In his youth, Kevin Guillard made some serious mistakes.
He stayed in the streets and in the clubs, neglected his schooling and eventually spent about eight years in jail.
He’s not proud of that, but he has begun living differently.
Now 28, Guillard writes books and talks to young men about rechanneling their lives away from the streets. And he studies the role of civil rights pioneers who helped change America.
When I met him recently outside an area library, I asked him what might he want to be remembered for.
“Leaving a legacy, being responsible and doing my part,” he told me.
He wants to influence other young men to make wiser choices.
“Many of our ancestors struggled and went through a lot to pave the way for us today, and we should be thankful and show we are thankful,” Guillard said.
Carter G. Woodson, considered the father of black history and creator of Black History Week, wanted all Americans to recognize the contributions that blacks have made as an integral part of all history.
Guillard talked about his challenges growing up in urban South Baton Rouge and described his upcoming book, “Hood Struggle.”
“I think I give something to these young men by helping them see that there is another way of succeeding in the world. Decency and integrity are important attributes,” he said.
In order to do good, Guillard had to first confront his dark past.
“I’m trying to tell the story that the drug life is not the step to take,” he said.
Guillard recently started a publishing business and plans to return to community college next fall.
“I’ve learned that the biggest person to stop you is yourself,” Guillard told me. “We are our greatest enemy.”
However, he didn’t listen as a young boy.
“I was sleeping in class and getting into fights in elementary school. I was barely passing and I wasn’t paying attention in class,” he said.
Those habits lured him into a life of street crime, the drug scene, listening to rap music with lyrics that advocated gangster-style living and jail time, he said.
“Now, I’ve fallen in love with books, and now I’m trying to learn those things I missed and I’m continuing to elevate myself,” he said.
“I prepare myself more in this life. I’m not walking around mad anymore,” he said. “I changed myself.”
What impressed me most about Guillard was his belief in changing himself to improve the conditions around him.
He does not consider himself a victim any longer, but a young person who made poor decisions and who must take responsibility for his actions.
Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.