A glimpse into the daily lives, inspirations, and stories of the entrepreneurs, creatives, social innovators, and community champions who call Charlottesville home!
Founder and CEO of BUCK Squad
Hometown: Charlottesville, Virginia
Favorite small business: Mel's Barber Shop
Favorite place: Bench at Pen Park, by the Rivanna River
Favorite community event: Any BUCK Squad event with the kids
Favorite local restaurant: Mel's Cafe
Tell us about your personal background.
I was born to a fourteen-year-old single mother in a neighborhood we know as Westhaven. I was conceived out of a statutory rape; my father was a grown man, my mother was a fourteen-year-old little girl. My father was a street guy, running around the city doing the things that guys like him did in low-income, disenfranchised communities. They found their identity through gang life. They were destroying this city and their lives in the process. I was the first born out of nine kids. I was the first grandchild, first son, and first nephew. On my paternal side of the family, I was raised around dysfunctional alcoholism and addiction. On my maternal side, I was raised around functional alcoholism, which meant they went to work five days a week, but on the weekends, as we say in the hood, they’d “turn up.” It all laid an impression on me. I came up in an environment of violence; I used to watch my grandfather get drunk on the weekends and beat my grandmother and I watched my father, on the rare occasions I saw him, beat my mother.
Even though we had the connection of Black love in my community, where we didn’t have to lock our doors, I used to see violence around me all the time. I had people that loved me, but they loved me in the ways that they were taught to love. A man would never tell another man that he loved him. If you got beaten for doing something wrong, you couldn’t cry. As a child, I came up hard, but I found a love for sports. I was a good football and basketball star. I released the destructive energy from the issues I wrestled with as a child on the football field as a running back. If I’d have had the support of my family through that process, I would have gone to the NFL. That’s how good I was. That’s one of my biggest regrets, but things happen for a reason. I don’t believe in coincidences or accidents, I believe in purpose.
In the mid-’80s, the crack epidemic hit Charlottesville and I watched my mother’s best friends turn into demons overnight. I watched the city turn into demons, fiends for something as small as a white substance, and I watched it destroy the families and the people I loved. My mother went through a depression for about four months because individuals we loved were being destroyed by this new thing. Around the same time, she went through the loss of a child. I had eight siblings and things got real rough at one time. I’m not using this as justification, but I had to provide for my family and I started selling drugs. They were a gift and a curse for the community. When I sold that first drug, it became a lifestyle for me that lasted over 30 years. I’ve been all the way at the top of the drug game, and I’ve been all the way at the bottom, wrestling with the stuff I used to sell. I’ve experienced everything in between.
Who is involved the BUCK Squad?
Every member on my team was handpicked by Herb Dickerson and I, and they can now heal the community that they once destroyed. When we picked them, I told them “you owe this society” and if they felt like they didn’t, I ended the interview. All of us share similar backgrounds, being people who once were rulers of darkness. We’ve all been there. That’s what gives us the expertise to do the job that we do today. The age range goes all the way up to 70. A lot of us have been scarred by violence, most of us have felt the pain of fearing for our life, so we have the direct expertise to go out into these communities to help heal.
What does the BUCK Squad do?
We try to put people into a position where they have choices. We do that first and foremost by conflict resolution, 24 hours a day. We treat violence as a public health issue, no different than Covid-19. It has the potential to destroy life en masse, so we treat it like an epidemic. The first thing you do with an epidemic is cut the transmission. That’s our job. We identify the highest-risk transmitters, who we call high-risk participants, those who perpetrate acts of violence, those who have been to prison, and those that fit certain criteria. We identify those guys and then we go in and habilitate them and put them in a position where they can be effective fathers and sons, and be alive to take another breath. I believe that if we can save one, our job is done.
I went to a guy’s house the other day to do a conflict resolution and I counted 37 guns in a 19-year-old’s bedroom. He had enough to supply a small militia. His mind was made up to go out and handle some business because one dude texted his girl. He had done work before; we call these guys “hitters.” We got there just in time and we talked him down. I begged him. I said, “I’m not trying to change your economics. I know you’re selling drugs, I know what you’re dealing with. I don’t want to change that now, but I want you to allow these kids to be out here. From 5-7pm, don’t sell drugs, don’t have any guns out here. When you are selling drugs, don’t have guns on you. When my squad [the BUCK Squad] comes through, give them respect and let them see that you don’t have anything on your waistline.” We did that and it happened. They give those kids two hours every day where they shut down shop over there. When we come through and canvas every day, they lift up their shirts to show us they don’t have any weapons on them.
We also focus on the kids because my team believes in generational curses. We believe that this perpetual cycle of ignorance has been here for over 400 years. They think that nobody cares about them because of their complexion or because of where they live. We want to change that. We had an event last Sunday at Westhaven with the kids and they started crying when we were going to leave. That’s not normal. They wanted us to stay so they could stay outside. They’re all innocent kids; they shouldn’t have to worry about if a bullet is going to come through their window. We want to give them choices so they can be anything they want to be. That’s our responsibility and our obligation. They all deserve a chance. The first thing I tell anyone I encounter in this community is that I love them.
Why are you passionate about your work?
I always tell people, in my own humble opinion, “I’ve been everywhere but the moon and seen everything but the wind.” When it comes to street life, I’ve experienced all aspects of it and I’m still here, still standing. Of the guys I grew up with from the sandbox, my best friends, I’m the last one here. One was killed on November 3, 1999, and the other was killed on August 25, 2000, and they both died the same way: gun violence. They were both shot and killed in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, and they bled to death as they cried for their life. I’ve been shot twice where the bullets actually went inside me, and at one point in my life, I would put on a bulletproof vest like a man would put on a belt. God kept me here for a reason. I am a believer that we are in a position to be partakers in a journey to change the trajectory of the entire community of Charlottesville because of our experiences. As we walk through life, we go through a lot of pain, but I believe that pain is the greatest motivating force on the planet, after love.
How do you hope to impact the Charlottesville community?
I consider Charlottesville to be the greatest city in America, no matter the past, no matter the scars. This is a wonderful city of second chances. I’m shameful that I once destroyed it through acts of violence, selling drugs, and through destroying entire families, indirectly and directly. I was the personification of what it was to be a gangster. Anybody who has a history here in this city knows my history. What used to be a curse hanging over my head is now a badge of honor because we go out here and we help people. We go out here with the kids and we save people. We’re going to save this city and these souls. Nobody’s going to die on my watch if I can help it.
What is something you live by?
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
If you would like to learn more, make a donation, or get involved with the BUCK Squad please visit their website at the link here: https://www.bucksquad911.org