Thursday, January 24, 2019

FREE AT LAST: How this Jacksonville "Gang" Leader is Using His Life As Fuel

I met Jervonnti in my role as a case manager while he was a student at William M. Raines High School and ever since even once I was no longer employed there we remained in contact. Years later while working in that same role at Westside High School I met Anthony Ray. Anthony’s last name Ray was prophetic he was a ray of sunshine. He appeared intimidating because of his hair (glob locks) but he was the sweetest, funniest kid. I took a liking to him. I always took a liking to the children others did not want to necessarily deal with due to pre-judgement. We had many talks and I understood him. I understand and empathize with Jervonnti as well. While law enforcement and those looking from the outside considered these children gang members (by statute), violent criminals and menaces to society. I see children in impoverished areas, food deserts, single parent homes, a city that lacks opportunities and safe spaces for children to be themselves. After reading this please note that the only viable solution offered to him has been prayer and the only safe space provided for him was prison! In my humble unsolicited opinion as a community we let these children down! It is each of our responsibility to ensure that the incidents you are about to read do not occur again. I remember going against district policy to transport Anthony Ray home after school or picking him up when he was late because of my fear of him being gunned down at the bus stop. Everyday to see children like him walk into a school building was a gift. Can you imagine fearing for your life once home never knowing when your last day alive might be yet STILL managing to have the will to want to come to school and learn. I beat myself up tremendously after his death thinking of the what ifs. Thinking of the answers and I still do not have them. My prayer is that whomever this article touches together we can find solutions……..P.S. NEVER GIVE UP HOPE!

December 31st, a few days later New Years Eve , only a few minutes after walking into my mama’s house. I hear bullets ringing through the house, Glass shattering. More bullets. More glass shattering. Running through the house to get to mama’s room to check on here. Tire’s screeching. Mama’s okay well not really, 50 shots were just shot in her house. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last time. The next day, January 1st 2014, Top calls still recovering from his gun shot wound which broke his collar bone to check on me. “I’m good bro”. What a way to end a year. Hopefully 2014 will be better I thought. It wasn’t! Over the next few months things got worse. I tell my friends to stay out of sight as possible. No playing basketball at the park, no parties, no doing too much of anything. We were a young rap group being targeted. For a reason none of us could figure out until we realized it was “clout”, Beefing for a name and local fame. I lost my closest friends to clout chasers. One of my youngest friends “J5” (James Thomas) was on the stubborn side. But he was like a little brother to everyone so he was always around. Walking and riding his bicycle through the neighborhood which we stayed scolding him about because it wasn’t safe. He was the carefree type and had just turned fourteen. Some of the guys from the other rap groups had little brothers, cousins and nephews that attended Butler Middle School with J5. They’d get into fights and the fights escalated. One morning J5 knocked on my window. I came outside and said “Man why you ain’t in school?” I used to stay on him about not going to school. He said “Man it’s over with, I ain’t going no more. I got caught lacking walking to school” On his way to school, some guys pulled om the side of him and started shooting. He ran all the way back to the neighborhood. How could I change his mind about going to school after that?
Late one Wednesday night, I was waiting to go pick up my cut for promoting a local club every week. Usually, because of all of the shooting coming my way lately one of the promoters DJ Shab or the late DJ Sheldon would bring me my cut to me so I wouldn’t have to show up to the club which would be risky. J5, of course not going to school the next day, asked could he ride to the club with me. For some reason I told him no probably because I had plans with my girlfriend. I dropped J5 off to his mom’s house and headed to the Silver Fox Nightclub with two of my friends riding behind me in another car. We arrived to the fox around 2:00 a.m. just in time for the let out. Everybody was getting in their cars leaving. We waited a few minutes before we got out scoping the scene trying to see if we’d spot any trouble. We didn’t so we got out. Shab and Sheldon came out and greeted us, handed me my cut & a “Boosie Bad Azz” ride out mixtape they just released. We chatted for a few minutes before departing We thought we were alone but I later found out we weren’t. 3-4 guys were in an SUV near watching us the whole time. We pulled out, I stopped to put the Boosie CD in. My friends were far gone down the road and turned off. They were going back to the neighborhood, I was headed across town. While I’m riding down the road, I notice an SUV in my rearview. I think nothing of it. I continue driving. My phone rings it’s mama, I answer. “Are you home yet?” “No, I’m headed home now mama”. Ok, call me when you get in, Love you”, “Ok, love you too mama”. The phone hangs up. I look into the rearview mirror once again. The truck is still behind me, it switches over into the next lane and speeds up, I see hands come out the window along with rapid fire. Glass is shattering everywhere. I slam on brakes assuming that they would keep driving. They didn’t, they slammed on brakes and continued firing, for what seemed like hours. I see my whole life flashing. They pull off and I try and crank the car back up and it doesn’t start. I jumped out of the car, as soon as I looked down the street a police pulled up to the stop sign. This is no later than 1 minute after the shooting, my car is slanted in the middle of the street, me and the officer locked eyes and instead of him turning down the street to come help me, he turns the opposite way and continues about his night. (Ain’t that some shit) I see the SUV get on the expressway, so I hurry back to the car and that’s when I see blood everywhere. I’m hit. I start panicking. I’d never been shot before so I just go to thinking about how they say you don’t know where you’re hit at so you just die. I start to think I’m dying. I grab my phone and called everyone in my recent call log. I just got shot on Beaver Street right before the underpass come get me! I didn’t even call the ambulance. Within 5 minutes my best friend bends the corner doing about 100 mph. I jumped in the back seat and land on my arm. That’s when I found out I was hit in the arm. My dawg rushed me to the hospital. I was released from the hospital after about 2 hours. My family went back to the crime scene and the police tell them “We’re gonna get Lil Gutta, we know what he’s out here doing.”! WTF? I just got shot in a drive by and they’re talking about getting me! Not the suspects whoever they were but me, SMH. The next day, my phone rings , it was the shooters bragging about the night before. “You better be glad my 40 jammed, We’ll get you before the summer is over.” When the police released the car it was about a week later that I went to take a look at it. I could not believe what I was looking at. Bullet holes were everywhere. Windows were shattered, tires were flat, the engine was damaged. A bullet hole was in the passenger’s headrest; right where J5 would have been sitting if I had let him ride with me that night.
A couple weeks later, a few songs were arranged to be made by my entertainment group and another. We met at my mom’s house where I had my home studio. After hours of recording, and the sun had gone down, we wrapped up the session and schedule for another time. While walking out my mama’s house getting into their car, an unknown car was bending the corner with gunmen hanging out of the windows firing from pistols and assault rifles. Bullets ripping through the house, cars and flesh. Three of the artist were shot. Five minutes prior to the shooting, my mom and brother walked to the corner store. They heard the shots came running back. We put them in the car and rushed them to the hospital. Luckily, they all survived. In May of 2014, J5 was arrested and sent to the detention center. He called me and I told him that I was glad he was there because the streets weren’t safe. A couple weeks later, a lady from the center called was I James (J5) uncle and if I was able to come pick him up. I went to pick him up something that I now regret every day. I dropped him off in the neighborhood and told him to lay low. About 2 days later J5 was gunned down in a drive by while at the community center pool. I got the phone call and just felt empty. My lil brother can’t be gone is what I kept thinking while driving to the scene. The drive felt so long. When I got to the scene everybody was crying. It hadn’t hit me yet. My phone rang. “Yea nigga! How did you let ya lil dawg slip! We got his ass! You next!” I hung up the phone. At home, later that night, I went in the bathroom, so my girl wouldn’t see me and cried like a baby. He was only 14. I was hoping it was a dream and he survived like the first time he was shot in a drive by. It wasn’t a dream and he didn’t survive.
Devron “Big Baby” Crowden was full of life, there was never a dull moment when he was around. He was always “turnt”. I never seen him in a bad mood, he was always joking and laughing. December 10, 2014 Ms. Quita, Big Baby’s mama dropped him off to the bus stop. By the time she made a turn and got down the street, shots were fired. Gunmen ran up to the bus stop and gunned Big Baby down. He was on the way to school. He was 16 years old. He was the life of the neighborhood. I remember getting that call from my mama that morning. “Big baby just got shot on 13th and Canal. I jumped up and asked was he okay. When she hesitated to respond I already knew the answer. Seeing his family at the scene grieving still plays my head today so does the white sheet covering his 16 year old body. First J5, now Big Baby. It couldn’t get any closer. At least that’s what I thought.
By 2015, the streets got hotter. The police was harassing me more than ever. Alleging that I was a notorious gang leader. Blaming me for everything that was going on. Holding press conferences about us stating that we were threats to our community. I was repeatedly getting requests for interviews from numerous news stations. Cars were getting stopped by the gang unit after leaving my mama’s house being asked what their affiliation was to me. Anytime the police would see me they would record videos and take pictures. They were even at a back to school drive we had at the King’s Road Apartments. There were at least 50 patrolmen patrolling the area and at the event. They were taking pictures of us. It was ridiculous. They were treating us like “New Jack City”. An officer stopped and told me, “We’re gonna get ya, we know you’re selling drugs, we’re not dumb.” Crazy thing is, they were dumb lol. The drug money they assumed I was getting was actually came from promoting parties, special appearances and selling wholesale iphones bought off of ebay. Speaking of parties the gang unit tried their best to sabotage that source of income. I would spend hard earned money on booking venues, promotion, and even contracting police for safety and the gang unit would show up the day before the event and present pictures of me to the venue owners telling them that I was banned from hosting events in Jacksonville and risk losing their venue in proceeding to allow me to have an event there. They cancelled almost every time.
In October of 2015 I was wrapping up a video shoot and was bum rushed by police officers. I was at the hood of my car hooking up jumper cables to my car. They searched my car and found guns that I legally possessed. Two were in the car because I was in the process of moving that day. I was arrested and the booking reports were totally falsified. The guns were legal and properly stored in my car. In the report the officer stated that when they arrived he witnessed me retrieve the firearm from my waistband (which was illegal because I didn’t possess a concealed weapons license) and throw it into my car when I saw them. They confiscated the guns, my Macbook that I worked off of, a hard drive, an ipad, an iphone, a video camera, a toothbrush and more personal belongings that I can’t remember. I took approximately 7 months of me calling the property room almost daily to retrieve my equipment. My computer had hundreds of pre recorded tracks, videos, family photos and marketing ideas. I felt like giving up on music. I had lost more friends in the process of trying to get my belongings back so it felt like I had lost everything. During the process I had bonded out on a $100,000 bond. I’d just bonded out on a $50,000 bond on another bogus charge a few months prior so I was at rock bottom.
May 15th, 2015 Jaquon “Quon” Reeves, another one of my friends, was attending a candle light vigil for a teammate on his First Coast High School Football team that was just shot and killed at a prom after party a few days prior. While at the vigil, Quan was gunned down by unknown assailants. He was mourning at a candle light vigil when he was killed. A candle light vigil.
November 3rd, 2015, we were chilling in the neighborhood. Trayvon “Bando” Lundy, Anthony “Amp” Ray, “Von”, “High-Top” (who was shot in the beginning), and I. I remember having an outer body experience that was so vivid. I was telling myself “Y’all tripping, sitting out here in the open, y’all need to leave!” I ignored myself. Something that I regret everyday still to this day. I remember Bando telling us that he’d be back. He left where he went no one knows. 15 minutes later, I was talking to Top with my back to the street, while he was sitting on the ditch when I heard tires screeching and gun shots. The bullets were ripping through my flesh, knocking me over the ditch rails. For a moment everything went black. I was still hearing shots firing. When the darkness disappeared, what I saw was an event that will play in my head every day for the rest of my life. Von was at the top of the ditch crawling, screaming in agony, full of blood. Top yelling my name while in the ditch holding on to the wall to keep from drifting into the water, the water around him was now red. Amp was in the water face down floating. I see my brother who was at my mama’s house running towards the scene along with neighbors to help us. I was yelling “Get Amp!, Get Amp!” I managed to get up. I realized that I’d been shot in my neck. Blood pouring down my body. Still I ran over to Amp’s motionless body we hurried and pulled him out of the water. His eyes were closed when we rolled him over. I began to give him CPR over and over. Screaming for him to wake up with tears running down my face. He wasn’t waking up. I held him in my arms. He took one last breath and he was gone. It felt like a nightmare. When we got rushed to the hospital, Top, Von and I were next to each other. They were screaming in pain. I was in so much pain but I was numb to it. I couldn’t scream, Amp just died in my arms. He was gone. All I could think of was the times we shared, his loyalty and the fro he used to wear when he was younger. The dreams of making it out the hood that we used to talk about late nights. Then when I thought of his mama I broke down. The doctor told me I was supposed to be dead or paralyzed. I felt both dead and paralyzed. Then the detectives showed up. They scolded me for not answering their questions. When I told them I didn’t see anything (which I really didn’t), they told me I should have died with Amp and that I would be next. The doctors patched me up and in a few hours I was being placed in a police car and taken to interrogation for questioning. 

Around 6 o’clock I was shot twice in the neck, one of my best friends died in my arms, now around 12 o’clock I was in interrogation for hours like I wasn’t the victim. Blood was oozing through my bandages. I wasn’t released from questioning until the next morning. When I got to my mama’s house everybody was looking for Bando. His mama called mw crying asking have I heard from him because she hadn’t since before the shooting. I told her that he was probably somewhere mourning Amp’s death. They were two peas in a pod. I told her that I’d find him. I called his phone and got the voicemail. I inboxed him on Facebook and told him to call me. While I was sitting on my mama’s porch, my mama, God sister, and God mama were walking around looking for Bando. I said “y’all tripping he alright, her hurt about Amp right now, he will surface when he ready.” They left and said they were going around the corner t look for him, 20 seconds later, I hear sis scream. I jumped up she was running towards me yelling. “What was Trayvon wearing?” I didn’t want to accept what I was hearing. I ran across the street and there he was lying face first in the ditch. It felt like my heart was being punctured with machetes. I climbed down the ditch with my neighbors and we pulled his body out of the water. His dark skin was pale and gray. His arms were stretched out like he was reaching for something. His eyes were eye wide open. I broke down! I just laid there with him until the police came. I had just told his mom I would call him when I found him. I couldn’t make myself call her when the police came, I walked to her house and just sat on her porch. Someone eventually called her job and told her. When I got back to the scene it was roped off with yellow tape now on the street where Bando’s body was found, along with the street behind it where Amp died. Bando’s mama was crying hysterically. She and I cried in each other’s arms. In between the tears she tells me “He died with his best friend Anthony”. Somehow when Bando was on his way to the ditch with us he was hit in a drive by with stray bullets. I just lost two of my friends, blood couldn’t make us closer.
Rest in peace "Bando, Amp & Top"

The next few months I kind of gave up on life. The only thing that put a smile on my face was my son that I’d had during the mix of all of this (April 4th, 2015) with my girlfriend of 7 years. With everything that was going on, I lost focus on our relationship, which eventually I lost also. It seemed like everyone I loved I was losing. I thought once again that it could not get any worse. I was wrong again. 

Darrell "Top" Rutledge
On March 31st, 2016 we were waiting on midnight to celebrate Boss City Ent’s 5th anniversary. April 1st marked 5 years. Approaching midnight 3-4 gunmen ran up firing bullets at us. HiTop was shot multiple times. His last words were “Tell Jaydn I love her” His daughter and my son are all I feel like I have to live for. 

Jadyn (Top's daughter) and Jayce

Two months later I was charged with carrying a concealed firearm, and was sentenced to 3 years in prisom. It’s now 1:38 a.m. , January 7th, 2019. I’m 12 days away from my release. While I’m happy to be going home, I have to realize that going home means leaving the peace of my cell and facing the reality of my life.
I asked Jervonnti a few questions to wrap up this article and if there was anything he wanted the world to know and his words to those who may be dealing with similar experiences. He told me he does not consider himself a “gang member” and he is not involved in a criminal organization. He wants to encourage kids to stay away from the streets by that he means to stay in school, be productive. He wants to teach young people the importance of remaining focused on their goals in life and avoiding negativity. He mentioned that he carries the guilt of failing his friends who loss their lives to gun violence. “I was looked upon as the one to open the doors to a better life for us. They put their faith into me to get us out the hood. They followed me and didn’t make it back. That’s something that tears me down everyday. I do believe a higher power has kept me through this because I have made it out of some situations that I shouldn’t have made it out of.”
If after reading this you wish to further the discussion on how we as a community we can provide solutions or simply have a discussion that speaks on the issues mentioned within this article please email 
Jervonnti and I "1st Day Out"

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

DJ Shab "Mr. Bring The City Out"

You may have attended a party, Club Aqua, Plush (when it was open), heard My Tenacity Radio or recently been to Mavericks. If you have or even if you haven’t by now you probably heard of DJ Shab better known as “Mr. Bring The City Out”.  Shab is no stranger to Jacksonville’s night scene and is on the rise to being one of Jacksonville’s very own hottest MC’s/ DJ’s. His journey started about eight years ago when he was eighteen he and his friend Sheldon threw a party for his 18th birthday. The party was in Orange Park at a hotel with over 300 in attendance. It was so successful that Sheldon encouraged Shab that they should start throwing parties. So it began and while they both worked at the tennis shoe store Athlete’s Foot they were working and throwing parties at night and on the weekends when they weren’t working. 

After about two years Sheldon wanted to cut out the expense of paying a DJ and thought they could just do it themselves. The two of them put their money together and bought the cheapest turn table board available and a laptop. They started practicing at the house with Sheldon being the DJ and Shab being the MC. Shab admits through laughter that at first he was afraid he sounded corny on the mic but eventually learned that you just have to be yourself and the crowd will follow suit.  Together they started hosting events and the crowds grew with each event. Then they started hosting teen parties and until this day Shab DJ’s teen parties because eventually teens become adults and they always come back to support.

A few years back on Easter Sunday there were three clubs open. Point Blank Ent had Aqua, Plush was open and Shab & Sheldon had a club called Icon on Beach Blvd. Icon had no liquor license so only wine was being served. On this night they shut the entire city down and this was the turning point for them as they begin to make their mark. Bigga Rankins put them on the 2 Chainz and Future show at Plush which was a success. The last event at Plush before they officially closed  was his birthday party and Young Thug performed. At this time Young Thug was a new artist with his hit single “I’m a Stoner”. Throughout all of this they were both still working at the shoe store. Shab was eventually let go and he gained momentum and started building his brand. Throwing parties became his sole source of income so he had to take it serious. He came up with ways to turn his passion into profit so he began hosting mixtapes, selling rideout mixtapes as well as having meet and greets with artists.

Shab feels like his events are successful because he makes his events memorable through promotions. A lot of small businesses are missing promotions. He and his homeboy hit all sides of town distributing flyers, hanging posters and grabbing the attention of his supporters. Promoting is about relevancy as well and ensuring that the artists that you bring are who the people want to see. Jacksonville is NOT a crab city. He hates when he hears this. In business you have to prepare yourself for disappointments because NOONE owes you anything!!! You have to make the people want to support you by working hard. You also have to thank the people who do support you. If people love what you are doing then they will support you and you get support by being a blessing to others says Shab. Recently he fed the homeless and was compelled to do something because the city has tremendously blessed him. “You gotta pay your tithes and you gotta give back.”

On October 14, 2014 DJ Sheldon passed away. He had only been fighting cancer for a short while. Sheldon and Shab often played Madden and they took it very serious. Shab recalls one day playing the game and Sheldon didn’t feel well so they stopped. He went to the hospital and had tests ran and was diagnosed with cancer. When Sheldon passed away Shab didn’t know what to do! He considered it over because up until this point he was only an MC and didn’t know how to DJ. People wanted to join his team as his selector but he didn’t feel right having anyone in Sheldon’s place. Big Al from Boss Security gave him the advice to learn how to DJ on his own and be a one man show. Sheldon is irreplaceable so after his passing Shab became “The Shab and Sheldon Show”. He had to learn everything dealing with being a DJ. DJ Swag taught him to beat match, mixing and mastering and Byrd Sanchez taught him as well. When asked how he recovered in Sheldon’s absence he responded that he has yet to recover but he knows that this is what Sheldon wanted so he has to keep going.

If he could give anyone advice he has three key points and they are to build your brand, stay consistent and outwork everybody. If you combine all of these then you are sure to be successful in your business. His ultimate goal is to be a world renowned DJ/MC. He is inpsired by Bigga Rankins, DJ Khaled and DJ Drama. Shab also acknowledges that his manager Ron Da Don has played an integral role in his success. Family and his past also inspires him because he grew up on Jacksonville’s Northside off of Fairfax and saw a lot of people fall victim to the streets and he wanted to take a different route. No matter how far he gets in life or how much money he makes he will always be grounded in Duval and he doesn’t mind sharing his story to help others. Stay tuned the best is yet to come. 

                                                  LONG LIVE DJ SHELDON!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

I am so tired of hearing about "IT WORKS", Aren't You?

Over the course of 2017 I saw an influx in social media posts about “ItWorks Global”. Several of my Facebook friends are posting about various weight loss and skin care products that the company offered. There are before and after photos, screenshots of direct deposit payments and the promise of financial freedom if you just dare to sign up and be a distributor.  Through a mutual friend on social media I followed Antinese Stinson prior to me knowing she was a distributor of the trending wellness company. I met her at Westside High School and I honestly just liked her radiant personality and her whitty humor. As time went on I began to notice her posts about the It Works products and admittedly they peaked my interest. I am a woman who has tried everything but crack on my own personal weight loss journey. Honestly when I saw the post I clicked like because I am always proud of my peers who are embarking on entrepreneurial endeavors. Also admittedly I AM NOT a sales person so don’t even ask was a thought that crossed my mind just like others I’m sure who see these posts in passing. Time continued on and I noticed all of the promotions that Antinese was getting within the company and just like everyone else while proud of her I had lingering thoughts like this is just to good to be true. I even became an auto ship customer of hers because I wanted so badly to see this mother of two reach her goal of being a top performer. I typically only blog about the criminal justice system but it is important for me to highlight people of color in my community doing positive things as well as uplifting and empowering women like myself. I reached out to Antinese also known as Nikki and asked if she would be interested in being interviewed for my blog and she agreed.
In elementary school Antinese was a straight A student from kindergarten until the 8th grade and in middle school she won an award for having good grades her entire school career. In the 9th grade that begin to change and she no longer wanted to be smart, she wanted to fit in so she stopped applying herself. She simply wanted to do what the other kids did. There was a point during high school Antinese was only attending school once a week while her mom was busy working three jobs.  Her father was always an entrepreneur and her mom always worked a lot. No matter what her mom always did what she needed to do to make things happen for she and her brothers.  Around age eleven her mom worked three jobs and at one point they didn’t have a car. Her mom rode a bike to work at night to Krystal’s from 11 to 7 then rode it home showered and worked her day job. Her dad was incarcerated up until age 12 for various drug charges. They visited and corresponded through letters His physical absence didn’t really affect Antinese because this had become normal for her and her mother filled the voids as best she knew how.
Roughly two weeks after graduating from Robert E. Lee High School in the year 2000 Antinese found out she was pregnant. After graduation she had no plans and with a baby on the way didn’t really know what  she wanted to do. She got a job working at a call center and one day while running to catch the bus it was pouring rain. The bus driver saw her running and splashed her with a puddle. She went back home and this was the start of many incidents with several jobs.
In 2003 she had her second son and started working as a medical assistant. In 2005 to 2007 she worked at an abortion clinic. After that she worked at a companion service and an OBGYN office where she has seen everything dealing with female genitalia. In 2011 she was in nursing school with one semester left with a 4.0 GPA. A classmate who had recently lost her healthcare asked her could she bring birth control samples to class. She thought nothing of it because women regularly received free samples at the office. While exchanging the pills another student was selling candy bars for a fundraiser and Antinese purchased one. An on looking student told the professor that she was selling pills. As a result she was kicked out of school and two days later she was terminated and arrested because her professor contacted her employer. She thought life was OVER! Her entire life she wanted to be a nurse and through life’s shortcomings that was her chance. She cried everyday for over a week.
In 2012 Antinese started several odd and end jobs from tax preparation, personal assisting, working the door at night clubs, strip clubs, call centers, cleaning service and even worked as an Uber/Lyft driver but she didn’t want anyone to know.
In May of 2016 she saw a post from Ashley Goggins that read “looking for 5 ladies to make residual income text lunch to ____________”. They met a few days later at Panera. Antinese thought she was getting a job. She went to the meeting with a resume and Ashley told her about It Works and in her mind she was thinking “You gotta be fu*king kidding me”. Ashley told her it was $99 to start but she didn’t have it. She handed Ashley her card and prayed that it went through. The payment total was $113 and there was $115 available on her card. She received the kit in May and didn’t open it until October. Meanwhile she was still working two driver jobs for both Uber & Lyft, working at Revlon, her cleaning service, a student, a mother and still struggling.
She attempted a wrap party but her friends weren’t receptive and she thought no one would support it. She also thought that by being plus sized no one would purchase weight loss supplements from her. In October 2016 Antinese began posting to social media about Its Works and within two weeks she had 30 customers. She continued posting and people were receptive. She promoted four ranks in 30 days by recruiting 16 distributors under her team and as a result she received a $1000 bonus. From November 2016 to January 2017 she promoted to Diamond a leadership rank with 26 distributors now on her team and received a $10,000 bonus. In March she promoted to double diamond with over 46 distributors working on her team and a total of over 300 team members and received a $30,000 bonus!!!! (These bonuses are broken into payments over time.
Antinese is no longer receiving public assistance, paid off debts, repaired her credit and quit ALL of her jobs except the cleaning service which she owns and Its Works! Today she is preparing to promote to Triple Diamond and anticipating a $25,000 bonus. Once this goal is accomplished she will have received $66,000 in bonuses not including her monthly commissions and weekly bonuses. With these supplements she has lost roughly 25 pounds, her skin is clear, her blood pressure is down and her bank account is up. Even with her past shortcomings, the arrest, her childhood, overcoming bullying, being a single mother and every single curve ball life threw at her she was able to find something that not only helps others but she has helped herself and is on the road to financial freedom!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Orain Benjamin Reddick: 1 year later

August 1st 2016 I was asleep and my phone rang at 4:42 a.m. it was Kenneth Reddick. I missed the call but I remember thinking to myself that he called me in error. I picked the phone up and I called back Kenneth answered saying " Renata he gone" I can't recall much after that but sobbing on the floor. I called Neisha and she answered and within 15 minutes Nashira was in my dining room. I think I even called his phone to see if he would answer. The entire day was so surreal! I remember logging on to Facebook and my entire timeline was filled with rest in peace post. I got in the car and turned on the radio and his name was being shouted out! It was like the entire city mourned his loss. I was sad but also proud to have known someone who affected the lives of so many. We met officially more than ten years ago while getting my hair done at Carlos' shop then we worked together at a mortgage banking company. We used to have town hall meetings at work and in this one particular meeting the CEO of the company was expected to attend. I remember getting to work and Orain was dressed in a bright yellow sweater with a bow tie and slacks. Everybody on the team laughed because he was overdressed. All day long Orain told us how we would not be laughing when he became the CEO. Long story short at the end of the town hall he was talking to the CEO, shaking his hand and taking pictures. That picture ended up all over the company website and in print! That was classic Orain always making something bigger than it was and inserting himself and eventually taking over. Orain had a way of making everything he was involved in grandiose, it was the next big thing and if you knew him you had to support it or you were dumb! I have so many fond memories over the course of our friendship and I am going to capture as many as I can.

First on family anyone that knew him knew that he LOVED his family!! He often talked about his father Bill that preceded him in death and how he was tough on him. He said that people often told him that they were just alike. He also often talked about his sister who too preceded him in death. He adored his nephew Joel and admired him as a young father. If you knew him you knew how much he loved his big brother Kenneth and that he thought he was his daddy. Orain would always say "He ain't my daddy, my daddy dead"! lol. Anyone that knew him knows he didn't play about Ms. Barbara he would talk trash but he drove her to church and doctors appointments, he named her Jesus secretary. He shared with me that he had loved "Moni" since he was fourteen years old and that he had been pursuing her pretty much his entire life.

One of my fondest memories of him was his interactions with the kids Nazah, Selah, Judah and Jordyn. He loved challenging them he was extremely hard on them because he wanted the best. He was so proud of all of them in all their endeavors. He wanted Nazah to go to college and drive a brand new fuel efficient Prius. He attended all of her sporting events and was the loudest one cheering and after took other kids home who didn't have a ride. He believed wholeheartedly that Selah would one day be the best basketball player! He once ordered a huge life size cut out of her face and held them up at her game. He used to call Judah "The Big Hurt" his favorite son. He was hard on him because he thought he needed to prepare him for the harsh realities of the world. Finally Jordyn she could do no wrong in his eyes. He said she took after Ms. Barbara. She was his feisty fast track runner and he knew one day she would be an olympic runner.

On friendship Orain was an extremely supportive and dedicated friend. You didn't have to solicit his advice because he gave it without you asking. You could call him for a laugh, business advice or moral support. If you were working on a project and you went to him then it became his project too as if it were his creation and he took over the project. He made sure to tell everyone he loved them which honestly for me was weird but eventually you had no choice. He told me that the doctors told him he wouldn't live beyond his teen years due to sickle cell anemia. This was the reason he told people he loved them because it might be his last time. I saw Orain the Thursday before his death and I was in a meeting. He walked past the room I was meeting in and noticed me so he turned around to speak. I was seated at a conference room table and the table had files on it. He walked in shook the woman's hand whom I was meeting with and said boldly "Hi I am Orain Benjamin Reddick" then he picked up the file and asked "Who is this" I snatched the folder and we laughed. The following day we spoke by phone for about 30 minutes. Two days later he was gone. I have never lost a close friend especially one who I talked to almost daily. This entire experience has taught me to cherish life because it truly is precious. I now tell my friends that I love them with no inhibitions. Most importantly I live in the spirit of Orain. By that I mean nothing stops me he never made excuses that he couldn't do something because of sickle cell. If he had an idea he executed it rather or not he had the resources or not. he believed in himself and those around him. I partnered with him in 2015 to feed the homeless. Orain setup donation drop off locations and created a system where we passed out 250 bagged lunches for the homeless once a month.

Orain and 18 others protested the Sheriff's Office standing in solidarity with other cities who lose citizens to police violence. He and the others stopped traffic by shutting the Harts Bridge down. As a result Orain and the others were arrested. This was a bold move and it took great courage. Once he was released the next day he said "You're not an activist until you get arrested" and he began to compare himself to Dr. Cornel West. All the way until his last day on earth he spent it giving back to others. He went on a young male retreat with the Building Powerful Minds group. This group serves at risk black males ages 5 to 18. I told this story at his wake but he was also the Vice President of the Raines PTA association. He told me he was unanimously voted in at his first ever meeting. I later found out that there were only three members in attendance!!

No matter what capacity you knew him in you loved him. Orain was a husband, father, son, friend, Kappa, 21Q, Orie Gold, basketball coach, real estate agent, mentor, sickle cell warrior, bow tie designer, activist, follower of Dr. Sebi, The greatest debater and a bee keeper!!!!!!!!

There has not been one day over the last 365 that I have not thought of O or been reminded of him. Rather it be a bow tie, a political issue, hearing Outkast or simply wanting to have a debate about some world issue. Orain you are greatly missed. I can literally hear your voice tell me that life is chess not checkers and when I make decisions they are strategic and not based on emotion. I thanked you in my first book because I remember you telling me from your hospital bed "Either write it or shut up". So I did! I miss visiting the hospital and bringing you peach Nehi, sunflower seeds, watermelon blow pops and Zaxby's. I miss talking on the phone in the morning while you drop the girls off and they fist fight in the background. I miss the debates, the rants and the trash talking during football season.

Lastly speaking of the Jags the day before your wake I spoke with Gus Bradley's wife (former head coach of the Jaguars) and informed her of your passing she passed the message to him and as I exited your wake he was outside. That's the affect you had on people that at the start of the season an NFL coach came to say goodbye.

This was a hard year but we somehow made it. I have to constantly remind myself that legends don't die they live on through those of us that loved them. You will never be forgotten. I will carry you everywhere I go and I will tell everyone I come in contact with what an awesome friend and community leader you were. WE ALL WE GOT. Frick with no Frack. Until we meet again......

P.S. Nazah I know he is proud of you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Sound Beyond The Picture (Bigger than life painting of Jacksonville Activist)

If you’ve crossed the Harts bridge since November then you probably have seen the spray painted figures on the huge silos. Many have driven past but don’t know that the faces belong to Connell Crooms and Sara Mahmoud (Palestinian Activist). Last week I had the distinct honor and pleasure of meeting with 26 year old Connell Crooms a local activist and member of the deaf community. I became familiar with his name in April when what started as a rally against American imperialism turned into officers with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office attacking peaceful protestors. According to Crooms there were agitators in attendance and the protestors had petitioned the police to separate them from the protest. In an effort to strike Connell one of the disturbers struck the officer. After this occurrence five police officers began to attack Connell and it was all caught on camera. He was punched, kicked, kneed in the face, tased and lost his hearing aid which was later found. He was then arrested and taken to the hospital after being knocked unconscious.
Once he was hospitalized there was no sign language interpreter on hand for hours. Even once transported to the jail there was no means of communication for deaf inmates. The only means of communication inside the Duval County Jail are TTY phones. Crooms states being born in 1990 that method is completely obsolete and no longer used. While in jail overnight he had to rely on the help of another inmate to contact his family. Speaking about this life changing ordeal brought on emotions for the both of us. On June 2nd the State Attorney’s Office dropped the charges against Connell which was a huge relief but he still doesn’t feel good about it. The officers in question were not reprimanded and as of now there is an internal investigation Connell can only think what if it would have been a gun instead of a taser? He has no expectation for police officers to ever be punished for police crime. Crooms states “It takes death to see justice. It takes a shooting as opposed to a beating”.
At age 5 Connell’s family learned that he was deaf. He graduated from The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in 2009  most notably known for Ray Charles attending. He is also one of the founders of Deafinitely Dope which bridges the gap between the deaf and speaking world through music. Connell signs the lyrics to hip hop music ideally making a music video in his hands. Recently his founding partner Matt Maxey has toured with Chance The Rapper as an interpreter. He is bringing awareness to the American Sign Language. There are not a lot of African American interpreters in Hip Hop music that understand the culture says Crooms.
In November 2016 an artist from Australia Guido Van Helsten saw both Crooms and Mahmoud speak at a Dump Trump rally and chose them as the subjects of his work. The artwork was completed in 4 days using a crane. The paintings were commissioned by Art Republic. When he was told he was being painted he thought it could be hung at home. He swerved off the road when he saw it in disbelief. The mural stands for solidarity “rather you are white, black, gay or trans if you are working class we all stand together.
Currently Crooms is working alongside others on a JPAC (Jacksonville Police Accountability Council). This is a non politically biased council democratically elected by the people to oversee the hiring, firing and investigations of the police. Connell believes this is our only choice unless we as blacks continue to beaten, shot and killed by the police. Police are historically rooted in slave patrols. He states “We can keep changing elected officials and Sheriffs but we need to have oversight over the police”.
Ultimately Connell wants from his activism programs for poor black communities and would love to bring the original Panther party model back. He wants to charge all young African Americans to stand up for what they believe in!
“If you are young and black read up on your history because that’s all we have! We are living in revolutionary times. BE THE CHANGE & FREE PALESTINE”. – Connell Crooms