Category Archives: National & Global News

Building With A Mission: Nonprofit Takes On Youth Employment, Housing Shortage In Baltimore

With thousands of vacant properties in Baltimore — said to be as many as 15,000 in 2020 — the city has been struggling for years with an affordable housing crisis.

A relatively new nonprofit, founded by two people who do not live in Baltimore, is trying to address the issue “one nail at a time.” It provides training and job opportunities for the city’s underserved and formerly incarcerated youths.

Claudia B. Jones and Aaron D. Thompson, co-founders of HTP Homes in 2019, have raised money through a crowdfunding campaign “to re-engage Baltimore City youth into building their neighborhoods by building themselves.”

HTP Housing acquires vacant houses in need of rehabilitation. The houses “serve as on-site, hands-on training and education facilities. Trainees in the 18-month occupational skills program learn all aspects of renovating houses, including demolition, framing, drywall installation, tile work, carpentry, painting, electrical, plumbing and HVAC skills,” the nonprofit’s crowdfunding site says.

“Program participants are paid an allowance with achievement-based increases to recognize and reward progress.”

The nonprofit’s founders hope their efforts will help reduce the high homicide rate. In 2019, Baltimore recorded the highest homicide rate of U.S. cities with a population over 250,000, at 58.27 homicides per 100,000 residents, according to data from Statista. Last year, the city recorded 335 homicides.

Partial chart of murder rates in U.S. cities per 100,000 residents. (FBI/Statista, 2019)

“We want to bring jobs and homeownership to Baltimore to stop the violence,” Thompson said.

A new mission

When Jones retired from AT&T after nearly 23 years, one of only three black female senior vice presidents, she was looking for a new mission, something that would enrich the lives of those neglected by society.

“I always knew I’d get into a situation where I’d say, ‘Now it’s time for me to leave and do something more philanthropic, but in a personal way,’” she said. “Aaron and I became business partners buying real estate, and we focused on providing homes to single moms that were first-time homeowners. We realized you can make a difference on a small scale.”

By taking young and at-risk adult men into the construction business and teaching them trade skills, “we realized that, just like with single moms, we could make a difference in their lives.”

Thompson grew up in Palmer Park, Maryland, a tough suburb of Washington, D.C., where he had a front-row view of the troubles that plague many inner cities.

“I came up in an environment of at-risk youth myself. When I was 7 years old, I witnessed my first homicide,” he said. “It was a tough environment, but I was fortunate to have a very good dad. Instead of joining a gang, I joined the Guardian Angels. I served with the Guardian Angels for 28 years … and through those years, I learned to help a lot of people, and I saw exactly what was going on out there.”

HTP Homes co-founder Aaron Thompson, a former pro boxer and Guardian Angel, has been helping young men gain construction skills for more than 30 years. (Courtesy of HTP Homes)

As a Guardian Angel, Thompson, who also logged a 3-0 record in a brief professional boxing career, started working for a construction company. After becoming a master carpenter, he opened East Coast Design Build, a licensed general-contracting company with a list of established and well-regarded clients. At this point, Thompson was laying the foundation for what would eventually become HTP Homes.

“Guys would come home from prison, and I’d say, ‘Hey man, let me give you a job,’” he said. “I would hire them and give them a trade. I’ve helped hundreds of men that are now doing well, and some even have their own businesses. They needed direction; they needed someone to be right there [for them].”

Al Jollof, an East Coast Design Build employee, speaks highly of Thompson and HTP Homes for providing the road map for his future.

“My parents are from Sierra Leone, and they separated when I was young. I watched my mother work two jobs to support the seven of us. I know how it was to struggle, so there are certain similarities between my story and the kids [in the program],” Jollof said. “But, Mr. Thompson is a great mentor and father figure who always had my back.”

While he is busy building his skill set in painting, hanging drywall and installing windows, Jollof is also a role model for others through HTP Homes’ efforts.

“I want to teach the kids, to help them grow like Mr. Thompson did for me,” said Jollof, who would like to become a general contractor.

While Thompson was taking at-risk young adults like Jollof under his wing, it became apparent that to have a greater community impact, a different strategy was needed.

“At some point, we had a conversation that would formalize what he had been doing for years,” Jones said. HTP Homes was incorporated as a 501(c)3 in November 2019.

Baltimore is only the beginning

Jones and Thompson believe they are contributing to a “safer and more equitable Baltimore” via HTP Homes.

“If black lives ever mattered, then the thing to do is deescalate the crime. Housing is simply the vehicle we used to do that,” Thompson said.

Largely self-funded by its co-founders and past grants from the Gannett and Verizon Foundations, HTP Homes has recently applied for funding from the city’s Community Catalyst Grants Program and Community Block Grant Program, which fund revitalization efforts and aim to expand the city’s affordable housing.

HTP Homes is using these funds to target “opportunity youth”— those between 16 and 24 who neither work nor attend school.

Lower incomes, higher unemployment rates and bad health outcomes among these disconnected youths cost taxpayers $93 billion annually and $1.6 trillion over their lifetimes in lost revenues and increased social services, according to the American Youth Policy Forum.

“Baltimore has one of the highest numbers of opportunity youth in the nation,” said Jones. “But Baltimore’s 2017-2020 Local Workforce Plan estimates there will be a hiring demand for as many as 11,000 construction jobs that require some level of on-the-job or apprenticeship training. This is where HTP Homes steps in with our ‘earn and learn’ job pathway model.”

“We’re looking to train 16 to 22 kids this year,” said Thompson. “And, if each individual sticks with the program, I can ensure them a full-time job, either with my company or another company.”

The program at work

On Jan. 18, HTP Homes hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a property on Harford Road — its first project.

“Once the home is fixed and renovated, we’ll sell it to a first-time homeowner at no profit, and the proceeds will go back into the nonprofit, so we can continue the process,” Thompson said. “This is about the kids; this is about stopping the violence.

The Rev. Eric W. King, a Baltimore native and former HTP Homes board member, helped connect Jones and Thompson with community leaders to establish the program’s framework. He believes the organization has the potential to transform Baltimore.

“We all know the troubles that Baltimore has experienced, and they will be there long after HTP Homes,” he said. “But if one life can be changed, it has the potential to change a family, then change a community.”

(Edited by Judith Isacoff and Fern Siegel)

The post Building With A Mission: Nonprofit Takes On Youth Employment, Housing Shortage In Baltimore appeared first on Zenger News.

D.C.-Area Training Program Helps Youth Rise Above Inner-City Challenges

WASHINGTON — Situated east of the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C., Ward 8 is historically one of the poorest and most violent parts of the city. And while redevelopment dollars are slowly trickling into the area, and crime stats are moving downward, its residents can still fall victim to the social ills that plague many big cities: high unemployment, continued violence, teen pregnancy, poor access to healthcare and homelessness.

Yet for the last decade or so Raymond E. Bell has been doing his part to break the area’s cycle of poverty, and give its youth opportunities to launch careers in an ever-growing industry.

Bell is founder of the H.O.P.E. Project, a six-month training and internship program that prepares those aged 18 to 24 years for careers in information technology. Since 2009, the H.O.P.E. Project has helped more than 2,000 students get high-paying jobs as help desk support specialists, cyberspace experts, system administrators and the like with such global companies  as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, CACI, Chase Bank and Bank of America.

Raymond Bell helps students develop life skills and secure high paying jobs. ((Photo courtesy of H.O.P.E. Project)

At the completion of the training, its students earn certifications through Microsoft, CompTIA and the Help Desk Institute, giving them the requisite credentials to enter the job market at a decent salary.

“My students have an average salary of $65,000 a year, and maybe 40 make over $100,000 per year,” said Bell, 53. “We’re talking about 2,000 people, and 40 percent of them have some sort of government clearance, from a public trust all the way up to top secret with a polygraph.”

Considering the humble backgrounds of most of his students, Bell said he is most proud of how they have come together as a support system for each other.

“If a student has an interview with the State Department, for example, they can look into our student portal and reach someone that works there,” he said. “So, when he or she goes to that interview, they’re going to know everything about the organization. And, the person that coached you and mentored you, you’ve never met. It could be a $90,000-a-year cybersecurity engineer, but they’re going to help because someone did the same for them.”

Bell was quick to point out, however, that this “community of professionals” is not a cadre of college-educated, middle-class folks.

“We’re talking about kids who were selling weed, girls getting pregnant at a young age, working in fast food or retail, or even returning citizens,” he said. “These aren’t the kids that went to Spelman [College] or Morehouse [College]. I’m talking about the ones that went to D.C. public [high] schools like Anacostia or Ballou, and grew up in [public housing projects such as] Woodland or Barry Farms.”

Coming from a similar background, Bell said he can relate to his students. Born in small-town Dillon, S.C., he came to Washington, D.C., at the age of five with his single mother and two sisters, eventually graduating from Ballou in 1985.

“I look like them. I talk like them, so they trust me,” he said.

Right after high school, Bell began a long federal government career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, before leaving in 2003 to launch his own training, consulting and project management company. He opened his first training center in 2005 that, he said, fell victim to a bad economy. He later took a position with a local public affairs firm, DDC Advocacy.

“I stayed there until they fired me, which was justified, because I was spending all of my time on the H.O.P.E. Project,” he said.

Hailed as one of the best IT training programs in the country by The Help Desk Institute, the H.O.P.E. Project has been featured on several media platforms, including Ebony magazine, ABC, CBS, Bloomberg News, The Washington Post, National Public Radio and BET.

“I have no formal education beyond high school,” Bell said. “But I have a Ph.D. in results.”

“It’s simple; they teach real-life skills,” said Chioma Obi, a talent consultant with the Anne Arundel County (Md.) Workforce Development Corp., which selected Bell’s team as its IT vendor in 2020. “[We selected the H.O.P.E. Project] because their model is ‘train and place,’ not the conventional ‘train and pray.’ They have the subject-matter expertise, the years of experience and the depth of knowledge needed to assist trainees who successfully pass the training.”

‘Like a Life Raft’

When Thaddeus Miller was discharged from the military a few years back, he had limited options regarding how to jumpstart the next chapter in his life.

“The program was my life raft when I was sinking in the ocean,” he said. “I literally had exhausted all my options at the point that my mother came across a flier for the H.O.P.E. Project. Without it, I really don’t know where I could be in life.”

Today, at an annual salary of $244,000, Miller is working as a contract systems administrator in Afghanistan alongside active-duty soldiers and, as American forces draw down in the region, as the facility control officer responsible for addressing outages across all the military installations in the country. While he said that he appreciates the training he received through the H.O.P.E. Project, Miller is more grateful for the community of professionals that Bell describes.

Raymond E. Bell is working to break the cycle of poverty in Washington, D.C., Ward 8 through the H.O.P.E. Project. (Elvert Barnes/Wikimedia Commons)

“This is about more than just getting training for a job; it’s a family and community of brothers and sisters that help each other excel, which is the meaning of hope [for me],” Miller said. “You can’t copy hope in any capacity. It’s like trying to recreate the magic of the first ‘Black Panther’ movie, or the Chicago Bulls of the ’90s; it can’t be duplicated. I love Mr. Bell, and I’m happy that someone like him made a choice to put himself in position to help a person like me.”

The Next Chapter

D.C.’s government previously provided program funding for 40 H.O.P.E. Project students per year, at a cost of $200,000. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed that funding, according to Bell, causing him to take drastic measures.

“For the last 11 years, our training program has been primarily funded by District government agencies,” Bell said. “But, for the first time in 12 years, we’re going to have to charge people for our services. But it’s less than $1,000.”

The office of D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-at Large), who chairs the council’s Labor and Workforce Development Committee, was unable to confirm Bell’s estimation of the H.O.P.E. Project’s funding levels or provide any data on the outcomes of the city’s workforce development initiatives.

“Unfortunately, it’s hard to get good outcomes data on our workforce development programs, which is a goal of Council member Silverman’s,” said Chief of Staff Samuel Rosen-Amy. “She did pass legislation creating an annual expenditure guide, which is supposed to have performance information, but largely doesn’t.”

Rosen-Amy added that the council will begin work next month on the city’s annual budget, which Bell said he expects to contain funding to support 60 students in his program.

(Edited by Stan Chrapowicki and Matthew B. Hall)

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Boxing Legends: Cory Spinks Remembers His Father, ‘Neon’ Leon Spinks 

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — On Feb. 15, 1978, Leon Spinks defeated the self-proclaimed “Greatest of All Time,” Muhammad Ali, in his eighth professional fight.

Just five days later his son, Cory, was born and he, too, made his own mark in boxing, becoming the undisputed welterweight champion of the world. Cory was the third member of the Spinks family to become undisputed champion. His father, Leon, became the undisputed heavyweight champion after he defeated Ali. And his uncle, Michael Spinks, was the undisputed light heavyweight champion of the world.

They solidified their status as the most accomplished family to ever lace up a pair of gloves.

On Feb. 5 of this year, Leon would lose his long battle with cancer — just 10 days before the anniversary of his greatest career accomplishment and 15 days before his son Cory’s 43rd birthday. Leon’s gold medal in the 1976 Olympic Games and his win over Ali, still viewed as one of the greatest upsets in boxing history, were the highlights of his career in the ring. Leon also served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Zenger News recently spoke to Cory, who shared his father’s advice and memories of his best performances inside the ring.

Percy Crawford interviewed Cory Spinks for Zenger News.

Zenger News: Since your father’s passing, so many people have called the Spinks family the greatest family in boxing history. Does that sum up your family’s place in boxing history accurately? 

Percy Crawford interviewed Cory Spinks for Zenger News. (Heidi Malone/Zenger)

Cory Spinks: I totally agree with that. It’s never been, and I don’t think there ever will be, three undisputed champions from the same family.

Zenger: To recap, your father Leon was the undisputed heavyweight champion, your uncle Michael Spinks was the undisputed light heavyweight champion, and you were the undisputed welterweight champion. 

Spinks: Right! What’s crazy is my brother didn’t have the opportunity to be listed as well because his life was cut short. But me, my dad, my uncle and my other two brothers from my dad, we all won national championships. It could have easily been five of us.

Zenger: What would you say is the best advice your father gave you in life or in boxing? 

Spinks: Mainly just stay focused and train hard. As time passed, Leon would end up in my camps. He had the mentality of guys back in the day (laughing). He thought me and my sparring partner were just playing around the way we were sparring. I’m like, “Dad, we can’t kill each other.” He wanted us to go that hard.

Zenger: Was he the reason you started boxing? 

Spinks: Well, no. My brothers were boxing, and they used to take me to the gym when I was younger. They kind of got me into it.

Zenger: What would you say was the best training camp you had as a fighter and why? 

Spinks: It’s got to be the [Ricardo] Mayorga fight, because I basically did two training camps. That’s like four or five months. There was speculation that I might fight him, so I got away and went to the Diego Corrales camp. I went to help him out when he fought [Joel] Casamayor. I went to help him out in Big Bear. I spent two and a half months there.

Zenger: Did you have that type of camp because of the uncertainty of the fight happening, or because Mayorga was viewed as such a dangerous puncher? 

Spinks: Well, I wanted to get away from the environment for a fight of that magnitude. I wanted to start getting ready for it early. It was just being speculated that it would happen during the time I went away to train. We just wanted to be ready for it.

Corey Spinks shared his father’s advice and memories of his best performances inside the ring. (Photo courtesy of Christy Spinks)

Zenger: Mayorga’s style was awkward, and he was strong. Did you feel you got the proper look in sparring to emulate his style and what he brought to the table? 

Spinks: I used the camp with Corrales to get in shape, so I wouldn’t have to do so much work to get to a point where I’m ready to perform. I had one sparring [partner] for Mayorga. It was Mango Rodriguez from St. Louis. He imitated Mayorga to a T, man. He was about on the same level, because he was a middleweight, a strong middleweight from St. Louis.

Zenger: I didn’t learn this until way after your career [was over] and your wife [Christy] posted a video of you bowling. You are naturally right-handed. Why did you fight out of the southpaw stance? 

Spinks: I didn’t have to learn the basics like other people. I was just naturally gifted like that. I knew how to weave and everything from that stance at a young age, so they just never touched it.

Zenger: You never switched during a fight to your natural stance either. 

Spinks: I never did. The only reason I knew how to fight orthodox is because of my southpaw side.

Zenger: You had the most success at 147 pounds, but when you moved up to 160, a lot of people felt you could have gotten the nod over Jermain Taylor. I say that because Gervonta [Tank] Davis appears to be moving up to 140 to face Mario Barrios. This can be a dangerous fight for Gervonta. What do you think? 

Spinks: I really like the move because it brings more excitement to boxing. But the thing is, can he handle big bodies? I think Tank is a skilled enough fighter to fight at that weight class because his skill level and his punching power can get him through. But it’s still some people at 140. I think his pal, Adrien Broner, is trying to get back down to 140. Barrios though … that’s going to be tough. I think Tank got that dawg in him though. Tank got a certain type of monster up in him that lets him overcome situations. People don’t get that. He got a certain determination that’s going to push him to win.

Leon Spinks lost his battle to cancer this past year on February 5th. His win over Muhammed Ali is still considered one of the greatest upsets in boxing history. (Johnmaxmena/English Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons)

Zenger: Are there any other fighters out there who you enjoy watching? 

Spinks: I like Teofimo [Lopez]. I like his skill level.  A lot of people think it’s just his punching power. It’s not. He has skills. I want to see all the little guys though, Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia. I like to see them fight each other. Even Errol Spence and Terence Crawford. Everybody is talking about making these fights, but at this point, they are just fantasy fights. Make them happen. Why not do it when you’re at this level and at the top of your game? Why try to prolong it? … They are already superstars.

I can’t think of the last serious fight where you didn’t know who was going to win. They need to start giving the people what they want. Even if one of them takes an L [loss], it’s not going to mean anything. He will still be right there to fight the other champions. He will still get a nod because he fought another champion.

Canelo [Alvarez] took an L, and now Canelo is moving all the way up out of his weight class. He went to 175; he’s back at 168. He was just going up and down whoopin’ these big boys, man. I don’t see how these stupid people don’t put that man No. 1 pound-for-pound.

(Edited by Stan Chrapowicki and Fern Siegel)

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Float Like A Butterfly, Stung By A Bee — Or Two — It’s Still Good To Be ‘King Mo’

“King Mo” is checking all the boxes on the combat sports circuit.

Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal was a decorated freestyle wrestler at Oklahoma State University. As a Cowboy, he would reach All-American status. In 2008, he came up short at the Olympic Trials and soon made his transition to mixed martial arts, where he would win his first seven fights, including capturing the Strikeforce light heavyweight title in just his seventh pro bout in 2010.

In 2015, Lawal went on to capture the RIZIN Heavyweight Grand Prix in Japan by winning three fights in three days. During his time fighting for Bellator MMA, “Mo” would make appearances for TNA IMPACT Wrestling. After retiring from mixed martial arts in 2019, Lawal shifted gears and became a trainer at one of the most prestigious mixed martial arts gyms in the sport, American Top Team, in Florida.

He has also pursued his indy pro wrestling career more intently since retirement, competing in Major League Wrestling. As a trainer, Lawal brings his high wrestling IQ to the table, along with a contagious personality and an ability to connect with fighters. As a result, he’s meshed perfectly with the American Top Team family.

“King Mo” updated Zenger News on his life as a trainer, beekeeper and professional wrestler during a recent conversation.

Percy Crawford interviewed Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal for Zenger News.

Zenger News: Mo, how’s everything going?

King Mo: Man … everything has been good, man. Now that I’m done fighting, things slowed down. And now, with this pandemic, things have really slowed down, so I’m just chillin’, watching film, watching the fights when I can. I ain’t doing too much. Traveling, stuck in the bubble, because whenever you travel, you gotta stay in a bubble somewhere. It’s either that or at the house, that’s it.

Percy Crawford interviewed Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal for Zenger News. (Heidi Malone/Zenger)

Zenger: Do you watch film as a trainer differently than you did as a fighter?

King Mo: It’s not much of a difference. The only thing is, I go off of tendencies I see, and then I discuss with my athlete what they think they can exploit — because I know what I would do, but at the same time, they’re not me; I’m not them. We have totally different skill sets, totally different builds. So, all we can do is talk and discuss, maybe place ourselves in certain situations.

Zenger: Do you participate in training as if you’re a fighter still, or have you completely assumed the trainer role?

King Mo: I play around and drill, but that’s about it. I’m just the trainer; you know what I’m saying? I don’t really have a reason to be in there banging with nobody unless I’m needed. For the most part, I’m just an extra set of eyes watching the athletes. Sometimes, I can be a body because I can give out a certain feel that a person can mimic, but that’s about it.

Zenger: You covered a lot of ground in a very short period of time: Olympic level freestyle wrestler, two-time MMA world champion and decorated professional wrestler. You ever sit back and think of your accomplishments and the amount of success you had in a short span in combat sports?

King Mo: Honestly, I don’t think about it too much. Life don’t stop once you’re done fighting. Whatever I did in the past is the past. So, I’m still moving forward and helping the future advance, that’s about it.

King Mo (aka Muhammed Lawal) stays in shape as a competitor for Major League Wrestling and as a trainer for American Top Team. (Courtesy of King Mo) 

Zenger: How has everything I named that you have accomplished and been involved with groomed you for what you are doing now?

King Mo: I think my experiences — I’ve seen a lot, I’ve been through a lot, I’ve heard of a lot— so I think my experiences in the past, and the mistakes I have made, and my successes allows me to help stir the future of the athletes I’m around. And getting them on the right path as far as game planning, because sometimes you get stuck in your ways, and you fail to see where you gotta make adjustments.

Zenger: What do you feel are your greatest strengths thus far in the early stages of your career as a trainer

King Mo: It’s so many people up in that gym, man. It’s easy when you got a strong team with you. Sometimes a lot of athletes will bounce around, so by the time they get to me … they come to me because they are lacking that small piece, and I can give them that small piece. Then they can link with somebody else who can add another small piece. A lot of our coaches are interchangeable here at ATT. You see a lot of cross-coaching. I work with Mike Brown’s people, other athletes and other coaches. We all work together and make things work.

Zenger: Do you prefer getting a raw product that you can somewhat mold at this stage, or do you prefer a seasoned athlete to come to you and you can just add on to their game?

King Mo: I’d rather get somebody who wants to work, have a good time and have fun. That’s it! You can get the most talented person in the world, but if they are miserable, and gun-shy, then you got nothing. Or you can have a guy that is big but not that athletic, but he’s having fun out there, he gives it his all, and then all of a sudden, by him giving it his all he becomes athletic and relaxed in what he’s doing, and he then becomes a champion. That can happen. It works both ways.

Zenger: Now that you are on the outside looking in, do you feel like you were too serious during your fighting career, not serious enough or did you find the perfect balance?

King Mo: I feel I had the perfect balance. The only thing that hurt me more than anything was the injuries. I was injured pretty much most of my career. But the thing is, I had fun. I was in so much pain. … I still have pains in my metal hip, but I know I had a lot of fun, though. I got a chance to travel, fight, train, because I love to train, learn new things, challenge myself, test myself, push myself. If you can remember them days and look back and smile, then you know you had fun. And I can look back and smile.

Zenger: Do you feel like your body is finally starting to come around since you haven’t been actively competitive?

King Mo: Oh yeah! I’ll tell you this, with my hip finally … since I got a modified replacement, [the] swelling is finally gone for good. So, I can move. I feel good. I’m a little lighter now. I’m about 190. My weight goes between 195 to 202. But the thing is, I’m eating cleaner and not drinking as many sodas. I had a soda once in the past three weeks.

Zenger: And you are now a beekeeper (laughing). How’d you get into that?

King Mo: (Laughing). During COVID, man I had a lot of free time. So, I started growing stuff, some plants in my backyard. I had some stuff built in my backyard, like a lil’ nursery thing. And then I started thinking about what would complete this whole setup. I said, I’m gonna get me some bees. Did that a few weeks ago, and now I’m about to get another wild swarm. I think I’m going to get about three or four more hives before it’s all said and done. I’m about to turn my backyard pool into a natural pond. Stock it with some fish; I’m going to do things the natural way. I feel like it’s more relaxing.

After winning combat sports crowns as a competitor, King Mo wants to become royalty in the field of training. (Courtney Henderson Photography) 

Zenger: Are the bees like pets to you or are you producing honey from them?

King Mo: Nah, I’m getting the honey. I’m definitely getting that honey. I got these two boxes. … It’s hard to explain, but they have a medium, which is a normal size. The bigger the hive, the more honey they produce. So, that’s why I made mine a little bigger. I’m trying to get that honey.

Zenger: Are you hands-on with that or someone comes in and does it for you?

King Mo: I do it hands-on, man. I shadowed two men for about two weeks, figured it out. Now I got me a bee suit. I’m to the point where I’m confident. I’ve been stung enough now to where I can take them. I can just wear a little veil over my head and go out there with no long sleeves on. It don’t hurt; it just itches. They say the bee venom is good for you. I’m going to be real with you — now that I have been stung a few times, maybe the bee venom I have has anti-inflammatory properties … I don’t know. I’m not an expert, but there’s something to it, because they say beekeepers have longer life expectancies. It could be because of the bee venom, who knows? But there are studies out there, man.

Zenger: You have been on your indy wrestling grind as well. I saw you going back and forth with a wrestler on social media the other day.

King Mo: You talking about ‘Low Ki.’ That bum. We had a match in MLW [Major League Wrestling] on Filthy Island. And the referee done messed up and thought … I was trying to get to the apron, and as I was reaching, my hand slipped, and he thought I tapped. They trying to call that a loss on me, man. I’m about to protest that with the commission. Ya’ll gotta check me out next week on MLW Fusion. I’m gonna smash me somebody. Get some revenge.

Zenger: I love seeing you in your element and happy, brother. As always, thank you for your time.

King Mo: Man, I appreciate it, Percy.

(Edited by Stan Chrapowicki and Matthew B. Hall)

The post Float Like A Butterfly, Stung By A Bee — Or Two — It’s Still Good To Be ‘King Mo’ appeared first on Zenger News.

Reaching For The Stars One Shot At A Time

NEW ORLEANS — Brian Randolph understands the importance of having a solid foundation.

Even though he was raised in New Orleans, Louisiana’s tough 7th Ward, having both parents in his life and being an exceptional basketball player greatly helped Randolph. Basketball was his way out of a dangerous community. It was also his means to return to that same community, but this time his role has been different.

He returns as a mentor, motivational speaker and leader of the non-profit foundation Reaching for the Stars, which allows him to reach kids through basketball, the sport at which he excelled.

Percy Crawford interviewed Brian Randolph for Zenger News.

Zenger News: How is everything going?

Randolph: Everything [is] good. Everything has its ups and downs. I think the biggest thing that’s helped me through the pandemic is the multiple ways of income and being able to have that.

Zenger: What part of New Orleans are you in?

Randolph: I’m in the downtown area, Gentilly.

Percy Crawford interviewed Brian Randolph for Zenger News. (Heidi Malone/Zenger)

Zenger: Crime in New Orleans is always highlighted, but what’s not always highlighted is the positive things going on in the city like your Reaching for the Stars Foundation. Tell us about the foundation, and how did you get it started?

Randolph: Basically, me playing basketball in New Orleans and coming from where I came from, just dealing with poverty, guys getting shot, by myself. My house was always a part of a crime scene growing up in the 7th Ward. It was just one of those things, man. And basketball was the thing to get me out.

Coming up through junior high and being a pretty decent basketball player, then going into high school being a really good basketball player. And my final year of high school, I ended up winning a state championship. [Hurricane] Katrina hit my last year of high school. So, I went to three schools in one year during Katrina. I went to Kennedy; I went to Westfield out in Houston and then I finished at John Ehret. You ever seen that movie “Hurricane Season?”

Zenger: Several times. Yes.

Randolph: That’s about me, man.

Zenger: Yes. Robbie Jones played you in the movie.

Randolph: I don’t really publicize it, because I focus on the core, and the core is these kids getting what they need. I’m learning every day. I graduated from SUNO [Southern University at New Orleans], business entrepreneurship.

What messed me up with the league, the NBA … I had my shot. I went to workouts and all that, but I tried to skip steps, man. Mentally, it can ruin you. You can’t skip steps in life. That was the main thing it taught me. I can play my ass off, but mentally you have to be locked in. You can’t be taking it for granted. You can’t be lollygagging during workouts and coasting like, “I’m here, so I’m good.” Nah! It doesn’t work like that. They get rid of you real quick. So, you gotta be careful of what you ask from God. You ask God, you better be prepared for it physically and mentally.

I went through that lil’ part with the NBA tryouts; they shot the movie [“Hurricane Season”] in 2008. I went on and got my degree, and two years later in 2015, I started Reaching for the Stars, and I’ve been going ever since.

Brian Randolph’s journey to inspire youth began in 2006, when he helped John Ehret High School win the Louisiana state basketball championship. (Photo courtesy of Brian Randolph)

Zenger: It sounds like you had every opportunity to get out of New Orleans and never look back. What made you return? And how important was it for your impact to be made in the community you grew up in?

Randolph: Ah man, I get that question asked all the time. They ask me about acting, because I had a chance to play in the movie and get that exposure. Me and Forest [Whitaker] is real good friends. A lot of the actors that were on board, Robbie Jones, Isaiah Washington … we are all still good friends.

But what brought me back was you can’t leave the core of the issues of some of the things that we’re facing in the world as a young black man. I felt like it would be a disservice to my city, a disservice to my community, of me having the knowledge, having the experiences and going through the tough times and not having money to do certain things. I have the status, but I don’t have the money. I don’t have the resources. So, to be able to use the resources that I had and be able to capitalize on it, that’s why I’m at the stage where I’m at right now with my business. So, my business is actually catching up with my personal [life]. That’s the great thing about the section we’re in right now.

It’s so overwhelming because everybody knows me from basketball. But that’s not really what it’s about. Reaching for the Stars is about mentorship, life skills, being a man, making good decisions, not skipping steps, being accountable for your actions. But also, being in the right place at the right time around the non-negative people — the people that’s not doing anything. They saying things, but they not doing anything.

That’s what we get caught up with; our young people just go through so much. The one thing that I’m dealing with right now is the single household and learning how to deal with kids that grew up in a single-parent household because I didn’t. That’s a real huge challenge for me personally because the emotional and the affection side is huge. I have no clue about that because I had my dad; I had my mom. It’s interesting, but it’s fun. I love it, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I wouldn’t even trade it for an NBA contract.

Zenger: That is a huge issue — a lot of grandparents and aunts and uncles are raising these kids. There is something about a positive male figure’s guidance that you cannot replace.

Randolph: Right! Man … woo, that’s a quote. Listen, I went to L.A. to see a friend. We had dinner, right? And we were talking, and she asked me, “So, what are you up to?” I couldn’t answer the question. It messed me up so bad. I was beat down inside. I’m like, “What am I doing?” I literally had nothing to tell her. I was just talking in circles. So I just left L.A. in October, but I had a bunch of things to tell her this time from five years of doing the work since I left her. It’s amazing that a simple question like, “What are you up to,” and I literally had nothing to tell her, man. It was embarrassing.

Zenger: That simple question essentially changed your life, or at the very least put you on a path.

Randolph: Basically! I went there in August of 2015, and in September I started my business, Reaching for the Stars. It’s embarrassing on your parents. My parents raised me to do better; so we have to be accountable to do better and represent your family and your people like you’re supposed to. I have done Jordan commercials, Nike commercials … I still was just lingering on. I’m telling you, man, it’s been a blessing to do the things that I’m doing right now and steady growing. I’m really just getting started.

Zenger: Do you feel like you had to let go of your hoop dreams to be able to provide these kids with the type of guidance you are giving them now?

Randolph: Absolutely! See, we come up and we look at basketball like, “Everybody is going to make it to the NBA.” But it’s confusing because who is paying the guys in the NBA? When you go to understanding that part of life, your whole narrative changes. I wish I would’ve just done fitness. I love basketball, but to be honest, I could go play pickup with LeBron [James] and I’d be good. It’s so much other things that needs to be done besides basketball.

Not saying you don’t want to do it, yeah, it’s great, but I am so much bigger than that. I have so many gifts that God blessed me with than that, and LeBron James is showing you that. He might not be doing it physically, but he had the impact on his friends to do the work for him while he’s taking care of things on the court. When he’s finished with basketball, that dude is going to be … basketball is not going to be nothing compared to what he’s going to do after his career.

Zenger: Reaching for the Stars is so much more than basketball. But it is a great tool to use what you were so talented at to reach kids in other ways.

Randolph: Yes, and that’s important from the point of view of, a lot of kids don’t get a chance to get exposed to things in life. We went to L.A. after we won the state championship in 2006. It’s amazing. We won an ESPY Award. They flew us out to L.A., and we won the award. When we got there, they were like, “We are going to bring you guys to Disneyland.” We were all pumped up. And they were like, “Yeah, they gave ESPN some tickets.” But we were sitting there thinking, “How do they get the tickets? Disney owns ESPN.”

To myself at 18 years old, I’m like, “What?” That was very intriguing to me because ESPN is huge, but Disney is funding this. So, it’s like, what is Disney doing? Since then, I have been on it. I wasn’t on it all the way, but I was on it as far as information-wise. That’s what kind of got me going with that. Understanding if you get these kids exposure, like traveling for AAU.

I’m getting ready to start an AAU team this year. It took me five years to do it. Reason being is because I wanted to build a name up for the company and also get the kids out, motivational speaking, let them know about Reaching for the Stars, and not rushing. And trying to take my time and go through the steps I need to go through. It took me five years to start this AAU program, and it’s going to go well.

Zenger: What age groups do you have?

Randolph: We got nine and 10 all the way up to 13 and 14 right now.

Under Brian Randolph’s leadership, Reaching for the Stars has hosted 18 sports and life skills camps and continues to provide sports skills and life skills development for New Orleans-area youth. (Photo courtesy of Brian Randolph)

Zenger: When a kid enters the Reaching for the Stars program, what progression do you look for in them within a certain time frame?

Randolph: Consistency! Just come. Be a sponge and learn. See, this is going to be the trigger part for Reaching for the Stars. I have a kid, right? I still do a little acting every now and then. But I kind of cut it out for right now because I have too much going on professionally. That’s really important. The acting is just something you chase. I can’t be chasing something when I gotta take care of this. So, I put this kid that I discovered at my daughter’s school, and I put him on. Just so happens the other night, he was on Disney. He’s a part of our program. He’s actually a spokesman for our program. We are babying it, but I’ve been dealing with that for two years. He’s a really good kid. He works hard, super talented at what he does. I love him. That’s my guy.

It’s not just basketball. If you’re into this, let’s try to get you in this field; let’s get you connected with someone. If someone wanted to be a journalist, okay cool, we need to connect them with someone like you. Show them the platform to get these kids where they need to be. Not only that, you’re also helping the community, and you’re spreading the word. Now, you’re building foundations, and the kids are staying out of trouble. If I coach basketball and I be like, “Ah man, I don’t know who do that.” Nah man, how about the coaches take a second, do some research and find out who do it and direct them to where they need to be at. I hope we can turn that corner in New Orleans. I think we are on our way.

Zenger: I know how we feel about our teams here in Louisiana. You were honored by both the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans. What did those honors mean to you?

Randolph: Ah man, for [Saints owner] Gayle Benson to give me two awards in back-to-back months, I’m kind of at a loss for words. The crazy thing about that, I was the first one to win both of them. I was the first guy ever to win the Pelicans “Game Changer” Award! I’m seriously at a loss for words with that.

Zenger: Congratulations on your success and continue to do your part with the youth out in New Orleans. Where can we find more information on Reaching for the Stars?

Randolph: On Twitter and Instagram @thestarsteam23, Reaching for the Stars on Facebook and our website is We here, man. What kid don’t wanna reach for the stars?

(Edited by Stan Chrapowicki and Carlin Becker)

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