CHICAGO, Ill. – Chicago resident William Brown loves basketball.
“I've always been Michael Jordan crazy," Brown said. "You know that’s like every Black kid’s dream growing up, wanting to be a basketball player, until you realize your dreams ain’t gonna work but. Ya know, that’s always been one of my favorite things to do.”
He realized that dream would never be a reality when he was a teenager.
“I was 17. I was incarcerated for nine years in prison.”
Brown grew up in a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. Some call it the city’s murder capital with more homicides being committed there than any other neighborhood in the city.
“When we young, we really didn’t have nobody positive to look up to. The person with the nice car, that was the one selling drugs. He was doing all the illegal stuff,” Brown said.
He says owning a gun to use, or simply protect yourself, is basically expected in a community with illegal activity. Brown says he’s lost a lot of family and friends to gun violence. He points to the tattoos on his arms of lost loved ones:
“These is like my cousins and friends that died. Best friend, Bert. Bud, he was like my uncle. Frut, he was one of my closest. And the rest of them are like my cousins: DJ, Aaron, Yak, Von, TG, Low, Dome, Devin, Lil Mike.”
After being released from prison, Brown says he struggled to get on his feet until he got involved with an organization called READI. He says he needed a bit of a push to commit to a change in his life. Thankfully, persistence paid off.
“My outreach worker came ringing my doorbell, asking my momma where I was at,” Brown said.
Now he is a READI participant. According to Community Project Manager Kimeco Roberson, READI is an innovative evidence-based response to reducing gun violence in Chicago.
“A lot of the shootings that are happening are coming from specific communities and a specific targeted group of people, or a specific group of people within those communities, and that small number of people have contributed to a large percentage of violence that has taken place across the city,” Roberson said.
Across the country, especially in cities, Roberson says people of color are marginalized in communities that have experienced decades of trauma.
“Trauma happens in the brain. Trauma can be healed. So a part of that healing process is our cognitive-behavioral therapy.”
Roberson says one key to helping these men is through relationships. READI offers rigorous cognitive-behavioral therapy mixed with job training and career readiness.
Speaking from experience, Brown says READI has found a successful way to make a difference in people’s lives.
“I’m doing better through READI already. Like that’s a consistent check for me every week and I got somewhere to go,” Brown said.
He may not be a pro basketball player, but he can be a positive role model in the years to come for his four-month-old son.
“I’mma show him like, ‘you don’t got to do this, you ain’t got to do what I did, you don’t have to sit in jail for nine years for gun violence, you don’t have to have a bad juvenile background'. Ya feel me?”