Reformed Ex-Convicts Hosting Anti-Crime Camp for Young Black Men in Tuscaloosa Saturday
Leaders in Tuscaloosa are calling young Black men together this weekend for an intensive conversation about the consequences of a life of crime.
The event will be hosted by Us First, We Are One, a relatively new group led by Tuscaloosa natives Tre Lanier and Leon Tucker, who changed his name in 2005 to Razzaq Muhammed.
The duo sat down in the Tuscaloosa Thread newsroom Wednesday for a conversation about their event this weekend, which will specifically and exclusively be for young Black men.
Lanier and Muhammed said they are both fortunate to have survived their early lives of crime and violence, and both men said they have spent long stretches in prison and seen too many friends go to an early grave because of criminal behavior.
They said they are uniquely suited to talk to young men prone to fall into the same traps because they have lived those experiences first-hand and, because of the bad examples they set earlier in life, Lanier and Muhammed said they feel a real obligation to do more for this generation.
"We want to especially reach the ones who are out there actually committing the crimes, in the streets, who really do the things that are harming their own community. We identify with them because me and Brother Muhammed have pasts that we've managed to turn around and we feel like their blood is on our hands because I think we conveyed the wrong message coming up," Lanier said. "We've got to come together and find some solutions to what's going on, but for that, we need a platform where these men can voice their opinions and tell us what's going on -- we want to bridge the generation gap because a lot of the fathers of these young men are incarcerated and so they've got a generational curse, they feel like they have to follow their fathers."
The retreat is set for this Saturday at the Wheels and Spokes motorcycle club at 6511 Lakefield Drive in Tuscaloosa. There will be vendors, speakers, a live DJ, free food and more, and every attendee will be given a free copy of the book "Message to the Blackman."
"I'm an individual from Tuscaloosa who was toting guns at the age of 12, I went through the juvenile system and from there, to prison also," Muhammed said. "I went to prison at the age of 19 and I didn't come home until I was 36."
Even so, Muhammed said he considers himself lucky. A lot of friends from his young life are dead, and others are still in prison.
He said these experiences have left him unafraid to engage with people in the community that others ignore or fear because he has lived the same kind of life.
"We're not looking for the children who are five, six, seven years old - the innocents," Muhammed said. "We're looking for the ones who are killing, who are catching cases - those are the ones we're interested in helping."
"We've been through it. We are them," Muhammed said. "We're just fortunate enough that God has seen fit to let us stay around, develop our testimony and demonstrate a life - a real life."
Muhammed said in addition to his own experience as the perpetrator of violent crime, he has also been its victim -- his daughter was fatally shot at a south Tuscaloosa apartment complex in July 2020.
He said he had been committed to helping Black men avoid or escape lives of violence since he left prison in 2012, but her killing at just 21 years old made him "smash the gas pedal down and bring all this to the forefront."
Lanier and Muhammed said they are aware that hosting an event specifically for Black men may not be perceived well, but they are not trying to be exclusionary.
"We want to make sure people know this has nothing to do with race or racism or conveying a message against anybody in any ethnic group," Lanier said. "But what we're doing is telling these young men, we know what it's like to be a Black man in this society but there are certain things you've got to do if you want to change your life - but if they don't know what to do and how to do it and have someone with you along the way, it's going to be really hard to change your playgrounds, playmates and playthings."
"There's no other race, nationality or ethnic group in America that's being targeted by their own selves like this, it's not going on in anyone else's communities," Muhammed said. "And Tuscaloosa is a small place compared to Chicago, L.A., Baltimore. So the individuals who feel they had a hand contributing to this need to be men and come back and straighten out what we messed up."
Us First, We Are One will host their Men Only Event this Saturday at Weeks & Spokes on Lakefield Drive beginning at 12 noon.
For other events coming soon to our area, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.
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