I carry them with me. The things I’ve done and got away with, the things I didn’t do and was accused of.
I was in a gang, a brotherhood. I was rebellious and reckless and for one night, I was kind of a ringleader. Actually, I was the ringleader.
We took some things from someone who had taken even more from our neighborhood; I got on the first bus out of town before he could figure out who did it. I needed the distance and I needed the sun.
On the Greyhound, two time zones away, a cop came on board. These your bags? He asked, pointing to the duffels without the drugs. Yep. Just those.
He emptied them out on the seat behind me: socks, t-shirts, and a PS2, but not much else. He seemed disappointed; I was beside myself with relief.
In the desert, I got perspective. My life had flashed before my eyes on that bus, with that cop. I wouldn’t be here today if he had checked the other bag, that I know. I didn’t even think about what could have happened until it almost did.
So when I came back home, I decided I wanted to improve my community and the day my oldest daughter was born, I knew I wanted to build a legacy for her.
I could do better. We could do better. I took every organizing and leadership class I could get into; for three years, I volunteered in every program that would take me.
When my youngest was born, I was ready to buckle down.
I started my own program mentoring youth. Helping them recognize their unique value, arming them with critical thinking skills necessary to question the world.
It was incredible—the rush you get from creating something. By being successful at something you love.
And I almost lost it all. I was accused of assaulting a friend of a friend and spent a week in jail. The deal was tempting: plead to this little thing you didn’t do, and we’ll drop the bigger thing you also didn’t do. I wanted to be done with it, so I took it. When I got home, I was so hurt, so upset. Here I was trying to figure out my life, do something better—and this could take it all away.
Once you get that first mark, it’s easier to get a second one. I was driving with my dad and daughter when the cop pulled us over. He yanked me out of the passenger’s seat by my collar, slamming me into a telephone pole— you know, the ones covered in old nails and staples? So these nails are piercing my skin and my daughter’s screaming and my dad is saying what the hell is going on?
I was back in jail. Eventually, the charges were dropped, but it sticks with me. Having to define myself by what I’m not. And if I’m always just responding to what I’m not, you’re not going to hear what I am.
I’m a father.
I’m a son.
I’m a leader.
I’m a dreamer.
I’m a community organizer.
I’m a natural problem solver.
I’ve mentored more than 300 youth in the city.
I was recognized by the mayor; I was lauded by the governor.
And I’m working everyday to build that legacy for my kids, to make this country and this world a better place.