Association vs. Affiliation

          In the fall of 1997, I entered Southern University in Baton Rouge, La.

          Although I was away from home for the first time in my life, I still felt at home because many of my relatives attended Southern at that time as well.

          Friends of my cousins became my friends during my first year in college, and since freshman were not allowed to have cars I always jumped at the opportunity to hang out with my cousins and their childhood friends from the Glen Oaks neighborhood of Louisiana’s capital.

          I can vividly remember hanging out with a friend by the name of Brandon Johnson as the second semester began. 

Almost a week later, I would see Johnson hauled away in handcuffs after he was accused of murdering a Baton Rouge man at a Martin Luther King Day parade in 1998.

          Johnson was eventually convicted of second degree murder, and I went on to receive my Bachelor of Arts from Southern and later a Master of Arts degree from Texas Southern University. 

However, if I was judged solely on my association with Johnson then I might not be enjoying the successful life that I am blessed with now.

          If people are written off because they have associated with people with a checkered past then most successful people would not be enjoying that same success because their reputation would be tarnished because of the mistakes of others.

          Unfortunately for newly signed Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson, his “association” with Los Angeles gang members led to his release from the Philadelphia Eagles on March 28.

          According to, Jackson is a friend with two members of the Crips street gang, Theron Shakir and Marques Binns, who were allegedly involved in the murder of a 14-year-old rival gang member, Taburi Watson.

          Although Jackson was never a suspect or witness, he “associated with Theron Shakir, one of the two men charged with the murder.  Along with co-defendant Marques Binns, Shakir is a purported member of the Crips.  In addition, Shakir, known as ‘T-Ron,’ is a rapper who recorded for Jaccpot Records, a label owned by Jackson.  The two were close enough that they appear together frequently in photographs—including pictures posted by Jackson to Instagram while Shakir sat in jail awaiting trial for the teen’s execution.”

          Shakir was later acquitted of the teen’s murder, while Binns was convicted.

          Regardless, should simply knowing someone accused of a crime mean that one should lose his or her job and reputation?

          Many people from minority communities grew up around some bad apples.

          If you grew up in the hood or near the hood, you always knew gang members, drug dealers and maybe even killers.

          Once you began to mature and you had more at stake, you often distanced yourself from those individuals because of the threat they posed to your future.

          However for many people who make it out of the ghetto, their own personal success is not enough nor should it be.

          Many successful athletes and entertainers who make it out of some of the poorest neighborhoods want to be a blessing to others that come from similar backgrounds.

          This is why athletes like LeBron James provided career opportunities for friends like Maverick Carter.

          That mentality is why entertainment moguls like James Prince provided jobs for the people of Houston’s Fifth Ward, because if he did not give them a chance with his company Rap-a-Lot Records, then corporate America definitely would not have given them a chance either.

          Furthermore, many Black barbershops in America employ ex-convicts as licensed barbers because entrepreneurs who made a successful middle-class life for themselves want to bless other men and women with the same opportunity to do something productive with their lives.

          In the church there is an old cliché that states, “God sends blessings to those He can send blessings through.”  In addition, the church is the one place that has every ex that one can think of from ex-drug addicts, ex-alcoholics to ex-prostitutes and ex-gang members.

          If one is to sit on their ivory tower and judge those who are less fortunate than they are, then the chance to help turn their life around would cease to exist.

          If Jackson signed Shakir to Jaccpot Records, maybe he was trying to change the young man’s life so he would not spend the rest of his days in poverty.

          Maybe the Pro Bowl wide receiver kept a close relationship with his friends from the hood because he wanted to be a constant reminder to them that they can make it in life if he made it.

          Jackson has stated that he is and has never been a member of a gang.

          But even if he is or ever was, does that necessarily mean that his life and career are not worth saving?

          While at Southern University, I became lifelong friends with some students who were once members of gangs in their hometowns.

          My friends had relocated to Baton Rouge, La. to start their life anew and all became successful and educated Black men who are making positive contributions to society.

          Furthermore, one of my advisors is a former gang member himself.

          Sabin Rich, 67, of Sicklerville, N.J. grew up rough in west Philadelphia.

          As a teenager he began running with a gang.  Like Jackson, he spent significant parts of his childhood without his father.  Rich was even stabbed in the back by a rival gang member.

          However, Rich one day gave his life over to Jesus Christ and the fact that he came from that particular street element allows him to this to day to be able to reach young men who might be headed down the wrong path in life.

          Although Jackson should be careful whom he hangs out with, his celebrity, his upbringing around gang members and in the streets might be the genesis of his life’s calling.

          God might have allowed him to associate with gang members so he can one day reach other gang members and change their lives for the better.

          Although I do not usually volunteer that I used to hang out with someone who eventually was convicted of murder, my association with Johnson allows me to paint a vivid picture for children of what can happen to their life by making poor choices.

          I do not think my association with Johnson made me a bad apple.  It has allowed me to save other apples before they spoil.

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