I can recall the day St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced his decision not to prosecute Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. I remember the news announcements that the schools, banks, and area stores would be closing early. I saw video of the streets surrounding the Ferguson Police Department and the St. Louis County courthouse street blocked off. It was then I knew the verdict.
By then I had already committed myself to the welfare of young black boys in the community. But after Ferguson, I recommitted myself to mentorship in my work as youth specialist at the Missouri Division of Youth Services. And I became community advocate and a representative for the young black men from the St. Louis community.
My story IS like what HomeGrownSTL has already began to study, assess, identify, and redress, and for that I thank the project.
I started a family early out of wedlock, and I was not responsible enough to work to support a family. Thus, I learned very quickly that irresponsibly bearing children out of wedlock and being unemployed with no desire to provide for my children was the perfect recipe for accumulated child support debt, a future of wage garnishment, and a damaged relationship with my children.
I spent most of my childhood growing up in John DeShields Projects in East St. Louis and the rest of my adolescent years growing up in the streets of St. Louis. In both I had my fair share of gang and gun violence, and I lost friends and family to both. I even had my fair share of delinquent and criminal behavior before I started making better decisions.
The first good decision I made was deciding to finish high school and go to college. I graduated from Roosevelt High School and enrolled into Harris-Stowe State University and then graduated from Harris-Stowe with my degree in Criminal Justice.
The next good decision I made was to stop drinking and smoking. I made this decision my sophomore year at Harris-Stowe. Then I began to make more good decisions while gaining a positive new group of friends. I had dodge the huge metaphorical craters that life readily seems to offer exclusively to young black males. I began to stay away from negative peers and the street element.
The next biggest decision that forever changed the course of my life was my decision to accept and follow the peaceful teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. With that came a 180-degree turn in my lifestyle, my diet, my circle of friends and major changes in where and how I spent my time.
Now my closest friends I see every day are working people – doctors, educators, civil servants, private contractors at Boeing or Monsanto. I know them because we worship the same God in the same place, regularly. In my mosque, I witnessed responsible married men who spend time with their family and children. I began to value and see the importance of fatherhood, maintaining a job, providing for my family, and being a husband of any value.
After I made the decision to get married, I found my wife in Islam and got married and have been married for the past six years.
After getting married I decided to apply and work full time for the Missouri Division of Youth Services, primarily with young black men in residential group treatment. This work gave me great joy and I learned this work was its own reward. Prior to that I mentored young men as a volunteer.
After this I made another good decision and I enrolled in the six-week Family Formation Program at the Fathers Support Center. It highlighted the importance of responsible fatherhood, fathers working, proper parenting and co-parenting. This left a lasting impression on me.
Today, I work at the Fathers Support Center, helping fathers gain employment and job training skills. I spend my free time as an assistant president for St. Louis chapter of the Muslim youth group MKA USA. I am a community advocate and mentor in the Walnut Park neighborhood, and I am a public speaker and role model to the young black men of the St. Louis.
Howard Hughes is a youth mentor and community advocate in St. Louis.
“Homegrown Black Males” is a partnership between HomeGrown STL at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis and The St. Louis American, edited by Sean Joe, Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor and associate dean at the Brown School, and Chris King, managing editor of The American, in memory of Michael Brown.