Friday, 21 October 2011

Michael on Being Down for Da Struggle

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011
Michael, a poet, is pictured in front of the statue of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko on 22nd and P St NW.
“I grew up in so many different neighborhoods in D.C., but the truth is that I don’t have any fond memories of being a kid here. I remember my first experience with violence. I was seven or eight and playing outside of my house. There was this dude, running up the street with a gun, and he was shooting at this car in the middle of the street. This dude went running through my yard, right past me, while he was getting shot at.
We have so much potential, but growing up in the hood, the streets will get you.
“Everybody grabbed up their little kids on the block, but I was the last kid out there. I just froze. I was stuck, and didn’t know what to do. My aunt ran out and grabbed me and then asked me, ‘Why did you freeze up?’ I was seven, how was I supposed to know what to do around guns?
“Most of my memories are like that. I didn’t know my biological mother as a kid. My father’s sister raised me as my mother. My father came into my life when I was nine; however, he passed away when I was just ten years old. My aunt raised me to be a good man, but you know they say that a woman can’t raise a man. She tried her best and embedded a lot of good morals and principles in me, especially how to treat women right and how to defend myself. She never shielded me from things.
“I started looking to the older dudes in the neighborhood whose lives looked intriguing. They all had nice clothes and fly women, and I started to gravitate towards them. Everybody wants to be with the in crowd, no matter where you live. While my aunt and grandmother always made sure that I had clothes and a roof over my head, I wanted more. I saw these guys, and wanted what they had. My wants lead me to the street, and wanting that guidance from an older male. I went out searching in all the wrong places. Some people were genuine, and some weren’t. A lot of those guys lost their youth, and they wanted to relive their youth through me.
“I eventually started getting into trouble with the law. Which also lead to me going to prison more times than anyone would ever want to. While in prison, I came in contact with this organization - Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop. Their organization really helped me become more diverse and more open minded. I started to do a lot of reading; also, I became very intrigued by poetry. At first, I really didn’t know what Free Minds was about, but I did know that it was an opportunity to escape being on that stressful cell block all day. Every Friday, I would get up early to prepare to go to the book club because it was a way to free my mind. Free Minds Book Club gave me a positive outlet to express myself and has opened several doors for opportunity and success.
“Now that I’m out, I’m working to stay on the right track. Everybody you meet coming home from prison can talk a good game. I know this because I’ve done it, but now, I believe it takes more than just talking a good game, you also have to be able to bring forth action. Now I live by this saying, ‘A great example is better than good advice’. I am now in the process of making a documentary about my life to show kids and people in general that you can change your life even though you’ve made mistakes. It is easy for people who’ve never been in trouble to say, ‘You can turn your life around’, but I think it’s more powerful for someone who’s been through the struggle of the streets and made it out to tell the youth that there are alternatives besides the streets.
“I don’t feel like there are enough people in this city who are trying to give opportunities to young people on the streets. If most of us don’t even know the beauty of this city, or our own possibilities, there is no hope. But, I am ‘Down For Da Struggle’. I live and die by that quote. For me, it is a struggle to get kids to not make the mistakes that I did, and that’s a struggle I’m down for.
“Many of my friends weren’t as blessed as I am. We have so much potential, but growing up in the hood, the streets will get you. Two of my closest friends left their kids without fathers. One of my closest friends came home from prison, and two months later, he was killed. The month right after that, my other closest friend got twelve years. I’m the godfather to their kids. Now, you have two kids left out on those streets without fathers. That’s why the cycle continues and that’s why I need to be ‘Down For Da Struggle.’”
Michael tattooed 'Down for Da Struggle" on his chest.
Free Minds’ mission is to introduce young inmates to the transformative power of books and creative writing. By mentoring them and connecting them to supportive services throughout their incarceration into reentry, Free Minds inspires these youths to see their potential and achieve new educational and career goals. Please consider making a donation of your money, books, or time here to help their important work.

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