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 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 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.”
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.
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.
Using the gift I’ve been given, I have written an illustrated book of some 200 pages, a workbook for Africa- American youth, entitled “The Young African American Survival Guide for ages 8-18”.
The book is built around the topics of sex, drugs, hustling, education, gangbanging, and violence.
The book is certainly needed in many African-American communities:
• 67 % of all black children are born to single mothers
• African-American women and their children make up 60 percent of all new AIDS/HIV cases in the United States
• 50 % of black female teenagers have contracted a sexually transmitted disease by age 18
• At birth a black male child has a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison
• In 2002, 1,772 black youth died from gunshot wounds
• 1 out of every 21 black men will be murdered. The murder rate for black males is 10 times higher than the murder rate for white males
• 40 % of prisoners on death row are African-American
• 64 % of black students cannot read at grade level in the 4th grade, compared with 29 percent of white children
For many of us, these are only numbers, and essentially not our problem. But it’s the human beings behind these numbers that concern me and all individuals who have love and concern for their fellow human beings.
I decided to try to make a difference, even if it’s just a small one, in the life of some inner city child with my book “The Young African American Survival Guide”.
Access my book for free on Prisonsfoundations.com
“Oh, he got a problem with the police. No, I do not have a problem with the police. I have a problem with the police putting drugs on me that I did not have.”
— James Prince, founder of Rap-a-lot Records, on the chorus of 90’s rap song “Crooked Officer” by the Ghetto Boys
In Houston local activists are up in arms again after another Houston police officer has killed yet another unarmed citizen. This time it was Brian C. Claunch, a mentally challenged white man with one arm and one leg, confined to a wheelchair.
If you know anything about the Houston Police Department, or anywhere else in the country for that matter, then you already know that the police had the same old, tired, scripted, illogical, common sense defying story: “Officer felt threatened and in fear of his life as wall as the life of his partner, and as a result used deadly force to protect himself and partner. We regret the unfortunate loss of life.”
What got the “folks” pissed off is how in the hell could any able-bodied, armed, supposedly trained police officer feel threatened to the point that he was in fear of his life by mentally disabled man with one leg and arm confined to a wheelchair holding a pen.
Tragic as it was, Mr. Claunch’s death was only the tip of a much bigger iceberg. The Malcolm X Grassroots Organization (mxgm.org) released a new report that chronicled police shootings of citizens from January 1, 2012 — June 30, 2012 and found that every 36 hours a black person is murdered by the police in the United States.
According to the report, out of the 120 people killed during this period, 55 percent of them were unarmed at the time that they were killed by police.
Keep in mind that this study only covered a six month period. What’s going on? Have the police declared open season on blacks? Is killing citizens the new form of interactive target practice?
James Prince had a problem with the police planting drugs on him. I have a problem with police officer appointing themselves judge, jury and executioner and killing unarmed people and you should too.
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.