This a wonderful brother who has exhibited a model of genuine transformation and redemption. He has dedicated his life to the liberation and education of Afrikan people, especially our children. It’s a privilege to be able to soldier and labor with our good brother as he helps to rebuild and restore our community. Check this article out!
Shaka Senghor was on a bad road traveling fast when the knock came at his door.
At 18, he was selling drugs for a living and had been shot about a year earlier on a corner in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood, so Senghor was carrying a gun when a friend came by with two strangers.
“I refused to sell them drugs,” Senghor recalled. “I got into an argument and told them to get off the block. We made threats back and forth … I shot several times and tragically caused his death.”
He tragically caused a death. That’s how Senghor describes it now. But in 1991, he killed a guy. Was charged with second-degree murder. Got sentenced to 17-40 years. A month after his 19th birthday. His girlfriend was three months pregnant.
Senghor is the kind of guy that used to be written off. But everybody gets second chances. His came eight years later in a letter from his son.
“He just really was talking to me about why I was incarcerated,” Senghor said. “It was a moment of epiphany. I realized that, although I was incarcerated, I had a responsibility to set an example for him. I made up my mind that if I was released, I would have some type of positive impact on his life and the lives of young people in the city of Detroit.”
Senghor found a way with his Live in Peace Digital and Literary Arts Project, which he founded in 2010 after his release from prison.
“They come from a place where violence has been normalized,” Senghor, now 39, said of his young charges. “So I said if we write about it and talk about it, we can come up with how to deal with conflict when it happens.”
Senghor wants his students to “take control of their own destinies through literature.”
Live in Peace was among 10 programs that recently won Black Male Experience Leadership Awards from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in partnership with the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement. The awards honor black men who act to improve their communities.
Senghor and his fiancée, Ebony Roberts, began the program at Tri County Educational Center in Southfield, an alternative school that is part of the Berkley district. Its student body includes Detroit teens.
“I’m thrilled about the program,” said Tri County’s dean, Mindy Nathan. “Shaka has a way of connecting with kids that is a hundred percent authentic, and it’s almost instantaneous what he can do for them. He barely has to tell his story. He just uses their language, and it’s incredible how the kids open up.”
Nathan said one of the biggest obstacles to graduation for some kids is having parents, guardians or loved ones in prison — “a source of shame and confusion,” for them, she said. But Senghor’s program helps them deal with the separation and grief.
“My goal has been to find ways to humanize these losses,” Senghor said, “because they’re not even statistics because people don’t even talk about them. You go to the funeral. You wear the shirt. But what did that life mean and what kind of potential was lost?”
Senghor plans to use his $25,000 award to do the program a second time at Tri-County and to start one at Cody High School in Detroit. He wanted to kick the program into high gear after a family tragedy last summer.
“My nephew got shot and his childhood friend murdered,” Senghor said. “We were at the hospital with him and all these young people had “Rest in Peace” T-shirts on for different guys who had gotten killed. I wanted to counter the culture of ‘Rest in Peace’ with something positive so maybe we could empower them to understand that peace doesn’t mean weakness. … I changed the name to ‘Live in Peace.’ ”
Senghor still does speaking engagements and encourages kids to write about and videotape their feelings.
He also plans to publish something of his own: the journals he kept and the letters he and his son wrote to each other while Senghor was in prison.
His son, the 8-year-old who helped his father choose a different path, is 20 and was starting down the same path his father took. But he now is interested in becoming a carpenter.
“He’s definitely moving in the right direction,” Senghor said.
For information about the program, go to www.lipeace.com.