Do you think religious faith is important for at-risk youth, or is having passion enough?

Yeah, I think having a connection to a sort of spirituality that works for you makes you a better person. Young people today just have a disregard for religion and spiritual faith because they’re disgruntled with the churches, the preachers and the lifestyles of some of these mega-churches.

I believe that, in order to bring a young person who comes from adverse backgrounds, who has no confidence and hope in themselves or this country, that you have to work on changing their thought process first.

How do you define manhood?

In my former life, I defined manhood by having the most cars, the most beautiful women, money which brought status and credibility in my circle and in the world that I was living in.

Today, I define a man as a person, a man of purpose, a man of structure, a man of conviction, someone who values his family, his children, his community, and is not valued by what he has materialistically.

Having missed out on having loving male figures in your life as a young man, how do you show love to your wife and children, to the young people that you mentor?

I try to give them what I never got. I’ve seen and been around examples of love and fatherhood. When I speak to young men especially, and my sons, I hug them. I encourage them. I reinforce them. You know, I let them know that I believe in them and I see potential.

I know the smile that it brings to a young man’s face when I tell them I love him and I care about him, and I see potential in him. And I truly believe the foundation of change and success, whether it’s fatherhood, personal, or professional success, is that you have to find your purpose before you can have a dream. And, you know, once you do that, then things begin to manifest in your life.

What do you think is the first most basic thing that a kid who’s heading toward trouble needs to hear to make them change course?

Tough love talk about the consequences of making bad choices, because a lot of young people make wrong choices as far as gangs, drugs, and crime, but they don’t know the consequence. They don’t know the outcome. They don’t know the impact it has on community, on victims.

What do you think makes an effective mentor? Do you have to have a personal narrative to tell, like yours?

I truly believe to be an effective mentor, you have to have the experience and the understanding of the person you’re attempting to mentor. To be trying to mentor an at-risk inner-city youngster who’s been involved in gangs and drugs and crime and comes from generational poverty, the mentor has to have a deep understanding of that whole subculture in order to pull them in the direction they need to go in and to convince them that, you know, they have potential to change.

It’s like, if somebody was talking to me back in the day from the suburbs who was highly educated, I couldn’t relate. I would have had to heard it from someone who understands what I’ve gone through with my life to be able to guide me out.

Have you ever had to give up on anyone you were trying to mentor?

I have given up on some individuals temporarily until they hit certain crossroads to get them to understand that it’s time to make a change and a difference. I was hard-headed when I was young. I had to go to prison. That’s the only way I was going to get it. And some youngsters have to get in a deeper hole to understand they need to change.

I feel that my time’s valuable and many young people need my help, and I can’t waste my time with someone who doesn’t want to accept change, accept responsibilities, and sometimes I have to let them go until they find their way.

Then, when they hit rock-bottom, then all the teachings and the messaging that I’ve been doing with them, they finally get it and they finally say, "Okay, it’s time now. I’ve got to make a difference. I get it."

What’s more important—believing in yourself, or having someone believe in you?

There has to be a level of balance between the two, because you can’t get an opportunity or reach a level of success without both. Building up your self-esteem and self-confidence to be able to go in there and face a potential employer or face the potential opportunity, you need that. You have to be able to convince that individual or organization that you have potential, you have the skill set and the mind set to work within that particular company and be an effective employee that produces that is results-driven.

That’s one thing that I was able to bring to the table because, I knew that I had to create some leverage. I had to leverage my skills to convince employers, whether it was instead of a 90-day probation, give me a 30-day probation, or showing them I was first to work every day, last to leave, I didn’t take a lunch break, and went above and beyond and moved heaven and earth to learn everything that I could to have personal growth in that company.

Maybe it’s 75 percent confidence in yourself, and a potential employer may only have 25. But, you have to tilt that to your advantage.

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