A Chicago man spent 21 years of his life in prison, and since being released three years ago he has started a non-profit organization aiming to reduce the growing number of crime and violence in his community.
“For 21 years I watched young men come in and out of prison, (with) some returning once, some returning twice, (and) some returning never to go home again,” said Tyrone Muhammad.
Hoping to reverse that trend, Muhammad came up with the idea for Ex Cons for Community and Social Change, and last year during the pandemic the group moved into a new facility on Chicago's South Side.
Most of his members are men who have served time behind bars. The group is trying to rebuild the community and reach out to the youth before it's too late.
“There’s a way. We just have to help them create a way,” said Eric Vann.
Vann works as a peer educator for youth and development at the center in Canaryville.
“We grew up in the streets so we know what streets look like,” he said.
Vann has been with the group for about six months—sharing the same vision to guide the future generation.
“We want to show them what a Black man can look like a positive Black man can look like outside of a drug deal outside of a criminal a person that sticks people up,” said Michael Crayton.
Crayton joined the group after being released from prison in 2019. He met Muhammad while behind bars. Both men know something needs to be done to address the cycle of violence, the war on drugs, and other social issues. This as Chicago continues to see an increase in shootings, carjackings and murders.
“Murder and violence in our community is our first COVID,” said Muhammad.
Muhammad said his members go out to different neighborhoods to try to engage with community members and keep the peace, and have even mentored more than 80 young people from 8 to 27-years-old.
"It’s going to take us to save us,” he said.
Muhammad knows change isn’t going to happen overnight, but with support from the mayor and other community group he believes anything is possible.
“Our goal is to reduce violence by 20%. That’s what we all pledge to do,” he said.