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Taking Dr. King's message to the street

Jimmy Battle
Jimmy Battle is the proud father of two young girls. He works as a security guard in Arlington, Va., in addition to writing a memoir and studying for his bachelor's degree in psychology at Strayer University. He can be reached at Jbattle82@gmail.com.

I am the second oldest of 16 children so I learned early how to lead: I spent a lot of my childhood giving my younger siblings baths, cooking them meals and helping them get their homework done.

Because my parents were crack-cocaine addicts, I grew up as a ward of the state in Washington D.C., living in six foster homes and six group homes through child and family services. I ended up making some bad choices. I spent time selling drugs. I sustained a gunshot wound and ultimately spent six weeks time in prison in Washington D.C.

With the help of God and the D.C.-based non-profit Peaceholics, I was able to turn my life around. For me, though, learning my own lessons has not been enough. My goal is to lead other young men off the streets and out of trouble. It's not an easy battle, but it's one that I know about first hand.

When I was released from prison in 2001, I moved into an independent-living "halfway-house" program. It was there I met Jauhar Abraham, the Peaceaholics co-founder who was working as a counselor there. Jauhar, who was first incarcerated at age nine before he changed his own life, has a background in music, and because I love making music, we were able to build a friendship that has lasted 10 years.

Jauhar helped me get enrolled in the Village Learning High School, where I earned my diploma (I had dropped out of high school in 2000.) He also moved me with in with his own family so I had a safe place to live. Jauhar introduced me to the music business, and soon I was writing songs for go-go bands and a D.C. rap group called The Young Bucs. My experience being in jail had made me realize that I wanted more out of life.

Jauhar also introduced me to the late Rev. James Bevel, a civil rights activist who was there when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Rev. Bevel told us real-life stories about being friends with Dr. King, like one day when a group of them were going out to get burgers and shakes. A group of white men threatened to smash their car, and Bevel and others were ready to fight. But Dr. King held them back and said they shouldn't stoop to that level of violence.

That story affected me because it reminded me we have more choices than we realize. They could have got in a fight that day, but Dr. King stood for something more. He was teaching people to be disciplined in the face of adversity.

That is the kind of lesson I try to share with young men and women who are growing up in situations as bad -- or worse -- than my own. I volunteer as a mentor through Peaceaholics, and I want these kids to know they also have choices.

My targets are the young men ages 16 to 24 who are either incarcerated or struggling in the community. My job is to be there for them, and I let my actions do the leading. Like a lot of these young men, I am a father -- one who has struggled to keep custody of my two daughters. For the young guys who are dads, I take them with me to my Financial Reviews and Custodial Cases with my ex-wife so they can have a visual on what it means to be responsible and have a relationship with their children.

I hang out with these guys where they stay -- on the street, in their apartments -- and I just soak up the atmosphere there. I try to never come at them in a preachy way. When I do give advice, I try to give it with respect and genuine love. It is never easy to get people to change their ways so I just try to stay consistent and persistent in how I reach out.

My biggest victory is that all the guys I have mentored have walked away from the streets and are now living straight. A couple have even reached higher, finishing high school, finding a job and paying their child support.

But it's not all successful. I have a young friend, Rodney White, who I met eight years ago. I worked with him and helped him release locally release a CD in 2002. When I got back in touch with his family recently, though, I found out he serving time in prison on serious charges. I plan to write him twice a month and put money on his books once a month. He does not know about this yet, and I have not spoke to him in six years but I know he needs all the support he can get from the outside so he can rehabilitate himself on the inside.

It is easy to write a check and even though it helps a great deal, giving your time and physically investing yourself gives young people a feeling that they belong and are cared for. Whether than means showing up at a sports event, coming to their school, bailing them out of jail, or taking them on outings to discover the city, being there is important. To me, that's what leadership is about: humility, heart and honesty.

By Jimmy Battle

 |  January 14, 2010; 1:19 PM ET |  Category:  Personal Leadership Journey Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Wonderful story, continue to do the work that God has called you to do in and for your community. Don't be discouraged by negative naysayers who don't reach out to help. Kudos to the Washington Post and On Leadership for allowing Jimmy's voice to be heard.Jimmy take care of yourself and your family. Seek wisdom and balance with both this work is fulfilling and will feed your soul. Blessings to you.

Posted by: abbaskids | January 18, 2010 8:55 PM

Way to go - it is great to see a man stepping up to take personal responsibility and changing his life around.

Always know that you are not alone. I myself have had troubles and with upon taking a serious look at myself went back to school, am getting straight A's, mentoring others, & transferring to four year university. My goal is to teach & to do something along the lines of what you're doing - getting with the youth & being there for there to help guide them towards better choices. Stories like yours inspire me & let me know I'm not alone, either.

I loved the story & God Bless you.

Posted by: goldenpumpkin | January 14, 2010 10:38 PM


I didn't know Dr King and I didn't know Rev. Bevel but I do know Jesus Christ and He wants us to take personal responsibility for ourselves. That's what the whole sin, confession & forgiveness deal is about. From all I gather about Dr. King he did advocate personal responsibility. This comes from Christianity no matter how well Dr. King behaved personally. We all mess up so don't let someone else manage you by guilt - get right with God and you're good enough.

Now, as a big fat conservative white guy :) Christian who used to run half-way houses a long time ago I want to applaud you with everything I have because you are willing to stand up and take responsibility for yourself.

WAY TO GO!!!!!

For those who are making the remarks about Dr. King & Rev. Bevel I do not know the truthfullness of your charges nor do I have any reason to doubt you but my question to you is - who cares? Those two men answer to God for their lives, not you. And while Jesus NEVER let anyone get away with their bad behavior He also would say, "Neither do I condemn you.".

So, why don't you folks learn what mercy means and then come back and get after Jimmy? Get your own houses in order is the phrase that comes to mind.

Racism and bigotry are bad but they can often be overcome. Unadulterated stupidity or self-righteous arrogance which lead to criticism of others such as I have seen in a couple posts here are a little harder. :)

Jimmy, you go love God, your wife and those two precious little ones.

Posted by: Publius9 | January 14, 2010 5:36 PM

WOW!!! I'm not surprised to see so many negative comments about a positive person. I know Jimmy personally I've worked with him for a few years, and he is genuinely a GREAT GUY. I'm so proud of you Jimmy, you've come a long way. I pray everything works out for you re: your beautiful daughters, you are truly a blessing. Thank you for sharing your story with the DC area. I only pray that some people will learn to get over themselves and their hatred for those not within their own race. We miss you here, the attorney's, partners, the COO, we all truly miss you; and wish you all the best!! Good Luck!

Posted by: cdavis3 | January 14, 2010 4:38 PM

I found out he serving time in prison on serious charges. I plan to write him twice a month and put money on his books once a month. He does not know about this yet, and I have not spoke to him in six years but I know he needs all the support he can get from the outside so he can rehabilitate himself on the inside.===============
Maybe he should think about giving his money to the victum of this guy's crime instead of giving money to someone he hasn't spoken to in 6 years to make his jail time easier.
And, why was Mr Battle in court about his kids. Is he paying his child support?
One last thing, does Mr Battle actually work and have a real job? Or does he just "hang out" everyday with trouble making youths?
Posted by: MUPPET | January 14, 2010 11:56 AM

First and foremost, you obviously did not read this article. Therefore you are an idiot for commenting on an issue that you have no knowledge of! Mr. Battle was in court attempting to gain full-custody of his daughters. And it clearly states IN THE CAPTION BESIDE HIS PICTURE that he is not only employed as a security guard, but he is also writing a memoir and attending classes at Strayer University! This said, Mr. Battle dedicates his free/personal-time to helping troubled youths. YOU on the other hand, spend your free time "blogging" about random WP articles that you do not even bother to read. Isn't it ironic?...Don't ya think

Posted by: smckaho420 | January 14, 2010 1:40 PM

muppet wrote:
"...and does Mr. Battle actually work and have a real job"? Well, if you took to the time to read the short bio posted right next to Mr. Battle's picture you would see he is employed as a security guard in Arlington. Why is it that some people feel it necessary to comment so negatively on a story that serves to illustrate that some people really do give a damn about other people are are determined to make better choices in life? Like my mother always said, "if you don't have anything positive to say, then shut your pie hole"!!

Posted by: getaclue3 | January 14, 2010 1:38 PM

Muppet, did you read the article or the preface? A rhetorical question to be sure.

Mr. Battle, your words are terrific. God speed you to success in your future endeavors and give you courage in the face of adversity -- and there is a bunch of it out there considering Muppet's comments.

Good people recognize when their life isn't right and correct it. Good leaders, in the process of correcting their life, pull others out of the darkness with them. Thanks, WaPo, for giving Mr. Battle the electronic podium.

Posted by: WilliamCharles1 | January 14, 2010 1:32 PM

..."Injustice in America anywhere is Injustice in America everywhere."
--Martin L. King

..."A time comes...when silence is betrayal." --Martin L. King

An American that is Martin L. King he stood for social justice for all, equality for all, and malice toward none.

I am proud of what he did, what he stood for and what he fought for, and I am glad he made a difference that after all is what life is all about."

Sincerely, Tommy Birchfield, Voter/Vet USAF, Graduate Student,
Masters Program, Professional Studies, EAST TENNESSEE STATE UNIVERSITY/CLASS2010.

Posted by: ztcb41 | January 14, 2010 1:03 PM

This was an inspiring story.

It is amazing that some people live lives where they have no idea what it is to face challenges and struggle. Like the people who made the negative comments. I imagine that they were never afflicted with a disease that they could not afford to treat. Or that they had parents and siblings that made bad choices that ended up making their own lives miserable.

I work with people who have had the luxury of having their parents help with college. Of growing up in towns where everyone was a role model. Where if you tried to succeed, you were rewarded with counselors who got you scholarships.

Maybe if some of these negative people grew up in poverty, or their parents died when they were born, or had some other terrible thing that came upon their life . . . well, then maybe they could have empathy?

What is that saying? Something about don't criticize a man if you haven't walked a mile in in shoes?

Let's keep our focus on the author of this story who through his own strength overcame his challenges. And then tried to give back. Like a good Christian.

Posted by: kflet3 | January 14, 2010 12:36 PM

I found out he serving time in prison on serious charges. I plan to write him twice a month and put money on his books once a month. He does not know about this yet, and I have not spoke to him in six years but I know he needs all the support he can get from the outside so he can rehabilitate himself on the inside.===============

Maybe he should think about giving his money to the victum of this guy's crime instead of giving money to someone he hasn't spoken to in 6 years to make his jail time easier.

And, why was Mr Battle in court about his kids. Is he paying his child support?

One last thing, does Mr Battle actually work and have a real job? Or does he just "hang out" everyday with trouble making youths?

Posted by: MUPPET | January 14, 2010 11:56 AM

What a great essay; thanks for sharing this with your readers. May God bless you and your commitment to the children who are being influenced by your faith and example!

Posted by: hsl2000 | January 14, 2010 11:50 AM

To the comment that Dr. King is not a good example of morality, b/c he was a communist sympathizer. If we want to blather on about good moral role models then we should definitely never mention these words together and have any 20th century US President in the same sentence. The list is blinding of their immoral deeds, i.e. constant and rampant imperialism (control via violence and economics and politics) of the Western Hemisphere never can be done morally. Now that Dr. King worked with communist organizers was undoubtedly true as the CPUSA and other communist/socialist parties were some of the staunchest defenders of civil rights in the USA.

Don't drink the kool aid that communist = bad/immoral. Much more nuanced than that.

As for the adultery charges, those can stay, but one can also look at Gandhi with regards to dubious moral practices and you will come up with a similar conclusion these men were humans of the flesh. Doesn't make them bad heroes, though. No present day nationally recognized leader can hold a candle to either men.

Posted by: rocinante37 | January 14, 2010 11:50 AM

Jail or prison??? There is a big difference in between the two. Anyway, I am happy for you that it turned out to be only six weeks instead of six years. Continue in your good works because like my parents always mentioned to us growing-up: Everything you get you pay for it and everything you take you will pay for it, too...

Be Blessed

Posted by: lastyear53 | January 14, 2010 11:36 AM

Mr. Jimmy Battle, thank you for an inspiring story. Don't EVER stop. The few negative postings were written by people who have NO IDEA of what it is to GIVE.

You're a great example of what GOD's gospel is....Keep being a Blessing.

Posted by: lindarc | January 14, 2010 11:35 AM

I was touched to read this story.

Rev. Bevel certainly had a part of him that was dark, or twisted, but he seems to have also had a positive side. Is it possible for us to separate what was evil and what was good about Rev. Bevel? He clearly had at least some positive impact even though he also committed irredeemable, evil acts. It's very hard to understand.

Posted by: kimk1 | January 14, 2010 11:26 AM

Thanks for the comments bad and good. I just want to continue to improve the quality of my life and help others out.To read more of my story find me of Facebook.com type in j18entertainment@yahoo.com that is how you find more. God Bless

Posted by: early82 | January 14, 2010 11:07 AM

This article gave me that warm feeling inside:) Pleeease keep doing what you are doing. We need men like you to make a change is this world. You have made my day!!! Oh yeah, and my president is black!! Woowoowoo! I'm feeling greeeat right now:)

Posted by: THEBADDESTBLKCHICK | January 14, 2010 11:04 AM

My God, do you have comment in a negative tone and give the man a chance for coming out of a challenging childhood? We all have come in contact with leaders who have flaws, but if we can obtain one thing to change our life; there is nothing wrong with that. Each one of us will answer for our own iniquities on judgement day. Just pray that your shortcomings are forgiving. None of us are perfect for if we are then why have a God.

Posted by: robinsll | January 14, 2010 10:50 AM

Jimmy keep doing what you were born to do. It is so many young black men who allow where they came from dictate where they can go.So I COMMEND you my brother!

Posted by: early82 | January 14, 2010 10:48 AM

I think the point here is that a man turned his life around and is trying his best to contribute in a positive way to the rest of society. Jeez.

Posted by: cathyb@mris.com | January 14, 2010 10:47 AM

Obama is that you? He sold cocaine too. Read his biography. LOL

Posted by: Italiaxxx | January 14, 2010 10:12 AM

Well we know for sure that Rev. Bevel was convicted of having incestuous relationship(s) with his daughter(s), including rape, and not too long ago died serving his sentence.

Posted by: gordonj1 | January 14, 2010 10:09 AM

After reading the article I was quite surprised that he mentioned Dr. King and the Rev. Bevel. I would suggest that he lessen his mention of Rev. Bevel because he was accused and convicted after 30 some years of raping and having an incestuous relationship(s) with his daughter(s). He died serving his sentence. As the earlier commenter mentioned that Dr. King had his own issues ... our leaders, hmmm.

Posted by: gordonj1 | January 14, 2010 10:07 AM

Bless you, Mr. Battle, and all that you do.

Posted by: gitouttahere | January 14, 2010 10:03 AM

I've heard mixed reviews of Peacaholics. It's hard to tell what is true and what is not. Having never met the founder I have no sense for the organization.

Posted by: FormerMCPSStudent | January 14, 2010 9:57 AM

Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross by the sentiments of the likes of mr. TJHALL, hopefully he will come to understand what it means to obtain redemption through Gods grace and mercy and will seek a relationship with Jesus and endeavor to build up Gods kingdom instead of tearing it down.

Posted by: MAZZOONI2003 | January 14, 2010 9:44 AM

This makes me wonder what some "parents" are thinking. Having children and smoking crack...real Einsteins.

Posted by: TooManyPeople | January 14, 2010 9:09 AM

What proof /source do you have that MLK was a serial adulterer and communist sympathizer?

Posted by: tjhall1 | January 14, 2010 8:09 AM

Posted by: commonsense55 | January 14, 2010 8:57 AM

Unfortunately, Dr. King is not a good example for morality. He was a documented serial adulterer and communist sympathizer.

Posted by: tjhall1 | January 14, 2010 8:09 AM

I'm glad to see men stepping up and helping the next generation. People aren't born knowing what is right, moral and ethical. They have to be shown. It has been too easy for people to write a check and think that will solve the problems. The personal touch is ultimately what will win.

Posted by: SoinFool21 | January 14, 2010 8:07 AM

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