Category Archives: Ghetto

Same Old Soup

same old soupFor a brief moment try to imagine this. You are a poor Hispanic or African-American in any of the this nation’s high-crime, impoverished, predominately minority neighborhoods; Watts, South Central, 3rd Ward, Southside, Chicago, Brooklyn, New York. I’ll let you pick your own poison.

Now on top of being a poor racial minority let’s say you’re unemployed and like to hang around your neighborhood and maybe even smoke marijuana and drink alcohol to ease the pain of a constrained existence.

One day while hanging out at the local barbershop, corner store,  nightclub etc, a guy you kinda, sorta know-one of those friends of friend’s cousin’s baby-moma type of things. But this guy approaches you, it has been a while since you last saw this friend of a friend and by all appearances it looks like he’s doing well for himself. After shooting the breeze for a few, he asks you what you into, how you getting by. Since that’s all you doing is getting by, there really isn’t much to tell him. Before long he’s flashing his bankroll and telling you what he’s got going and asking if you’re interested. This is like asking a man lost in the middle of the Sahara desert in 115 degree temperatures if he would like some water. You think?

Still, this’ the streets so you got to keep your game face on. So you pretend to think about it for a while then say what the hell. Why not, you’re broke, unemployed with little future prospects – I mean what do you have to lose? And according to your new buddy from around the way he knows a guy who has a lick (robbery) set up. Supposedly there’s this cartel stash house with 20 to 30 kilos of cocaine plus a few hundred grand inside, but this friend of a friend’s friend needs some guys to do it. He can’t do it hisself because the people inside know him.

Wooed by the prospect of quick riches and a escape from the soul-killing poverty that has destroyed and is destroying nearly every person you know, you agree to go along. The only problem is you don’t have a gun, but your new friend waves you off, that’s no problem, and says he will hook you up with one, and since you don’t have a car he’ll even pick you up.

After a brief discussion a date and time is agreed upon and when the time comes, your new buddy who is going to help you get rich picks you up and drives you to the scene of the crime.

A few moments later you and your friend setting down the block from the alleged stash house supposedly casing it out. Eventually your friend reaches in the glove box and hands you a gun while asking you if you ready? You nod, never expecting that nod to cost you the next ten to twenty years of your life.

Before you can get out of the car large red-faced aggressive men in Dupont made Kevlar body armor welding American-made machine guns rush the car and snatch you out, “ATP”, they scream, while slamming you on the ground face first, “you’re under arrest.”

The scenario I just asked you to imagine might sound like a scene out of the latest Triple Crown urban novel, but it’s not. It’s a real life sting operation currently being conducted in these United States of America to unsuspecting potential criminals with the prospect of quick riches.

In these stings, the ATF who selects the alleged criminals to target begin the operation with a paid informant (the friend of friend flashing cash). This informer, paid snitch, legal criminal, introduces the target to an ATF agent who provides the transportation, weapons, along with the who, what, and where of the robbery. Nationwide more than 1,000 people have been duped by the federal government and subsequently incarcerated in these “stash-house” operations over the previous decade.

More likely than not this injustice would’ve continued to rob young minority men of their liberty and the general public would’ve been none the wiser, had US District judge Ruben Castillo not noticed a peculiar thing about all these cases. Of the 26 “stash-house” cases filed in the Chicago Federal courts, all of the defendants were either black or Hispanic.

Which is even more troubling when you consider how these cases begin. Unlike a normal criminal case that begins when a person breaks the law, with these cases the government selects the person, proposes the crime, and provides the means of carrying out the crime.

What they were doing was so blatant that it forces even a conservative Republican judge to conclude that the government was deliberately targeting blacks and Hispanics and to call for a full investigation.

So here it is once again in our supposedly best justice system in the world, in our post-racial no need for Affirmative Action, or voting laws society. Those entrusted with the power of life and death s well as liberty are caught red-anded breaking the laws they are sworn to uphold and targeting the most vulnerable among us .

“You tell me things have changed… and I say not enough.

You tell me justice for all… and I say all who can afford it.

But you tell me a Black man is President… and I say ride through the bedrocks of the ghetto and tell me what that has meant

No Justice…No Peace to me is evident

Upset you turn away…scream why can’t I see?

Oh but I do see that our ideals are myths

Myths propagated to make me behave…

and send me passively to my grave

Perhaps some would say even make me a slave”

While operation “stash-house” as reported in the USA Today, Friday August 2, 2013 edition might surprise some people. For most blacks and Hispanics living daily up under the heavy arm of the law, this story was nothing more than a mainstream expose of of their day to day reality.

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.

The Young African-American Survival Guide – Go Get It for Free!

I can’t explain how good it feels to do some good from a bad situation which is what I feel this book will do.
As a result of my own struggles and troubled childhood, I have developed a strong desire to work with disadvantaged African-American youth from inner city communities, particularly those from single parent homes, to encourage them to make better life decisions.

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

Crooked Officer

“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.

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.

Why Urban Lit?

Street fiction, Gangsta lit, Urban books, Hip-Hop fiction are some of the names frequently used to describe and deride a popular form of African American literature that has exploded in popularity over the last decade. Often these books describe the more gritter side of street life in graphic detail and go by names such as “Dirty Red”, “Scandalous”, “Hoodwinked” etc.

And many of the genre’s top selling authors, Walida Clark, Paul Johnson, Shannon Holmes, Kiki Swanison, Vickie Stringer, are either current or former inmates. Current reigning queen of the genre Vickie Stringer wrote her first book “Let That Be The Reason” while serving 7 years in Federal prison for dealing drugs. The name of her multi-million dollar publishing company, “Triple Crown Publishing” – with a roster of 27 authors, many of whom are still currently incarcerated – is a twist on the Ohio drug crew she used to run with in her hustling days, known as “The Triple Crown Posse”.

To the chagrin of many African-American critics – including reigning Diva of black women lit Terry McMillian, who went on record bashing the genre in Vibe Magazine, along with owner of Los Angeles black book store Eso Won Books James Fugate who said: “The ghetto lit being written today is mostly mindless garbage about murder, killing, and thuggery” – it appears the multi-million dollar street lit market is not only well entrenched but here to stay. Evident by the corporate powerhouses who have hopped on the bandwagon including Simons & Schuster who signed Stringer to a mega bucks deal, along with St. Martin Press who has a long roster of Urban Lit authors, including Relentless Aaron who is himself an ex-con.

Many people trace the rise in popularity of the urban fiction market to the 1999 publication of Sister Souljah’s bestselling novel “The Coldest Winter Ever” which went on to sell an amazing 3 million copies. But while Sister Souljah’s book may have helped to get corporate America’s attention to the genre’s potential, the market for this form of fiction is actually much older, as is the phenomenon of inmate turned author.

In 1969, after serving ten months in the Chicago county jail, Robert Beck, writing under the pen name of Iceberg Slim, published “Pimp: The Story of my life” about his life as a Chicago area pimp. The book has since been translated into at least five different languages: Italian, Dutch, Spanish, French, and Greek. At the time of his death in 1992, “Pimp” had sold over 6 million copies and counting.

Inspired by Beck’s success in the late 70’s, another young black man from the gritty drug infested streets of Detroit set out to put the reality of his existence along with those around him on paper in bone chilling stomach churning graphic detail. The man was Donald Goines, a lifelong heroin addict, occasional pimp and sometimes robber wrote his first novel “Dope fiend” while incarcerated in state prison. Goines went on to write a total of 16 books in 5 years before his life was tragically cut short along with that of his wife’s Shirley by an assassin’s bullet as he sat at his typewriter while the couple’s two kids hid under the sofa.

What the lives of Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines illustrate is that the tradition of African-American authors, without formal training and with criminal records, writing about the bitter realities of their existence in the inner city ghettos of America was well established long before the current crop of Hip-Hop authors. Who are often derided and lambasted by their more educated and successful brethren for the alleged poor quality of their writing and less than stellar content, as there are some individuals who believe that there is a difference between what takes place between a corporate executive in a Four Seasons downtown suite with a paid female escort and what happens between a blue collar worker and prostitute behind a dumpster in an impoverished neighborhood. I’m not one of them.

Yet I must admit that although I’m steeped in both hip-hop and street culture when I first began to write, I stoically resisted the herald call to write hardcore urban fiction. I don’t personally have a problem with people telling the stories which they are familiar with, as one of writing’s sacred cows is to “write what you know.”

For me, it was the view that it was too easy or not challenging enough that made me want to go beyond the norms. In my sight, writing was a way to go beyond that which I was already familiar with or that I already knew and to instead explore new worlds, attitudes, emotions, and people and to live vicariously through my stories.

But in the last twelve months, I finally succumbed to the nagging desire to jump feet first into the street lit market and I wrote my first hardcore urban novel, doing so with co-author K.B. Webb who was my cellie at the time. With us both being native Houstonians, we collaborated on a Houston based hood novel entitled “Clutch City Concierge”, which ended up being about as gritty as gritty can get. Yet even as I exchanged the politically correct names for body parts and sex acts for their less savory equivalents, I still had the desire for some form of elevation. It was that desire that led to the “Concierge” concept being merged into the original vision for the novel. For me, this was a merger of the “street” and “boardroom”.

While it’s doubtful that the book will ever win a NAACP Image Award, I believe we succeeded in writing a entertaining urban story without glorifying the worst while still “keeping it real”. And unlike my previous four novels, which have been set in Beverly Hills, New York, East LA, and Washington D.C., places I’ve only visited in my mind, a part of me longed to return to the city of my birth and the reality of the existence that I knew so well.

As University of Southern California Professor Dr. Todd Boyd – dubbed the “Hip Hop Professor” – said when asked why so many African Americans read street lit he replied, “the ghetto is drama. The ills of poverty are more dramatic than the angst of middle class life.” If that’s true, then perhaps that’s why “street lit” authors write it, to spice things up a bit. If you too need a little high energy, no holds barred fictionalized drama in your diet, check out “Clutch City Concierge”, available on Amazon.com.