I look back at when I was between 12 and 18. I was an angry kid, hungry for attention.
Talk about being in a position in life where you’re about to face a critical moment. The decision made, a turning point in your life, that would determine the rest of your future. That was me as a teenager growing up in Union City, NJ.
I had the opportunity to speak to a group of teenagers the other day at Higher Ground; a program for at-risk youth based out of South Tucson, Arizona. As I was rolling in the facility with Rob, one of my coaches from the University of Arizona wheelchair basketball team, I thought to myself, “ I wish I had something like this growing up back in New Jersey as a young man. If we did have a program like this in town, I didn’t know and never heard anything about it.”
I saw these kids and intentionally made eye contact with each and every one of them. I made an even stronger connection with a select few. “Why?”, you may be wondering.
I saw in them as a reflection of myself, when I was that age.
Watching their body language and the way the staff members had to tell them repeatedly to sit down and take off their shoes. That was me!
I was a challenged teen just like them, with family problems. My mom raising me and my siblings on her own, living day by day. My dad was not in my life as much as I would have liked. I was a kid with too much freedom, and now that I think about it, at at a very critical moment in my life. I was a teenager, lost, without enough positive guidance in my life.
Some of you may be able to relate, and some may disagree, but I’m speaking from my own experience here.
As teenagers, we face many critical moments where a decision could lead to two types of outcomes. A decision towards a positive outcome leading to something great. Or, the total opposite; a decision that leads us to a life of negative activity and actions.
In my case it was one of two outcomes; Death or life in-and-out of jail. I was on the same path as many of these teenagers bound to face a turning point that would change my life forever.
As a teen, I was already involved in the wrong activities and hanging out with the wrong crowd. I was dealing with all these moments in my life, witnessing the decline of my parents relationship. The way I dealt with my parent’s breakup was reaching out to drugs, gangs, guns and the power that came with all that.
My outlets created a lot of results for me. But not any positive results. They landed me inside of different jail cells, thinking that I was hard, something like the Tony Montana of my hood.
It would be only a matter of time before all the decisions that I made out of anger, frustration and retaliation would come back to haunt me and bite me in the butt.
I got shot in my own neighborhood, less than 5 blocks away from my home.
I had just turned 18 a few weeks prior to May 27, 2005, and at 11:33 pm I found myself lying in a pool of my own blood, fighting for my life!
As I saw these young people in front of me, I thought to myself, “If only I was able to go back to when I was their age and make some wiser decisions.
But, I can’t. All I can do now is help share a tangible lesson, a picture of what these moments and decisions can lead us to. All I have now is my past, my life lessons and my voice.
One of the biggest lessons I learned is that we all have a choice in the critical moment of your life. So, which one will you pick? To wither in the wrong choice; follow the drugs, the guns, the negative people or to fight back with a purpose, find the light, see a bright future, rebound.
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