“It was eatin’ me alive!”
Qadir thought back on those days- -the days when he knew that the man who had shot and killed his brother had been released from prison.
“It was eatin’ me alive!”
Qadir had been on the move, and not just physically stalking his brother’s killer..he also moved back and forth about what he should do. The streets demanded revenge, but his heart moved back and forth between the solutions of revenge and forgiveness. That journey was the one that caused frazzled nerves, medication and mental anguish.
His childhood friend, Chuck Hodges, had held up a sign pointing to forgiveness. “The brother has changed,” he said, speaking of the man whose trigger finger now tapped out lessons on the computer for young boys and adults with advice for getting out of the game, and living a purposeful life. That same game held up a sign, “You know what you should do. An eye for an eye.” Hard journey, hard choice, two directions.
On that journey, he “wondered what other people on the street would think of me for forgiving him.” Having done a bid himself, Qadir also factored in what would happen if he followed the code of the streets. “He’d lose his life, and I’d have lost my life…back to the penitentiary.” In the end, after years on a journey that was “eatin’ me alive,” Qadir strode into the barbershop where his friend, Charles worked. Working two chairs away, was the man who shot his brother. Qadir grabbed him…held him… and forgave Will “Latif” Little for the killing that had happened almost two decades ago.
Qadir’s journey is not unique, the trip between the two signs, that is. If you are honest, you know there is a tug-of-war between the revenge of the streets and trying to make a new start, being a bigger, better person. But too often, the streets win. A lot of that, says Will, is that “many youth don’t see examples of living a different way.” They know deep down that the game is harmful to themselves, their families and the community, but the examples of alternatives are few.
And the cost, says life coach Iyabo Onipede–a returning citizen reaching out to others while still on paper–is challenging the old signs that point not only to the streets, but also the streets themselves where you learned to be who you are. “All of our life experiences help us build the person we become. The person we become is tied to our experience, like a tetherball to a pole. Change often means cutting some ties, not just to your past, but the way your past shapes your present.” Charles Hodge held up a sign for Qadir. “You’re better than that! It ain’t got to be that way!” It’s the same sign that that Will holds up for the young men in his mentoring program. And now all three of them hold that sign together as part of a new initiative: Team Redemption, Forgiveness and Peace.
Together, Will, Qadir and Charles speak at schools, prisons, jails, mentoring programs, churches and peace rallies, offering alternatives to violence and retaliation. They have offered their vision of change to students at Job Corps and on the radio. Qadir points to the man who killed his brother and says, “Today, I love this brother!” Charles represents the group with his clothing brand Team RFP. Will preaches “focus” to young people in the high school where he was once expelled.
Forgiveness may seem like a punk thing to do, but deep down, we all want it. We were constructed for redemption, created for peace, and crafted to forgive and be forgiven. It’s in you…and with Qadir, Charles and Will, as well as others, you have a sign.