I prayed to God after my 16-year-old son, Toriano II, was shot and killed in north St. Louis. It was one of the first things I did.
I’d been on a mission to make a difference in the lives of those that were at-risk to succumb to the challenges of everyday life. But I came up short raising my own. He ran away often at age 13. He died three years later. I asked not to be rendered useless.
My formative years were spent in the 3400 block of Park Avenue in south St. Louis. The neighborhood was considered one of the city’s most notorious hot spots for gang, drug and crime activity. Many young people failed to take advantage of an opportunity to educate themselves. The pitfalls that awaited them were real.
I feared my son’s resistance to me would make my message moot. I beat myself up over the situation. I couldn’t inspire my own son to greatness. How could I reach others?
"Fat Joe" Clark, a close friend, basically told me to ‘get over it.’ He didn’t put it in those words, but he did tell me, “You ain't God. Ain’t nothing you could have done about it.”
You did the best you could as a parent and to let it be, he said. That helped start the road to redemption.
I spoke to a group of at least 50 students at Roosevelt High School in south St. Louis two days after Toriano II was buried in 2009. The message to students was one of resilience. And forgiveness. Compassion, too. Education, I said, was a ticket to a better life. Dream big and never stop dreaming.
"Don’t end up a statistic," I said. "Have a dream and never stop pursuing it. Obstacles await. Have faith that you will see them through."
My goal was to write a book. The Pride of Park Avenue was the first. I knew the responsibility to inspire youth came with it.
It was put on my heart to use the book as a testimony to the trials and tribulations that I experienced as a teenager and young adult. The book was about never giving up on dreams.
My childhood best friend, Nose, was gunned down in 2008 in north St. Louis. He was 33. Ricky, my best friend from high school, took his own life one year later at 35. I've been trying to live a stress-, drama-, hater- and sucker-free life since.
When you lose your two best friends and your first-born son, you have no choice but to come to grips with many things. My worst fear has been realized, so I have none. I think often of those I've wronged in my 47 years blessed on God's Earth. I ask for forgiveness every single day. I am truly apologetic.
I struggle emotionally at times. But don’t feel sorry for me. I'm no tragic figure from Shakespeare. I try to make a daily impact and strive to inspire others to move forward despite setbacks.
Be resilient. Show up every day. For yourselves and others. Life is a blessing. Never take it for granted. Live full. And always trust the process.