“I jumped a little bit, because I didn’t think we could do that in 45 minutes,” she told the audience members who gathered Thursday at the Pendry Room at Canyons Village. “But I think the core of the reason why we’re getting together today is about healing ourselves and healing community.”
With that, the lab began, and G, founder of the Black Opry, an organization that supports Black artists who make country and Americana music, helped give the audience a peek inside the minds and experiences of Antong G. Lucky and Harold Owens.
Lucky is author of “A Redemptive Path Forward” and president and chief executive officer of Urban Specialists, a Dallas-based organization that strives to eradicate violence and poverty in the community. Owens is the former senior director of MusiCares, the charity arm of the Recording Academy (also known as the Grammys) and a nonprofit that provides a safety net of critical health and welfare services to the music community through mental health and addiction recovery services, health services and human services.
The first question out of the batch was simple, “When was the moment you realized you were in position to take on a role as a leader?”
For Lucky, a former straight-A student who formed one of the first Bloods gangs in Dallas, the notion came while he was in prison.
“A guy walked up to me and said, ‘Look brother, you are a leader (and) if you (led) these brothers do do wrong, within you is the same capacity to lead these brothers to do right,’” Lucky said. “From that moment, the question of leadership became apparent to me.”
Owens had also hit rock bottom, when he experienced a “moment of grace and transformation.”
“Thirty-five years ago, I was a hopeless drug addict, living in my car,” he said. “Fortunately, I had a moment that said I was either going to die by my own hand, or I’m going to reach out for help.”
From then, the two men vowed to help people and communities make changes for the better.
“When I started doing the work, it just got clear to me that God was edging me into a career that I had no interest in, but it just stuck,” he said. “After (working) in the churches, I have a passion for helping people.”
For Lucky, the promise to make changes also required a change of how he looked at the police.
“Growing up in gangs put me in direct opposition to law enforcement,” he said. “But in order to change the system, we need to have the ability to have conversations with certain people who are different, who have different opinions, who have different ideas that you might not agree with. And (there is no) greater way to have a dialogue for people to understand and learn.”
While turning over new leaves are important to make change, Lucky and Owens believe it’s just as important to stay connected to the people they were before to maintain empathy for those they now work with.
“Every time I’m working with an addict or alcoholic, (my past) keeps me in touch with the hopelessness I felt, the utter despair and the absolute shame of that state of being,” Owens said.
Lucky can’t “disassociate” himself from where he came from.
“I chase helping people by using my life,” he said. “I’m not perfect. I make mistakes, but it’s about me being honest and open with people, and meeting them where they are.”
Another way to help communities and people heal is to instill principles that bring people together, according to Lucky.
“To win the battle, we need people who can advocate for these certain principles,” he said. “For example, lawlessness, no matter if it’s a police officer with a gun and badge, or a gang member with a gun and rag, cannot be tolerated.”
It also takes working with unlikely partners who share those principles, Lucky said.
“I had a disdain for law enforcement and the police, but fast forward, and I’m now working with the police chief in Dallas. We work together, and we find we have a lot in common. And through that partnership, we have seen a drop in the number of violent crime last year in Dallas.”
For Owens, forgiveness was the key.
“Years ago, my house got raided by the FBI,” he said. “I had, without my knowledge, a bank robber living with me, and one morning in the early 1970s, the FBI surrounded my house and almost killed my dog.”
Years later through his recovery, Owens was asked to serve on a board of directors for a nonprofit that helped women.
“The board introduced themselves, and one of the board members was retired FBI,” he said. “I knew at that moment he was one of the guys who raided my house.”
After the meeting, Owens reminded the former agent about the raid.
“He said, ‘Yeah. I almost shot a dog there,’ and I said, ‘Yeah. That was my great Dane,’” Owens said. “Then we gave each other a big hug.”
The story of Owens and the agent didn’t end there.
“What also came down to me and him was we were both in recovery, because he was an alcoholic who got sober,” Owens said.
These scenarios also mesh with Lucky’s philosophy that anyone and anything is “afforded the right to be redeemed.”
“A lot of times we get stuck in our positions, and we condemn someone who don’t agree with us or someone who don’t look like us,” he said. “We have to learn to be able to accept differences to create conversations that foster understanding.”
Owens calls the separation of those who don’t agree with one another “tribalism.”
“That can also be seen in genres of music,” he said. “When I was growing up, radio was multigenre, (and on one station) you could hear country, you could hear R&B and rock by great songwriters. And I learned to appreciate them all.”
People start learning more about their neighbors once they stop tribalizing, Lucky said.
“I think what you find that a lot of people have some of the same beliefs and the same principles,” he said. “(The problem is) we just don’t talk.”
Accountability is also an important factor in healing, according to Lucky.
“Holding people accountable is about truth,” he said. “It’s about showing up, being honest and having integrity. When you approach it like that, you can set the boundaries of what the relationship is.”
Boundaries are essential to keeping oneself well, while working to help others, Lucky said.
“I remember when I was in the bail bond business for a couple of years, and because I spent so long in prison, I would give everyone who got out of prison $200 or $300,” he said. “After a while I realized I couldn’t keep giving people $200. Boundaries are important, because helping people is our mission and it’s important to have people in place who can take some of that off our plate.”
Owens’ idea of setting boundaries allows the people he works with a chance to grow.
“The way my boundaries work is I will help you to a certain point, at which time you need to start helping yourself,” he said.
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