Category Archives: Faith and Spirituality

Will The Real Heroes and Role Models Please Stand Up

In the United States we tend to look at celebrities and sports figures as Heros. Even though the antics of a good portion of these individuals constantly reveal that majority of them are anything but .

For instance I am a Miami Heat fan who likes league MVP Lebron James, but I don’t consider him a hero or role model. For me he is a young athletic man who plays a game that a lot of people like extremely well and earns a large income as a result. Nothing more or less. Same thing with rappers, singers and so forth. Since when does talent, record sales, and box office reviews equals morals and character?

What got me to thinking about this subject was that awhile ago myself and few more guys were in the weight room working out when another guy begin to make a point by quoting rapper Lil Wayne. Another guy jumped in and cut him off, he was like, “Man, wait one goddamn minute, who the F— is lil Wayne that you basing your life on shit he say? What college did he graduate from, what movement did he start, how many people has he helped, or how many lives has he changed for the better?”

I listened to this dude rant and nodded my head in agreement. But that got me to thinking about what a hero or role model is and isn’t. I mean, normally we quote people who have really changed our world, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, Thurgood Marshall, President Obama, Winston Churchill, Malcolm X, Fredrick Douglas, to name a few. Yet here was a young man basing a large portion of his thinking on something he heard Lil Wayne say on a rap song.

As I gave it some thought I came to the conclusion that a true hero is someone who improves the lives of a significant number of people in a measurable way, while often being unsung and derided in the process.

Think of the mostly faceless and nameless college students of CORE and SNCC who came together and helped to desegregate the South with their sit-ins and Freedom Rides. Besides a few of the leaders, I bet you can’t name even one, yet there were literally hundreds.

True heroes. Or someone like Sojourner Truth who wasn’t content to simply escape to freedom herself. She continued to put herself in harm’s way by going back to help some 300 others. Knowing all along that should she be caught, the penalty would certainly be death, but only after being raped and tortured. That’s a hero. Not someone who makes 20 million dollars for their latest action movie, lives in a mansion, has 13 luxury cars yet hires illegal immigrants to raise her kids and clean her house in a effort to save money. I mean come on people.

And while heroes heroics tend to have an effect on a large number of people, role models can be just plain everyday folks who work with what they have while living their lives with respect and dignity.

With this in mind it’s my pleasure to introduce you to a few of my heroes and role models.

Claressa Shields

Claressa Shields

Claressa grew up in Flint, Michigan in a low economic area surrounded by drugs, gangs, violence, and negative influences. Raised in a small house with several other siblings, her mother was a real heavy drinker, she said, “Growing up, I could never get my mom to stop drinking.” She was also picked on by older bigger girls in her neighborhood. According to Claressa, “I was smart, but skinny. There were always girls who would pull my hair and try to bully me for no reason. I felt like nobody could hear me or understand me, so I stayed to myself.”

Her sense of having no voice had began even before she was a teenager. At the age of 5 she was repeatedly raped by a friend of her mothers. To get away from the sexual predator whom her mother was still involved with, she had to move in with her grandmother.

All in all this brown skinned girl had had a hard life. But God. Her luck begin to change when at the age of 11 she wandered into a local boxing gym and asked to train. At first the coach laughed to himself and thought she was just joking. Not wanting to make a big fuss, he figured she would mess around for a few days, a week at the most and then be on her way. But before long he noticed her dedication and the disciplined approach to training that she exhibited. That, and the fact that she was whipping up on every boy her size and bigger in the gym. The girl had fire.

It turned out that Claressa’s inner pain had found an outlet in the form of a pair of boxing gloves. She said, “At the time I felt like I was in a real dark place; I was just real mad. And then I started boxing, it kind of brought light into my life, into that dark room. It opened a window.”

Before long Claressa was considered one of the best female boxers in her division, eventually qualifying for the 2012 Olympics where she not not only competed but won a gold medal. The first for a African-American female boxer in her entire state.

The girl from the bottom had made it to the top on the world’s biggest stage. She said, “I don’t walk around carrying a burden like, oh I was raped; oh, I was molested; oh, my mom didn’t believe me, because to me, all that is in the past and I overcame it. God let all that stuff happen to me because he saw that I was strong enough to handle it. He knew that I would be successful. His purpose was that all this would happen, and when I make it, when I win a gold medal, I’ll be able to tell my story, and they’ll be able to see that God is real.” Claressa Shields – a True Hero.

Ms Latiker

Ms. Latiker standing in front of a a memorial she built to memorize the 370 young victims of gun violence killed Chicago in 2012

Chances are you’ve never heard of Diane Latiker. Our President probably hadn’t either when Ms.Latiker typed him a letter. She wrote, ”Being a organizer from Roseland, I’m sure you understand the need that exist concerning the violence that’s taken the lives of thousands across our nation. We need your help Mr. President.”

You see Ms. Latiker is one of our unsung real heroes. In the city of Chicago, a city with a gang epidemic as well as the highest murder count in the nation, 507 in 2012 alone, she decided to do something heroic and step into the gap by starting ”Kids of the Block”, a youth mentoring and after school program for underserved poor kids on the cities’ Southside. Since she began, some 2000 kids have passed through the doors of her organization.

While Ms.Latiker and the world may never know for certain, she has undoubtedly saved many of these young people’s lives. All with no radio or TV shows or fanfare. But that’s what a real hero does, continues to fight the good fight even in the face of seemly insurmountable obstacles. All the while Screaming “No retreat, No surrender. Victory or death.”

Catherine Rohr

Catherine Rohr

Another hero I want to introduce you to is Catherine Rohr. An attractive young white lady who once earned millions of dollars as a Wall Street investment banker. A job she gave up to teach MBA style entrepreneur skills to incarcerated robbers and murders.

At the age of 25, Ms. Rohr became a born-again Christian and took a trip to several Texas prisons with a church group whom she was visting. It was during one of these trips that Ms. Rohr got the inspiration to teach business classes to inmates. According to Ms. Rohr, “these men exhibited many of the same qualities she looked for when she met with founders and investors.”

Fired up, Ms. Rohr quit her cushy investment banker job, moved to Texas and started the, “Prison Entrepreneurship” program, or PEP for short, with her own money.

In a five year time PEP had graduated 500 students, 60 which went on to start successful businesses. Even better was that compared to the national average of a 40 percent recidivism rate for PEP graduates, it was only 10 percent a significant improvement

Eventually Ms. Rohr left Texas and moved back to New York, raised 1.5 million and began a new prison entrepreneurship program called “Defy Ventures”, a program that is doing for convicted felons in New York, what PEP is still doing for men in Texas — changing lives forever.

 Quanell X

Quanell X

The last unsung hero whom I want to give credit to is local community activist Quanell X. He grew up in Southeast Houston in a predominantly black area known as Sunnyside. A recent report on America’s best and worst neighborhoods named Sunnyside as the 6th most dangerous neighborhood to live in in the entire United States. So it’s no secret the types of activities that you can find going on in Sunnyside and areas like it.

As a black male child searching for his way in the world this is where a young Quanell cut his teeth. And it wasn’t long before he was on the path of death and destruction that seemed the only avenue open to a entire generation of black youth. But after his young brother who was also in the, “game” was found murder execution style along with his girlfriend Quanell decided to change his life for the better.

Initially he found salvation in the Nation of Islam. Articulate and well spoken he quickly rose in the organization until a split caused him to go his own way. For awhile there after he was affiliated with the New Black Panther party before eventually forming his own community support activist organization.

Today Quanell X is considered the number one activist in Houston’s black community who even has his own nightly TV segment called Face-off on the local Fox News affiliate. As the first person most African Americans call when they need someone well spoken, fearless, and knowledgeable to speak truth to power he is at the pinnacle of success.

While many people dislike his confrontational in your face style, very few can doubt his effectiveness. And knowing Mr. Quanell personally, where he comes from as well what he was once about, it’s a joy and inspiration every time I look up on TV and see this former SA Fool immaculate in his tailor made suit, telling the mayor, Police Chief, FBI and whoever else that we won’t rest until justice is served.

Talk to Your Daughters

Asia Graves, a former teenage prostitute

Disclaimer: I’m from the hood which means I know what it is to go without. What it means to have your lights or water turned off. What it means to see your single mother rob Peter to pay Paul and try to stretch a dollar thinner than the paper it was printed on. So I understand Poverty and the soul killing, ambition stealing nature of it.

I stated the above to stress that I understand hustling and what people in poor communities have to do to make ends meet, even when their actions sometimes puts them on the wrong side of the law. Even as a Christian man, I can’t knock a person in their battle for survival .

However, there is one hustle that I personally never appreciated or condoned, which is pimping, where a man uses force, mental coercion, manipulation, material possession or whatever to convince a woman to sell her body for his financial benefit. And to be honest with you, it upsets me every time I read or hear about it, especially when a young girl is turned out and either forced or tricked into this soul-crushing lifestyle.

But it’s happening everyday right up under our noses and it happened to Asia Graves the beautiful young woman whose picture is at the top of this article. Like a lot of black girls from the hood, Asia had a rough childhood which consisted of a drug-addicted mother, and being bounced back and forth to different relatives homes.

Until at the tender impressionable age of 16, she found herself broke and homeless on the streets of Boston. One night while she was out on the streets, broke and cold, a well-dressed man approached her smiling as if he had the world at his beg and call. He told Asia that she was pretty and much too beautiful to be outside with no place to go. Encouraged by his nice words, she accepted what she naively thought was the man’s kindness. Kindness that consisted of food, clothes, money and a place to stay. To tell the truth, she felt like she had been rescued by a nice wealthy man whom she had no idea was a pimp.

After a few days of providing her a place to stay and feeding her, the man told Asia that it takes money to live in this world and that she had to start earning her keep — pimp talk for whoring.

But he told her not to worry about it, that he would take care of it by setting her up with a “date”. Only this date involved Asia having sex with men in exchange for money. Soon this one date turned into two and three, until Asia found herself having sex with multiple men a night for money. Money that she had to quickly turn over to the man who has supposedly “rescued her”. Asia said, “If we didn’t call him daddy, he would slap us, beat us, or choke us.”

For nearly two years Asia found herself stuck in this destructive lifestyle as a result of her need for material support and a place to stay, and fear of what her pimp would do to her if she tried to leave. And because it was Asia along with some other girls that he had selling his body for him, he was able to convince them that they were all one big family and used them to recruit other girls for his “stable”.

”It’s about love and thinking you’re part of a family, a team. I couldn’t leave because I thought he would kill me.”

Fortunately with the help of the police and FBI, Asia was able to break free of her pimp after he nearly killed her and she had to be hospitalized for her injuries. But not every girl is so lucky – too many wind up dead, or strung out and on the streets for life.

Today Asia works with “Fair Girls” a D.C. organization started by Andrea Powell that offers a four hour curriculum entitled “Tell Your Friends” about how young girls in general, but especially black and Hispanic girls from single parent households are these predators number one target.

Since it began, “Fair Girls” has reached thousands of teenage girls. However, that is still a drop in the bucket compared with the millions of young girls in these predator’s crosshairs .That’s why we all each individually have to do something. We have to talk to our teenage daughters, sisters, nieces, cousins and neighbors. Don’t think it can’t happen to anyone who you love and care about. Girls have been exploited from the suburbs to the Subway and from the Penthouse to the Poorhouse pimps and sex traffickers don’t discriminate.

Asia Graves put herself out there on the front page of a national newspaper so we call could see the face of teenage prostitution.

Now the ball is in our court talk to the teenage girls in you life, don’t assume it can’t happen because it can and is happening everyday all around this country.

Clarity

A question that forever ricochets around my brain like runaway metal pinball in a pinball game with no slot for the ball to exit/as I spend the most productive years of my life inside of the Prison-Industrial Complex is why?

Why?

Why?

Recently Peter Neufeld of the New York Innocent Project brought clarity to my inner turmoil. When asked why wrongful convictions happen he said:

“Eyewitness are often mistaken, confessions

attributed to a defendant can easily be

coerced or falsified, informants lie,

prosecutors sometimes engage in misconduct

and defense attorneys don’t always do the

job they should on behalf of their clients”

Hallelujah!

But even with the truth being revealed, very few people care.

I did it ! ! !

I gave my first Toastmaster’s speech on 11-26-12, which was the 3 to 6 minute icebreaker meant as a opportunity for the speaker to introduce him- or herself to the guest and fellow Toastmasters.

The title of my speech was ”Line of Demarcation”, which for me signifies the divider between the two lives that I have lived. On one side of the line is the old man I used to be and on the other is the man that I am striving to be and have become in prison.

My speech, which lasted on four minutes and fifty-one seconds, was kind of short but went pretty well. Still, I was nervous as hell. Why is the act of standing up before a group of people and speaking so damn terrifying?

But I am determined to master the art of public speaking and to become an all around better communicator.

So one speech down and nine more to go. Once I give my tenth speech and officially become what Toastmaster calls a competent communicator, if you need someone to speak at your graduation, Bar Mitzwah, annual corporate retreat, look me up, I’ll give you a discount on G.P.!!!

Audience feedback from my first Speech:

43,800 Days

The judge gave me 43,800 days

1,140 Months

1,051,200 hours

63,072,200 minutes

To build a nation

His prison, My university

His punishment, My salvation

Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s house

Old Pharaoh still feeding Moses at his table today

He fed Malcolm, Huey, Geronimo Pratt, Eldridge Cleaver, George Jackson,

Big Tookie, Mumia Adu Jabar

And now Old Pharaoh feeding me

Yet I have the blood of Nat Turner in my veins

The brains of Booker T

The brashness of Muhammad Ali

What Old Pharaoh going to do with me?

Right now I am eating in the kitchen, growing strong

Tomorrow I will own the table

Time to rewrite this American fable…

 

Reprinted  from  “A Windowless Room”, Trafford Press

The Company We Keep

The other day somebody dropped this jewel in my lap and I wanted to share it with you:

“He who walks with wise men (or women) will be wise” — Proverbs 13:20

The company we keep

It is Better to Be Alone Than in the Wrong Company

Tell me who your best friends are, and I will tell you who you are. If you run with wolves, you will learn to howl. But, if you associate with eagles, you will learn how to soar to great heights. A mirror reflects a man’s face, but what he REALLY is like is shown by the kind of friends he chooses. The simple, but true fact of life, is that YOU become like those with whom you closely associate-for good or for bad.

The less you associate with some people, the MORE your life will improve!

Anytime you tolerate a compromising attitude in others, it increases your compromising attitude. An important attribute in successful people is their impatience with negative thinking and negative acting people. As you grow, your associates will change. Some of your friends will not WANT you to go on. They will want you to stay where THEY are. Friends that don’t help you climb…will want you to crawl. Your friends will stretch your vision,or choke your dreams. Never receive counsel from unproductive people. Never discuss your problems with someone incapable of contributing to the SOLUTION, because those who never succeed themselves… are always first to tell you how and why you can’t. NOT everyone has the right to speak into your life. You are certain to get the worst of the bargain when you exchange ideas with, the wrong person. Don’t follow anyone who’s not going anywhere. With some people we SPEND our time, with others we INVEST it. Be careful where you stop to inquire for directions along the road of life-Wise is the person who fortifies his life with right friendships.

Happy moments? Praise God

Difficult moments? Seek God

Quiet moments? Worship God

Painful moments? Trust God

Every moment? Thank God

— Author Unknown —

An Interview with Delvin Mouton, the founder of “Saving Young Men and Women”

An Interview with my friend and brother in Christ, Delvin Mouton, the founder of the inspirational blog, “Saving Young Men and Women

With all the negativity in the world, especially behind prison walls, I always find it encouraging when I run into someone seeking to make a positive difference. Delvin Mouton is such a brother, that’s why when he told me about his online youth ministry, “Saving Young Men And Women”, I couldn’t wait to interview him on the 1# blog on the internet. And no, I am not talking about MediaTakeOut, The Huffman Post, or TMZ; if you don’t know the answer, I’ll let you cheat by looking at the address in your web browser. All right, now that you know the answer let me offer you a word of caution: THE WORDS YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ MIGHT SAVE YOUR SOUL!!!

1. Mouton, what’s good? Let us know a little bit about yourself and background.

DM: Well, let’s see. I’m from Houston by way of South Park and I’m 33 years old, born on Christmas Eve. Imagine that.

I was blessed to be raised in a good Christian home full of Godly men. In fact, two of my uncles were pastors as well as my beloved grandfather, who just passed away at the beginning of this year. He was a pastor for over 40 years. So the Word of God, and church has always been a part of my life, literally, and at 14 I felt the call to preach myself. But like Jonah, I decided to run from my calling, for one thing, I felt there were enough preachers in the family, didn’t need another one.

So while I ran, I didn’t get far. I was 15 when I committed the crime for which I’m currently incarcerated. Looking back, that was 18 long years ago. But at least now I’m walking and operating in my calling and ministry. So God will get you where He wants you to be one way or another.

2. So you were only 15 years old when you first got locked up?

DM: That’s right, a freshman in high-school.

3. Then I really commend you on your growth and maturity. Because it seems like so many guys who get locked up young tend to regress instead of progress, or they get stuck at the same age mentally that they were when they first got incarcerated. What do you think has been the key to your personal growth and success?

DM: Number one is that the Word of God is my foundation. I mean, I always knew the word, but was failing to apply it to my life. So that’s number one, but the second key has been the constant emotional and financial support of my family. Whether I make a mistake or made them smile, they have never abandoned me. And as I deepened my personal relationship with Jesus, He took me to new nights right here in the prison.

4. I feel you. Tell us a little about your “Saving Young Men And Women” online ministry? In particular, what is your “vision” for the ministry? Also let me know a little about what my readers will find when they check out your site?

DM: Our mission is to help fully equip young men and women with the spiritual, mental, physical, and social skills necessary to survive the trials, tribulations, challenges, and controversies of life! This site is an outreach of “I’m a Survivor Ministries”. This is a God-given, Jesus Blood-bought, Holy Spirit-inspired ministry. It’s our goal to do our part to be able to equip young people to have life and have it more abundantly.

5. Great, that’s good stuff there. To make sure everybody who needs it can get it, can you give us that link again?

DM: Saving Young Men and Women. Or just Google us.

6. Well, bro, before we part is there anything else you would like to let the world know about you or your ministry before we raise up?

DM: First, I want to just thank you for this opportunity to tell

people about, ”I’m a Survivor Ministries”. Because what we believe cannot be separated from our actions. Martin Luther King said, “The ultimate measure of a man (person) is not where he stands in times of convenience and comfort, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.” No matter who you are what you’ve been through, what you’re going through, God made you to be more than a conqueror! You’re a survivor! He’s only trying to strengthen, perfect, establish, and settle you. (1 Peter 5:10) May God bless you and keep you. Peace & Blessings from “I’m a Survivor Ministries”.

Tamisha and Kamisha

God blessed me with

Not one, but two

Wonderful daughters

Entrusted me with the responsibility

Of being a father

No small task

On my knees, instructions I have to ask

Knowledge of Fatherhood

To help me raise my seed

Provide for their need

With God’s grace, I’m up to the task

Of being more than a donor

But an actual father.

Reprinted from “A Windowless Room” by Kenneth West. Trafford Press 2006