I remember growing up on that corner house where my mama and grandmother fed all of 9th Avenue in South Los Angeles.
Every Sunday, my uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, and homeless people ate in our front yard. My grandmother was everyone’s street mom, someone any stranger could approach and ask for help, and she would try her best to provide what they needed.
Yet I remember starving some days, and at one point, I didn’t even have shoes.
My uncles, brothers, and cousins sold drugs and stole to put money in my mother’s purse.
They all went to prison.
Now it’s my turn to change things up.
By middle school I still could not read or write, so getting an education clearly wasn’t working.
All I wanted was for my family to eat and look healthy.
So I began stealing from drug dealers.
I’d send my friends to buy weed from them, and when they met up, I’d approach from behind, pull out my .22, point it at their face, grab the weed they were about to sell and run off.
I stole gold from people using this same technique.
Whatever made a buck to eat and to save.
Half my earnings went into my mother’s purse. The other half I stashed in my pillowcase.
By the time I was 12, I had bought a car by convincing my brother’s friend to buy it for me. Then he would flip it and we’d split the profits.
By 13, I had enough to buy my mom a car.
This lifestyle had its negative consequences.
Most nights, I couldn’t sleep.
Many nights, I stayed in the streets until the early morning hours.
My mother suffered.
She had to miss work to accompany me to court and to my visits to my probation officer.
My mother died of a seizure. She passed away in front of my eyes.
Soon thereafter I was sitting in a cell convicted of armed robbery.
My father and I were released from our respective prison cells about the same time.
He worked back-to-back jobs every day for two years to earn money and to put food on the table.
He wasn’t playing.
He bought back a family restaurant business and enrolled me in Johnnie Cochran Middle School.
Now I read and write.
I want to earn my business degree and make my community better and cleaner.
I want to create more jobs for my people the way my dad and uncle have by opening a chain of restaurants.
I want to give back to my community the way my grandmother did.
I want to feed my homeless friends who I’ve known since childhood. I used to see them as I walked to and from elementary school. Even when they lived difficult lives, they’d always give me a dollar and tell me to stay in school and not give up.
Now it’s my turn to give back and say thank you to the people who helped me when I fell.
They never abandoned me, and I will never abandon them.

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