Photos by Maureen Tricase/Capture Your Moments Photography
Tell me about yourself. How did you end up on the streets?
I am the son of Haitian immigrants. My parents moved from Haiti and settled in Chicago. They were both very hardworking people and wanted only the best for me and my two sisters. While they worked, I had too much free time on my hands and wound up becoming a part of a gang. With that decision came drug activity, violence and prison time. There were a series of events that occurred that made me rethink my life. I was shot twice and declared dead. After that incident and many others, I decided to make a life change. I moved to Atlanta to try to start my life over. After a few months there, I found myself back into the drug scene. I was turned in by someone I thought was a friend and ended up in jail. I made a decision to change my life when I left prison. The problem was I didn’t have a financial plan or resources when I was released, so I found myself homeless.
What made you decide you needed to make a change?
While I was in jail, I spent a lot of time looking at pictures of my daughters and thinking about my family and life. My roommate at the time noticed the pictures of my daughters and how I cherished them. He posed a question to me that moved me to tears. He asked, “If you die today, what legacy will you leave your daughters?” I had no answer. It was then that I made the initial decision to never return to a life of crime.
How did you turn your life around?
The best thing that ever happened to me, besides my daughters, was Islam. Allah deserves all the praise and credit for my life changes. Had it not been for Islam, I don’t know where I’d be right now.
What attracted you to the Muslim faith?
While I was in prison, I noticed that these men were like a little community, or Ummah as we call it. They had discipline, camaraderie, and an honorable way of managing their sentences that I had never paid attention to before. I enjoyed the brotherhood and the way they stayed out of the issues and the trouble that prison life comes with.
How did you end up in Syracuse?
After I finally got my life together and got my own apartment and job I could think about my future. In the Muslim faith, it is important to have a wife. The brothers at the Masjid were really pressing me to get married. I was on Facebook, met a young lady and we agreed to marry. The issue was she could not move to Atlanta because of her military obligation. After a few weeks apart, I decided to relocate and subsequently enjoyed it so much I’ve decided to stay awhile.
We have a number of food pantries and shelters in the Syracuse area. What prompted you to start handing out sandwiches and clothing on the streets instead of working with one of those existing organizations?
Because I spent almost 10 years homeless, I have a different perspective of what the homeless population needs. The organizations had their way of approaching the issue and I had an approach that I knew would work based on my life experience. It was important to me that I actually interacted physically with my homeless family. I wanted them to feel a sense of normalcy and that they aren’t invisible or too dirty to hug and touch. Removing barriers and going to their “house” so to speak, offers a more personal touch to sharing resources.
How has your outreach grown since you started in 2015?
I went from purchasing 15 burgers and passing them out to making 50 lunch sacks at the dining room table and passing those out to where we are today. Making more than 600 sandwiches, passing out hygiene items and clothing. The organization started with a few volunteers and has grown to hosting more than 150 volunteers serving more than 1000 people a week. I would say we have grown phenomenally!
What are your goals for the future?
The future for We Rise Above the Streets will focus on sustainability. As we assist with the basic needs of the homeless population, we want to be able to transition to providing resources to help improve the quality of their lives. We want to establish a facility that will offer, showers, clothing, food, life skill classes and counseling. For these elements to be effective, we really need a building easily accessed from any area of the city and surrounding areas.
How do we address homelessness in Syracuse? In the nation?
The best way to eliminate homelessness is to change the minds of the public. Homelessness has a stigma attached to it that the people who find themselves down on their luck are lazy or failures. If we change the way people see the homeless, we will be in better mental space to advocate for and truly find solutions for the problem.
How can people help We Rise Above the Streets?
The most urgent needs of the organization are funds to keep the operation alive.
For monetary donations: PayPal: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mailing address: We Rise Above The Street , 404 Oak Street, No. 111, Syracuse, NY 13203
Also, we need the following items: Turkey meat, cheese, wheat bread, juice boxes, chips and granola bars.
Is there anything I didn’t ask that you’d like people to know?
Please come and spend time with us. Come volunteer! While changing lives, you will also have a life changing experience. Thank you. #IfWeEatTheyEat