m from the Careems and the Littles. I’m from ordering Lou Malnatti’s. From Christians who live sanctified, From Chicago and down South. Soul food, cabbage and cornbread. From Fly Ass Uncle Johnny murdered in the 80’s.

Hard to Tell Paris Green

I hated my childhood! Growing up with a big family in a small house it was rough. There was like 4 families in this 4 bedroom house. My grandparents, my mother and her kids, my uncle his wife and their kids, my aunt Regina and her kids and whoever else needed a place to stay. I was the black sheep of the family. Of all the kids, I was the only kid whose father wasn’t around. That bothered me. Imagine, as a kid, seeing all the other kids father’s come through the door and yours never did. I remember I would ask my mother about my father and she would just say, “He ain’t around right now.” One thing about my mother, she never lied to me. Although my mother lived in the house with us, I was mostly raised by my grandparents. My mother was battling addiction. Living in the house at times was just crazy. My uncle’s wife use to treat my mother’s kids badly, and my uncle let her. He would act as if he didn’t know that she was mistreating us but I always felt like he did. I would look to him for help when she was doing us wrong, but he would just turn his head as if it wasn’t happening right in front of him. There never was a time when he came to our aid and we were the kids who needed it the most.

There was this one time this lady went and brought food for the other kids but didn’t offer us anything, and when the other kids tried to give us some she took it, balled it up, and threw it away. If we tried to do something as simple as getting something out the refrigerator, we would get in trouble. I swear I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t understand it now.

The black sheep of the family.

I used to get a lot of whippings from my grandfather. One time he was whooping me and he started crying. My grandmother asked him, “Why you crying?” And he said, “Because this boy remind me of myself when I was growing up.” I swear most of the time he would just whoop me for nothing. I knew he loved me but sometimes it was hard to tell.

I got teased a lot coming up because I had a learning disability. I hated elementary school because I was in the LD (learning disability) classes and the joke was that LD stood for local dummies, and I hated that. I hated even more that I would go home and be teased by my own family. My best time as a kid was when I was outside with my friends playing football and basketball but when those street lights came on signaling time to go in, I hated it. I would be like, damn, I have to go back in this house. As I got older, my life started to change. My mother got clean and my father came back into my life. My mother getting clean was like a weight being lifted off my shoulders because when she got clean I got to have her full time in my life and that’s all I wanted. I conquered my learning disability. I remember the first time I read a whole book, I closed the door to my room and cried. I never imagined I would be able to read a whole book straight through.

A Letter to the Cohort You’ve been shot, stabbed, jailed, shot at, threated, friends killed, family killed, and you still pushed through. I’m amazed at how often you bounce back. You all have shown in your own way a certain strength that may not be seen on the outer layers, but I’ve seen the inner you, and you are all GREAT. You never gave in, you never quit, and we pushed you from a place of love. We pushed because I wanted to see you win in life, we pushed so that you would have a real chance. At your graduation I stood in the back and as you brothers walked across the stage, I shed some real tears. Tears because I know how far you all have come. I had tears because I’ve watched one of my brothers get his high school diploma and I know not long ago he couldn’t read or write. I had tears because one brother is trying his best to be a positive example for his younger brother after his father was killed months ago, and is now looking to start his own electrical company with others from the program. Tears because one brother’s mother is battling cancer and he’s trying his best to be by her side as his enemies are looking to kill him and his friends and family are being murdered weeks apart. There were tears because one brother had no family there to support him. The tears came from the best heart aches and pains I could have ever asked for. You brothers mean so much to me because, as I thought I was sharpening you, in reality you were sharpening me. Wealth and Fame may never be a part of my legacy, but your success will be. You have all became a strong link in my chain, we now have a bond that won’t be broken and God willing it will last a life time. 1 Link 1 Chain,

Kanoya Ali Case Worker

The Messiah Lenard McKinnis

I grew up in public housing also known as the projects. Growing up everyone in the community was close knit. My dad was a leader in our neighborhood. He was a man that everyone looked up to, he had sort of a reputation. He was considered to be a stand-up guy that people either feared or respected. His reputation preceded him. Naturally as his first-born son, I inherited that reputation even if I didn’t want it… The first real life danger I experienced as a child was on the basketball court on 45th and Cottage Grove. Some guys did a drive by in broad daylight. I was so conditioned to gun violence that I didn’t try to run; I continued to play ball. When I reached out to grab the ball it burst from a bullet piercing it. My brother grabbed me instantly and ran to the building. When we arrived there, I saw the guys in my building loading guns to retaliate. My childhood was cut short. When I was 6, my dad made me shoot a gun. Not to scare me, but to prepare me. That shaped my perspective on guns–that they are used for a job, just like a hammer. I smoked weed and drunk liquor at the age of 6. I never really wanted to do any of these things. I just wanted to have a relationship with my dad. Since these were the things he indulged in, I thought we were bonding. I recall one time having a hangover early one day in 1st grade and my school sent me home for day. I didn’t think this was a form of abuse, but now I realize early exposure to these things made me immune. Now, the thrill and kicks that people get out of living this kind of life doesn’t impress me anymore.

When other people in my family began to notice my behaviors, my grandma and uncle told me blatantly that although I was exposed to these things, I did not have to be a product of my environment. My uncle said verbatim, “You don’t have to be that way.” I spent a lot time with my father and got used to being his right hand man; it felt good riding with him. Years later, once I had become my own man, I felt guilty that I wasn’t backing him up no more. I found a new way of getting money and felt bad I was getting so much easy money. I felt like I was leaving him behind. So, I asked my father one day, nervously, “Do you want me to be better than you?” He looked at me and said, “You are my son. Of course I want you to be better than me!” My father once told me, “I made a mistake in raising you, I treated you like my homie because I didn’t want you to be soft.” Through it all I triumphed, and I love my father even more for making me the man I am. I always have consideration for his situations knowing he didn’t have his dad as an active figure in his life. Even though I was exposed to things at an early age doesn’t make me love my father any less. Those things made me who I am. Now, I’m an active father. And I want different for my children.



am from Foot Locker, From Nike and Adidas. I am from the Refere Building, Fashion, touchable and “If it fit, you buy.” I am from broccoli with sticks and huge oranges, Trees and sun that helps produce. I’m from Great Grandma and Great Great Grandmas, From Englewood and Auburn Gresham. I’m from the trenches and trench coats, From election and electrician. I’m from “I am a man” to IMAN. I’m from Chicago, St. Bernard’s, Loving and respectful, From Every Saturday fly like (23) Michael Jordan.

Direction Marquist Evans

I loved sports growing up, especially basketball and football. My father guided me the right way to making my football dreams come true. I played the brightest position on the field. Quarterback. I ran the offense. I graduated High School and was on to college with no scholarship, but good enough to be a walk-on. “Next season, tryouts start. Say thank you,” the recruiter told those of us who were walk-ons. The whole time I’m thinking to myself, “I have to go back next year and make the team.” I attended Western Illinois University, it was a big campus with a lot to do and a lot of distractions. One of my high school classmates went to school with me. He played football, also. We were roommates and we were sticking together because we were fresh meat on campus. There were so many women, not just women but fine beautiful women that actually talked back when you talk to them. This was the best experience in life! Attending Western Illinois on my own, not staying with my parents, and taking classes was a lot. And I couldn’t handle it all at once. Before I knew it, I was falling off doing things I didn’t have no business doing. I wasn’t a bad person, but everyday I surrounded myself with ideas to get money. It was hard finding a job at college, so I started thinking–this is not to say that my thinking was right, because it was definitely wrong. My rappies and I were thinking we experts at doing the things that we were doing, until one beep from someone’s bag changed everything. The retail store Big K-mart had BB guns out in the open. Beep! Beep! Beep!

Beep! A BB gun was in my rappy’s bag, a hidden sensor set the alarm. Employees started rushing the door, “Hey! Hey! You guys come back here.” A look of innocent guilt on everyone’s faces as we looked at each other and then took off running. Two people went one way, two went the other way. My roommate and I tried to hide behind the store as long as we could. The police rushed to the store searching for us. I watched as they got descriptions from the employees; it was so many red and white shirts it looked like a peppermint meeting. And it was all about us. My chest was beating 90mph waiting for the right time to pop out. We came out the cut and tried to creep passed, but the officer spotted us even without the flashlights. We ran for a minute then surrendered because there was nowhere for us to take cover.

Head up, so tears don’t fall. There were two cars that pulled up on us. One car took me and the other took my rappy. I was sick, in the back of the car caged up with my hands behind me and no way to stretch. The police were laughing like it was a joke, and I’m in the back, sad, wondering what was about to come next. I thought I wasn’t in in that much trouble because the gun wasn’t in my bag. I didn’t know if the others had gotten caught until I hit the cold police headquarters and all four of us were there with the same shit face. It was my first time in a cold environment where they didn’t care if you had correct clothing. I found out later that this was all of our first arrest, and

we were going to the station for some serious charges. The policeman explained one by one who was being charged with what and that no one had an I-Bond. Having a loving family at home that didn’t want their baby boy sitting in jail miles away, my parents paid the $1000 bond. I was thinking, “Damn that was quick. They did that for me?” I was leaving out not knowing what was going on with everyone else. Winter break was around the corner and I’m thinking to myself, “I’m going to get my ass beat, no belt, straight punches.” Next day I went to class with a sense of guilt. I couldn’t leave class and go hang with my roommate because he was still locked up. Time went by with me thinking how we get caught. My roommate was still in jail and the other two guys was popping out and I see them on campus. Police told us that there was an investigation going on right now. We were able to go home for break, but my roommate was still locked up. I made it home, but it felt like I had an upset stomach the whole ride there. It was the worst when it was time to get off the train. I didn’t want to see my parents so I had my sister meet me there, but before I could get in the car, I peeped through the front window just to see who was in there with her. She was happy to see me, but after the meet and greet settled, here comes the boom. Shaking my head I tell her, “come on sis don’t ask about that now. I’m just happy to see you and be home.” The first person I seen was my mother. It was all love when she first saw me because no one loves me like my mother. She knew what happened, but I’m her only son, so it felt good for her to see me back. The only concern she had was that they still had me enrolled in school. She could heal from the wound I had created as long as I was still in school. My mother has brothers and uncles in jail for life, and she didn’t want her son in the same predicament as them. Grandma knew I was down there hanging around people I

was not supposed to but she still loved me and gave me the biggest hugs and kisses, leaving me covered in kiss-prints on my cheeks from her lipstick and the scent of her perfume. Moms and Grandma were easy to get passed. I told both of them what happened and that doing things I was not supposed to was not in the plans and that I didn’t want to go into details. They both brushed me off and told me that your father is going to want to hear what happened and I said “Yep just like he always do...” Mom gave a stretch eye look. Then Gran Gran said, “Here’s his number. Call yo daddy. Let him know you made it home.” Boom! Who would ever thought paper would sound so loud hitting the table. I grabbed the paper and went upstairs to where my scent was always found. Called my Pops one time but didn’t get no answer so I never called back. I dozed off, daydreaming, thinking about what I would say. Mom’s voice wake me up to ask me, “Did you talk to him?” “No answer,” I say. Check my phone, had no missed calls. Hmm... that’s unusual. At least my girlfriend would’ve texted, or I’d a had a lot of missed calls because she would’ve thought I was ignoring her or doing something I’m not supposed to be doing. Phone was on airplane mode the whole time. Now how that happen? I took it off, and see a couple missed calls, missed texts, but no call from Pops. He must be busy... and oh yea, girlfriend thinks I’m cheating. I text her back, “Baby I was sleep…” Ring ring ring ring goes the doorbell. No one rings the doorbell that many times but family members. Shit. Gotta be Pops. He’s gonna be on my ass. I hear Gran Gran say, “I’m coming...Heyyyyy…. Big hug n kiss.” I hear Pops’ voice “Aye, let’s take a ride.” “Alright. Here I come now. Grandma, I’ll be back.” “Aye I’ll be waiting in the car.” I’m thinking maybe he didn’t wanna take his shoes off, he just rushing me to come on, so I put my

coat, boots and hat on. My heart’s beating strong. I know he mad as hell. I don’t know what’s about to happen. Can’t see in the car, I open the back door, it was locked. “Get in the front,” he says. It feels way better in the car then out there. I explain what was happening and why I was making the decisions I was making. Pops’ words and volume of the voice are on max, I’m getting my ass treated. My Pops making me realize that just like every yard and every play counts toward the results in football, it’s going to be the same with my life decisions. Pops turned the heat down, I guess he was getting hot as he’s expressing his knowledge. We slow down and he says, “Look.” And it’s people sleeping in the cold outside. Homeless people. He’s explaining and I’m thinking how my uncles and so many people we know are in jail with long sentences. “I want the best for you.” He wanted me making the best decisions in life just like I would do on the field. “Son, your bond was your Christmas gift. Maybe it a help you think what type of direction you wanna go.”



am from hard knock and elementary, From choke sandwiches and butter cookies. I am from the streets of desperation, Surviving, striving, for success and greatness. I am from collard greens, Dripping juice and hot sauce. I’m from grilled food and card games. From Evans and Griffo, From, “We give in,” and “We don’t give up.” I’m from, “I might be down, but I ain’t dead.” I’m from Cook County, a place called Ida B. Wells; Caramel cake, sweet potato pie, From the briefcase, sharp suits and Dobb hats. Uncle Jack, the slickest of them all. Song and a dance, Sandy May Griffo, From 6231 way back to a place called the projects. There isn‘t a lot of us, But our strong love bonds us.

Blink of a Dream Antoine “Tug” Evans

Well for starters did you know I was labelled a child with a learning disability in grade school? Could you imagine the anxiety that coincides with being written off as a fourteen year old felon? By looking at me and how well I mask my emotions, you would’ve never knew that there was a time in my life when I lived place to place, slept in the backseat of cars and sometimes hallways. I found myself in a delusional mental state feeling like the streets was the way and means of survival. If you don’t hustle you don’t eat. I still remember the blizzard of 1999, New Year’s Day. I was out shovelling snow tryin’ to earn some money for myself and Bam! It’s a revolver in my face. Uttering the words, “Give it up Shorty.” Every word smells like beers and Seagrams gin. I felt victimized, snow-suitless and seven dollars poorer walking home in the snow from being robbed on the side of a church. Damn, why me God? Years of fighting my way through grammar school, physical abuse from my father, feeling like an outcast or maybe that it was just something wrong with me. The belief that I could be just an innocent teen was shattered. Drama at school, drama at home, and then outside, trying to earn an honest dollar for myself. Trying to clear my mind of the stress in my young life.

Growing up in the ghetto, I’ve seen people get shot. I’ve stumbled across a dead corpse. But this was the edge for me. It was fight or flight in my home, and being baptized the same year didn’t cut it. I turned to the streets smoking weed, drinking alcohol and selling drugs. Before I knew it, I was in possession of a gun. Predator or prey. Somebody robbed me so I will take whatever I want. Twisted and wicked thoughts. Kill or be killed. Survive by all means. How did I get here, from graduation to juvenile incarceration? In and out of jail throughout my teenage years. I often asked myself that same question while in my jail cell. Seems like a blink of a dream, all the crimes my hands have committed and blood my eyes have seen. Before I knew it I was no longer a teen. State to state doing wrong things. I had landed myself an interview with a homicide detective. Twenty years of age, living once again at 26th and California, the new wing, Division IX, laying my mat down, laying on my bed. Hearing a voice in my mind on replay uttering, “I don’t care if you did it or not. My job is to make sure you go to trial or my grandkids don’t go to college.” Despite the fact that I was innocent. I had been through so much and had done so much wrong. I couldn’t complain. I had programmed myself into believing that mentally I had found peace. Surrounded with so many different faces of men, most of whom were caged for same or similar offenses, didn’t

from the top gallery with sheets tied to their necks attempting suicide, guys begging for their lives while being stabbed didn’t affect me. Hell, that was a norm for me, blood and crime scenes. What did affect me was I had an unborn son entering into this world, that I would possibly never meet, who I might never be able to protect. Knowing that the one woman in my corner, my mother, could pass away not in peace due to her youngest son possibly doing life in prison, ate at my soul. And then I went through a transformation. I became stronger, wiser. I realized that I was surrounded by some of the smartest men in life, stripped from the rest of the so-called free world due to living in fear and lack of understanding. Three years, a four day trial, and six hours of deliberation later, my freedom was proclaimed. One of the best feelings in my life, uniting with my son for the first time. Liberated, so I thought. But I still had unfinished business with the judicial system in a different state. Failure to report, violation of a ten year probation plea. I never thought my past could so cloud my future. I had planned on a fresh start. Get a job and be a great father. I hoped the judge would understand that and release me. Some people call me stupid. I called myself brave, doing the right thing for a change. I turned myself in.

I remember my plea agreement like I was sentenced yesterday. Three years of good behavior, your background will be expunged and probation would be executed. Instead, three years later, I’m staring up at another judge. “I ought to be sending you to prison for failing to report,” his words echoed. I was in shock. Speechless for a second, responding, “Your Honor, what was I supposed to do? Call a person I never met collect from Cook County Jail? I left this county in shackles on an airplane, beat my case, came back here so I could move forward with my life.” “Son, you will serve the remainder of seven years probation or three years Department of Corrections.”

I envision it. I am brilliant. You win some, you lose some. Some positive self-talk kicked in, I beat myself up and made a decision, I decided to get drunk. “Hell I need one.” So I thought. Attached to my son, but not his mother, things wasn’t the same—child support attached with orders of protection. Damn, I just wanted some love. Job after job, background barriers, living place to place with relatives. I woke up feeling blessed, motivated and positive even after periodically experiencing the darkest nightmares. I’m thankful to see another day, aware that some child is living without.The world outside seems full of chaos. I see subliminals, buy here, drink here. Consume! And I’m sold! I try to drink my pain away. Numb to the pain and suffering. Why should I even have a name, when me and all my people are labeled the same? Free

trips to year round concrete resorts. I’m just another number up for exchange. Freedom is what I’m told I have, but I feel trapped, like a walking prisoner livin in a maze. How did I end up in this mental space again? Well here are the facts: Jail never rehabilitated me. And upon my release, the outside world was still morally unfit, dealing so many systemic injustices. No matter what state I travelled seeking a new beginning and refuge, the world felt like a forest fire with just me in it. Now in my early thirties with four kids I realized that since the age of thirteen I’d had a court date and haven’t went two years without experiencing a run-in with authorities or some form of incarceration. Victim of police brutality on numerous occasions to the point of being hospitalized in comas, no amount of bottles of alcohol could erase the trauma of being sodomized by police in broad day or having a gun drawn on you by unknown people attempting to kidnap you. I thought about moving back to Chicago where it all started. Some people had called me insane. Others said it wasn’t a great idea. I had made it home just in time. My mother was in Chicago living alone. She would always say, “One comes out of jail, another goes in.” She was speaking in terms of me and my oldest brother. My mother masked her pain and struggle so well that I didn’t realize how much she endured being a mother of three sons. All I could think about was getting my life on track, pursuing my dreams, being a father and a good role model. I would go to sleep with those same thoughts every night, but one particular night something whispered in my ear. Get up and go check on your mother. I noticed the kitchen light was still on through the crack of

my door. I walk to the bathroom and noticed my mother in a praying position. I didn’t want to disturb her. I haven’t seen my mother pray since I was a kid. I exited the bathroom slowly, something didn’t feel right. So I called out, “Mama, mama,” and got no response. She was having a stroke. Hear the doctor tell me that she would never be the same. Left with the decision allowing the doctor to perform open brain surgery on my mother seemed like a never ending nightmare. I couldn’t sleep for two days. So I did what I was accustomed to, drank myself to sleep. My mother pulled through and I thanked God. All I wanted to do was get a job and make my mother proud. I maintained a job for over a year for the first time in my life while doing something that I enjoyed, helping people with roadside assistance as a tow truck operator. Later on transitioning to becoming a porter making good money. Three months in at the end of a day’s work, I decided to stop at a liquor store for a drink. That stop affected my life. As I exited the store, I was attacked by a group of men, and hospitalized for a week, robbed of my money and possibly my job. All I thought about was getting back to work while in the hospital. I phased out the thought of revenge because I was aware of what it could lead to. Besides, if God could forgive me for all the wrong I’ve did, I could forgive anyone. Knock, knock. It’s a visit from homicide. “We have video footage of what happened. Can you come down to the station and identify anyone?” “Nah, I don’t remember anything.” I couldn’t see myself putting anyone behind bars for attempted murder and robbery. Besides once upon a time I committed the same kind of offenses. The detectives were on the case because they were notified while I was in the ambulance that I

possibly wasn’t going to make it. All I wanted to do was get well, get back to the scene, get my work vehicle and go back to work. My mother’s voice was on replay in my head. “You don’t always have to seek to get even, a person will always get what they have coming.” I finally made it back to my work truck, only to discover that it was busted up and all of my tools were missing. I couldn’t even get the key into the ignition. I looked up and I’m being surrounded. Some words was exchanged and I looked towards an electric ticking type of noise. It was a pink taser motioning towards me. I had a box cutter that was left behind in my work truck.

I fear not, because it kills. I thank God that I put it in my back pocket, because it saved me another trip back to the ER. I defended myself and fled the scene, another trip to the station. Who wants to stick around for that? Besides I never had good encounters with the police, outnumbered and being attacked. Before I knew it, I was in custody for assault and battery. On the new wing once again, laying my matt down. They had pressed charges on me as if I had attacked them. I lost everything—my job, new car and my apartment gone. If only I had went home instead of the liquor store. Nine months in, May 6, 2017, released on bond, free to go. So I thought! The courts put my ankle in bondage with a home monitoring system. Well, at least I’m not in lock up, even though I feel like an animal going through an experiment in the wild. I thought to myself, I’ve been through worse.

After months without employment, I found opportunity so I leaped at it. A place called IMAN. August 7, 2017 I was in a trade school surrounded by brothers with similar life experiences and challenges. I found peace, for everything I let go or thought I lost, the most high gave it back to me times two. For once in my life I had a community, I didn’t feel as if I was in a forest fire alone. I was where I belonged. One chain, one link rebuilding our community. We called ourselves XMen and established ourselves as brothers. I used to chain myself to a bottle of alcohol while my soul cried for help. I used to feel lost searching for a way out, now I’m found. I have brothers in my community to call upon, a life coach and counselors when triggers occur. Ensuring me that I’m not alone by myself dealing with trauma and life issues. If you could overlook the time periods I lived in darkness, and only see the light of my spirit, you would understand the compassion and empathy that I have for life. Before you write me off or judge me for my past, before you place my whole past life under the microscope, please instead, magnify the person I long to be, and judge the person I am today, the person living in the present, striving for greatness.

Violent Times, gangs late, short age.

Danny Lee

Great Works You all know my story. I’ve taken a life, and had life taken from me. Thirty-four years ago, the world witnessed my greatest mistake. Now, because of the work I do with you—the work I do for you—the world is seeing my greatest work. I thank you for that! I honor your new identities in the world, one of which is being an Author. So I want to share a piece here that was my first attempt as a published Author. Because like you, telling my story is part of my process of healing. Not just healing myself and my family, not just healing my victim’s family. But healing our city. And hopefully, healing you, too. I served twenty years in prison for my crime. Since then, I’ve been committed to reconciling my past by working to reach young men before they end up on a path to destruction, with a life sentence or early death. For young African American men in Chicago, the margins of error are small. Many of our young men feel imprisoned in their communities. With high poverty, no jobs, run down neighborhoods, irrelevant schooling and drug trafficking, they feel trapped without the option of leaving. Survival means embracing the lifestyle around them and accepting low expectations. That’s why many of them have guns. To protect themselves, to carry out justice the way it’s been carried out for decades—without the police. The stress of living under these circumstances is beyond imagination. It’s a daily challenge to have to live this way. So far this year, over 550 people have died from gun violence, but over 2,800 have been shot. And that doesn’t count the family members who are directly affected. This is what young

African American men in Chicago are forced to live in. These young men have been told for so long that they are irredeemable that many have begun to believe it. I know how they feel, because I felt that way. I know how they feel, because my son felt that way, too. My only son Billy was shot and killed over the 4th of July week 2017, one of the bloodiest weeks in Chicago last year. He was the 339th victim of 762 that year. I tried to help my son. He didn’t have the benefit of being around me 24 hours a day, watching what I was doing. His character was developed while I was in prison. I didn’t have a great impact over the person he could have been. In the back of my head, I’ve always thought that I’d have to offer more of a sacrifice for what I did. I didn’t think it would have to be my son. I’m struggling to come to terms with that. It would be contradictory for me to see the individuals who killed my son as irredeemable. People put that label on me—and some still do. But I refuse to assign it to them. I believe those who killed my son live in a state of ignorance that has no value for life and no hope for a better way to live. I know that they have the capacity to do better, to change. If they walked through the doors of IMAN to seek out our services, I would be there to help them become what I know they can be. My son Billy’s death has only motivated me to push harder to reach these young men, so that families in our community don’t have to continue to suffer the grief of losing another loved one. So many of the young men I work with are fathers, trying to show their manhood. I don’t want them to go through what I did, and don’t want their sons to suffer like my son did. We have to embrace these young men, to see their value so they can see the value in themselves.

My son Billy died without access to a program like IMAN or our collaborative partners Chicago CRED and Chicago Beyond. There aren’t enough programs like these, that help young men feel differently about themselves and their communities. We provide positive options to foster necessary change in the young men we serve, so they can defy the narrative that is drafted and being told by the media and playing out in the streets. Programs like ours build positive networks amongst the same young men who sometimes see each other as enemies. We help develop social emotional skills and attainable goals. IMAN isn’t the only organization doing this good work. We need so many more. We need to do more to touch these young men. And we need more men like me engaged in doing this work. Men who have lived these experiences, felt the way these young men do, and come home to reconcile our pasts and improve our communities. The young men I work with have the same promise and hope of something better—including being a part of solving the problems we now face. Of seeing themselves as part of a solution. These young people should live with hope and fulfill their dreams, and their dreams need to be bigger than just not to die young. I’m committed to keeping our youth alive by helping them access opportunities for hope, so that they, too, can be remembered not by their mistakes, but by their great works.

William “Billy” Moore Case Manager

A version of this piece was published in Crain’s Chicago Business on September 21, 2018.

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