Inside Inner-City America – Breaking Hood Mindset

Feb 17, 2024 777.6K Views 3.9K Comments

Much of inner-city America is challenged with high crime rates and difficulty. Join me as we meet up with a local who shows us what it’s like to grow up in the hood, the challenges of getting shot and kicked out of schools, and his remarkable journey of breaking the cycle and earning a Ph.D.

► Tommie’s website:
► Tommie’s socials:

Jackson crime statistics

► Video edited by: Natalia Santenello

► Headlund – Small Mirage
► Headlund – Red Moon Rising

[somber blues]
[man] This is where my family was raised.
My mom had five sisters
on this one street.
When people think of hood, you will say
low social economics, urban.
But I want to widen the screen
on what that looks like
because these are still
working families over here.
Like if you see some of your houses,
these are some of
your most genuine people.
This is my elementary school.
It’s now closed down.
[Peter] Why is it closed down?
-From what I’ve heard it’s economics.
This is my middle school.
I don’t know the real reason
why it’s closed down
but this place
made me who I am today though.
-This neighborhood develops people
in a totally different way.
You think about resilience, grit,
the ability to bounce back.
Man, I was taught so much
just in this environment
and there’s things you can get over here
that you not gonna get anywhere else.
[Tommie] When I was growing up, man,
this is the recreation for us.
The fact that they shut the schools down…
The school really gave us a meeting place
to come to.
This whole neighborhood
would be packed with kids, man.
-The swimming pool area, the play ground.
This a different lifestyle
when you in the neighborhood
’cause from the outside it look like,
okay, it’s horrible, it’s bad.
Nah man, these are great working people
and then certain people,
when you think about it
like where I stand now
this is how you define success.
Some people define success different.
Some don’t need the big house, the cars,
and all of the things that we talk about
when we identify with success.
These people, some of them over here
are really at peace.
I haven’t been on this bridge
in a long time, man,
but it brings back so many memories, man.
-Just coming up here as a kid?
-Coming up as a kid, watching people swim.
You want to see
some of your best Olympians…
The way we used to take bed mattresses,
put ’em over in the field and we’d tumble.
Kids walking,
bicycles popping wheelies down the road.
That was before we had the cell phones,
the internet moving
in the way that it’s moving now.
So this was all fun, this all I knew.
I came from a broken home.
So when you think about my mom and dad
got divorced
when I was in the second grade.
My mom and dad don’t have
an education past middle school
but those are
the most smartest individuals I know.
My mom is probably
the smartest woman I know.
Without an education.
So the variables
that I had to face growing up…
It just about how you deal with it.
The way that I cope with
some of my issues is playing basketball.
But when you look around,
and you see across this track,
you telling me I can be a lawyer,
I can be a doctor,
man I can be an astronaut. [chuckles]
I can be all these things
but if I don’t have
those variables in my neighborhood
how can you expect me
to grow up and dream that big?
No one in my family
finished high school before me
and I’m the youngest of six.
So I didn’t get
the homework assistance in my house.
Where we talked about report cards
or the future,
what you wanted to do in school.
My mom and dad were what I call hustlers.
My mom and dad,
any means necessary,
they gonna make sure we have
a roof over our head,
food to eat, and clothes on our back.
And that’s one of the modes that
I really hate operating in, survival mode.
Because I done been in survival mode
majority of my life.
When a person in survival mode
they got the mentality that
I’m gonna survive at any means necessary.
-Do you think most of these kids
are in survival mode out here?
-A lot of em. A lot of them are.
-But again, it’s some straight A students
in this neighborhood.
-It’s some working families
that never been to jail.
Their kids have never shot a gun before
in this same neighborhood.
That’s why I was saying
when we put that umbrella of hood
and we label them a certain way
that’s not the majority
of the neighborhood.
[Peter] Yeah, so if you look
by the numbers,
Jackson right now, is second most
dangerous city in the country.
Per capita murders, break-ins, burglaries.
What does that mean? Unpack that for me.
-I bet you… I can almost bet you
that the person that invented robbing,
I bet he was broke.
You don’t steal
when you don’t have to, right?
You don’t break in houses
and rob individuals
when you don’t have to.
So it’s an economic thing.
When you look at certain areas, right?
For an example…
And it’s crime everywhere
but you not gonna really see
in-house crime in certain neighborhoods.
Why? Because when you got young men
that don’t know
when their next meal is coming from.
They don’t know how
they gonna eat tomorrow.
They don’t have the shoes,
they don’t have the clothes,
and they are in survival mode every day.
-But Tommie,
I gotta push back on one bit of that.
I’ve been to Bangladesh, India,
poor, poor.
Like this is like Beverly hills
compared to there.
-That’s what I’m saying,
this is beautiful.
-They’re poor but they’re not robbing.
-I’d say at the same levels.
-So I can’t necessarily connect poverty
to forcing one to rob.
-Let me put a better label on it.
-Beause I said at the beginning of it
you have your different people,
your different groups.
-Majority of the people
that I’m speaking of when I think of hood,
they not doing that, they not out robbing.
I’m talking about the individuals
who come from this area
who think they are forced to.
-They think they’re forced to?
-They think they’re forced to.
-Why do they think they’re forced?
-Think about it, man.
-I’m in a house, you telling me
to go do 12 years in school.
You telling me I can go
get a bachelor’s degree,
I can go get a master’s degree,
and yet I’ve proved that that’s right.
-That you could do that.
-But the majority of the young kids
that can’t see life past tomorrow…
A lot of young kids can’t see
that he can be a lawyer and a doctor
if we don’t expose him to it.
So we talking about the population
of kids that don’t know no other way out.
That’s the population of kids
I’m talking about.
-So whose responsibility is that?
That’s the parent’s responsibility,
society’s responsibility, whose?
-Our responsibility.
-That’s my responsibility?
-That’s your responsibility?
-To come here
and show there’s a way out?
-They say it takes a village
to raise a child, right?
But what if the village corrupt?
So if it takes a village to raise a child,
what if the village corrupt?
You know, every time I see on the news,
and I’m seeing this young man,
judge done gave him all these years.
Young, 13, 14 years old.
Doing some of the same stuff that I did.
But I’m like, that is somebody nephew,
that is somebody’s son,
that is somebody neighbor.
But the way times are now
if you say something to any kid right now
the media and everybody,
“Don’t tell me how to raise my child.”
So if nobody gonna hold us accountable
then who job?
Your job is to show me my way out.
-I’m young, I’m a kid, I don’t know.
What about the victims?
The 15-year-old, you know,
robs the old lady
breaks her pelvis,
jumps her on the street.
Her life is ruined. What about her?
-That’s horrible.
-I don’t support that.
So what should happen
to the kid at that point in time.
-In a situation like that?
-I think the law gotta deal with him.
-So you think the law should
be hard on that kid or it should be,
“Hey, he’s a kid,
he had a bad upbringing.”?
-I think you gotta evaluate that.
I think you gotta understand
what was his mental capacity?
Trauma ACEs is real,
and what that does to the brain
is a blockage there.
So when you think that a kid
should know right from wrong,
yeah, that’s true
but is he thinking cognitively though?
Is he rationalizing?
Is he using the skills that we have?
Reasoning skills.
You know, I go in prisons a lot
and I break it down to them.
I ask them, I say,
“Hey man, when you was committing
your crime, what was your mentality?”
and he was like,
“Man, I wasn’t thinking at the time.”
That’s a problem to me.
So I asked a young man,
judge gave him 30 or 40 years in prison.
I said, “Hey man, what did you do?
You had the young lady at gunpoint.”
I said, “What did you get?”.
He said, “I got a cell phone,
a credit card, and $10 out of her purse.”
I said, “Man, I can cut my phone off.”
“My phone is locked,
you would never use it.”
He said,
“I never thought about that before.”
That’s a problem.
Then he said,
“I tried to use the credit card
and I couldn’t even use it,
it was cut off.”
He said, “I never even thought about
a person can cut their credit card
off from anywhere.”
I said, “Now they booked you with $10.”
The first thing he told me was,
“Man, I never thought about that before.”
Now that’s what I’m talking about.
Why is it the first time
you hearing about these things?
Because you didn’t see it
all the way though, you were impulsive.
I’m not giving you a pass
because of what you did,
I’m trying to get you to think.
I’m trying to get you
to look at cause and effect.
So when certain kids
that’s put in those situations,
they would tell you yes sir all day.
A lot of those kids are not bad kids
but they were caught in bad situations.
-But to get back to your question…
The law is the law,
there’s nothing I can do about that.
But I also want to go
to the back story of that kid
’cause I can’t stop him
from doing what he doing
and I’m not on either side of the law
to say what he should and shouldn’t get.
But I’m trying to say how we
develop kids to think different.
-Okay, yeah,
and that’s the key, education.
-Education is every–
So they need good parenting.
-You said you grew up in a broken home?
-Your parents got a divorce.
So that led you to commit crimes,
to get kicked out of schools.
-Man, it’s a lot
when you unpack my life story.
When you think about my story,
I was kicked out of ten schools.
-I thought it was smart to be dumb
and dumb to be smart.
-You got respect for that, right?
-The kids thought you were cool.
-I did.
I got respect for it
but I never wanted to be in school.
-My anxiety level in a school…
-And think about the stuff,
when you think about ACEs,
adverse childhood experiences,
what that does to a kid brain.
So when you see me
growing up a certain way,
some of the stuff
that I was ‘customed to growing up,
when I get in that school
my mind is not on school at the moment.
because you know what,
it feel like it’s forced on me.
-I felt the same way.
I didn’t want to be there.
-You was told you gotta go to school.
You gotta go to church, those two.
-Yeah, didn’t like either.
-Just because I’m there
doesn’t mean that I’m activated.
You gotta activate first then educate.
What that means, let me unpack.
You gotta activate the kid first
then you educate.
When you get a debit card in the mail
no matter how much money
you got in the bank
you can’t use it till you do what with it?
-You gotta activate it.
-So no matter how much potential
this kid got inside
he can’t be used
until he’s activated first.
You gotta reach your self esteem level.
You gotta get me in a place where
I enjoy myself.
I love myself. I got the confidence
to go in that building and be a scholar.
-But a kid like me,
I never saw it modeled before.
I didn’t want to be in that building,
I thought I couldn’t read like other kids.
So that’s unpacking who I am though
You can’t lead me out
until you can enter my world.
You gotta see
why’s this kid thinking like that?
-Okay, so fair to say if the parents
are imparting good values on their kid,
they’re good examples,
most likely, there are always exceptions,
the kid’s gonna be much better off.
So why if someone brings…
-I’m going out on a tangent here, Tommie.
-And push back
as hard as you want on this one.
You choose to have a child,
bring that child into this world, right?
-As a parent, that’s your responsibility
to provide for them,
to give them guidance,
to show them the path, let’s say.
To not commit crime,
to work,
to go for something in life, right?
-To do good to others.
Why is that my personal responsibility
to help out some other family?
When I’m just swimming
as hard as I can to stay above
and keep my family in a good place?
Do you know how many people
I visit across this world
and they tell me,
“I didn’t raise him like that.”
“What he doing right now,
I didn’t raise him like that.”
and no you didn’t,
but when he leave your house,
bad company corrupt character.
-And this is gonna tie into your question.
I don’t care how good of a parent you are.
When your kid leave
from around your supervision
where is he placed now?
In a community.
So when you get back to that,
when I leave my kids right now
I expect for a community
to be at that school or neighborhood
to help me out.
-Because you said– Not you but the world
says it takes a village to raise a child.
So that get back to my statement.
It take us
because when you not around your child,
when this kid get in this neighborhood
I need to be able to say,
“Your dad didn’t raise you like that,
your mom didn’t raise you like that,
come here young man.”
If I don’t tell him that…
-I agree, I look at it like this, Tommie,
you have a good salad
with great lettuce, and tomatoes,
and peppers, and everything, right?
And then you put bad dressing on it,
you ruin the whole salad.
-So that’s how I look at society too.
Yeah, you can bubble up and try
to stay separate from all the problems.
I mean that’s
a natural line of defense, I’d say.
But if we don’t address
some of these deeper issues as a society…
Like it eventually hits everyone.
Like you’re on the highway
and someone’s on drugs
and they smash
into your daughter’s car, right?
Because they weren’t
in the right headspace,
and it’s because some people
are really suffering in society.
I mean that’s the reason
I like doing these videos.
-She need help though.
-They need help, right?
-The parent need us.
When my kid leave that house
if I had a community of people
that will hold my kid accountable…
Because you know what,
when I was growing up
you know what my grandparents told me?
If they get into any trouble
before they make it home,
the Sunday school teacher
would already give ’em a whoopin’.
The neighbor would already give…
-That’s the village I’m speaking on,
that was accountability.
That’s not the generation.
-So I see it
in some small towns in America.
That still exists.
This neighbor’s watching over this one.
No kid can get out of line
’cause everyone’s gonna call it out.
-I see it in some places.
-And some places I don’t.
-That’s what we gotta get back to.
If we don’t get back to that,
you tell me who follows that.
‘Cause we can’t wait till it hits my house
and now I got on the shirts,
and I’m walking down the neighborhood,
and I’m telling everybody,
stop the violence.
I get what we’re saying
but just ’cause it didn’t hit my house
don’t mean I supposed to stay
in the house and not join it.
It’s strength in numbers.
If everybody in this neighborhood said,
“Don’t throw no trash in my neighborhood.”
You should never know
when you are in the hood.
-So why are people
not standing up in the hood?
Why don’t they stand up
and call out all that BS?
And I have my theories.
Tell me where I’m wrong here.
They’re scared. People are scared
of the 15-year-old with a gun right now.
Parents have lost a lot of the control
for a lot of the youth
from what I’ve seen.
-You can’t be scared
of the people you serve.
But you’re saying the truth.
-But that’s what’s going on, right?
-That’s reality, what you saying.
It is reality but you can’t be scared
of the people you serve.
It’s strength in numbers. You know
how many strong men in this neighborhood?
That raised me.
This is my neigh–
-Ton of talent?
-Ton of talent.
It’s a young man that I’m tutoring now.
Not tutoring, mentoring.
He’s going to the navy.
I’m like, “Man, you fitting to create
something for your neighborhood.”
It is real good people
in the neighborhood.
How many men over here that will…
It’s a lot of men.
Just imagine if we got together as men
and we walked the neighborhood,
and we said, “Not on our watch.”
You not ’bout to destroy our nei–
Not on my watch.
-[Peter] Look at their gardening.
-[Tommie] Yeah.
[Peter] That’s cool.
-[Tommie] C’mon let’s see–
-[Peter] This is cool, Tommie.
-[Peter] Growing vegetables out here.
-[Tommie] Get this right here.
[man] Y’all have any bag in y’all car?
[Tommie] Naw, I wanted him to see
this is the neighborhood I grew up in
and I just told him, I said,
“Man, when the outside
see the neighborhood they see the bad.”
They always showing…
But it’s great people in the neighborhood.
And I just told him, I said, “Man,
these people would give you anything.”
Like how you just welcoming us here.
Tell him about what you doing, man.
[Peter] What’s going on?
What are you growing?
For the old folks,
greens for the Christmas holiday
and I’m just gonna
give ’em to the community.
-That’s cool.
Whose place is this?
Who’s growing this?
-Miss Amy, it’s a community garden.
-Miss Amy, okay.
-Anyone can come in
and get anything when they plant it
and it grows up, they can
get anything they want out the garden.
There’s nothing said.
-[Peter] That’s great.
-[Tommie] I love that, man.
-Miss Amy, she stay there.
I forgot that lady’s name
but she know all my grandchildren.
She’s a White lady too,
you know what I’m saying.
-This the part of the world
I want them to see.
I come from this area.
It’s not all bad, it’s great.
Man, you just said this is
a community garden
where we can come and eat.
This is what I mean by it takes a village
because I know it’s a place
I can come and get resources.
That’s what the neighbor…
But we don’t show that too often.
We always showing the violence, the guns.
Naw, it’s great working people.
-You need kids
getting involved with this, right?
-Them coming out here,
getting their vegetables, bring it home.
That’s what needs to happen.
-You see a lot of young kids?
Young folks,
I’m just being real honest ’bout it.
They don’t have minds
like we had when we came up, you know?
I’m 67 years old,
my mama took me to the field
and showed me different stuff.
Where we had to survive off of.
-For real.
-Only thing I see is older people
that come out sometime.
You don’t see young too much
come out sometime.
I’m just being earnest about it,
it’s bad over this side at times.
You know what I mean?
Crime is everywhere.
Folks shooting you walking by.
Drive-by shootings, you know?
Thangs ain’t just like it used to be.
This world… Not the world but the people
inside the world have changed.
[Peter] So when you grew up,
less violence, less gun deaths?
-No, no, no, we was doing this.
-We was fist fighting.
-Yeah, but all this shootin’,
and cuttin’, and all that,
it wadn’t none of that when I was coming.
-Do you feel like your generation
taught my generation this
or what do you think the problem was?
-See my generation taught me.
And so what…
Okay, my gen
had to pass down to you to teach you.
If you don’t never teach nobody,
how they gonna learn?
-I agree with that.
-How you gon’ learn?
But first of all, you wanna learn,
you got to want to do it.
-I was just telling him
I was taught growing up
it take a village to raise a child
-It do.
-But I said what if the village corrupt?
Because what you just told me was
in your generation
if you see anything going on…
Older people would tell me to this day,
“Man, you couldn’t walk the neighborhood
and break in somebody house back then.”
-The neighbor would whoop you.
Now it’s different and you can’t be scared
of the people you serve.
When you see young kids coming up,
since times are different,
you’re not gonna stop him and say,
“Hey man, put that gun up.”
-Because it’s different mindset now.
-You don’t know what they mind decide.
N*gga, what is you talking ’bout?
You know, boom, boom. Shot you.
Just because you tryin’ tell them
something right, know what I mean?
I don’t get involved in that.
I just see ’em
and let ’em go on about they business.
-See, that’s the problem, you see?
-That’s my point, people are scared.
-That’s your original point.
-But you can’t…
How do you expect change
if you scared to get in front of it?
I get… No, no,
don’t think I’m missing it.
But when you say
I just turn my back and go the other way–
-Most of ’em I see with guns.
This long, damn near tall as them.
-I get it.
-You know what I’m saying?
When are we ever gonna
say something about this?
We ain’t gon’ never say nothing about it.
-That mean it gon’ continue.
-It’s gonna have to continue.
-And nobody see the problem in that.
If it was you and 30 other guys
in this neighborhood,
you would go up to them then.
-Because it wouldn’t be acceptable.
-Why? Because I got
a little something behind me.
-Strength in numbers,
you have a community around you.
-Right, right.
-That’s the difference.
Not you go individually.
Because it’s one thing
we talk about the problem.
But then we not talking
about the solutions.
The solution is you gotta in-house this.
-We gotta get better as a group.
And as a group, we get together,
then you would approach him.
Because that’s somebody’s son
in this neighborhood.
That is somebody nephew
that’s in this neighborhood
but now you know his mom,
his auntie, and y’all all together.
But if we don’t get together
and unite as a group…
-Let me ask you a question.
How could you bring Black people together
and when they do not
want to try and unite?
They all stuck on this gang banging,
and you not on this.
You on another level trying to show them
the way of living about life.
You know what I’m saying?
Trying to tell ’em about life.
How could you intervene on there?
-You lost at that point.
-‘Cause you gonna get pushback, you lost.
-I agree with you.
And see, gang violence, man, I know…
I had a son in a gang, man,
I had to get him out of there, man.
I broke him from there because I told him
it’s not doing him no good.
Only thing you think
you got friends out here,
you get into some trouble and see
how many friends that you do have.
-You telling right.
-I said what you need to do
is come away from these street
go get you a job.
He try to come up the house
and guess what he did.
-What he do?
-Come off the street, got him a job.
-See there, but where did it start?
-From me.
-All right, so y’all just made what I…
Because now you just did that
reach one, teach one method.
Now you gave him
a different way of looking at life
Now imagine if it was
a hundred more of us like you
that’s not scared to take that.
You know how many other
success stories we would have?
Now a lot of kids not gonna listen.
I get that.
They gonna give you the pushback
but as a community if we all doing that…
I might be different from everybody else.
‘Cause when I see them
I see kings, I see leaders.
-I see kings too.
-It’s hard for me to see them
the way everybody else see them
because I come from that.
-I come from that vein.
-I’m always the guy that’s looking
at the positive perspective of everything.
Yeah, he going through problems
but that boy can be amazing.
How do I know that?
-Because God did it with me.
-You see it.
-I think he knew that he needed me
to show them a different way
but I’m not gonna give up on ’em.
-I’m not giving up,
I feel like it’s a way out.
-It’s for us to show them.
-There is a way out.
There is a way out.
Thank you, man.
-My name’s Jesse, man.
-Peter, nice to meet you, sir.
-All right then.
-All right, you have a blessed day.
-[Tommie] Yes sir.
-[Peter] Thank you, sir. Take care.
[Peter] So Tommie,
this is what I’ve learned
from going to a lot of inner-city America.
If kids don’t have father figures,
if young men
don’t have father figures, right?
They usually get rambunctious,
shout out, cause violence,
destroy things, steal things,
and join gangs
because they’re craving a father figure.
They’re craving leadership
and so the gang offers that, right?
The hierarchy of that gang?
Or at least being part of something
at the very least.
You’re almost part of a family.
Am I right on that?
-I think it’s a way to look at that too.
-Man, I’ve been a single parent
for a week one time.
[chuckling] One week.
-Okay, you got divorced for a week?
-Listen, for one week.
You know, I give all the credit
to single parent moms, man.
-It’s gotta be brutal.
-Because it’s…
Man, to raise a child on your own
is hard.
Yes, I agree that we need
more fathers to step up
but I don’t think that that’s the problem
but I think it’s part of the problem
if that’s to say.
But I know moms
that’s doing a phenomenal job.
-Oh yeah,
it’s not thrashing the mother at all.
Saying she can’t raise a kid
but in two parent households,
just statistically…
-You get ’em a better chance.
-The kid’s gonna be better off.
My mother offered me something
different than what my father offered me.
Completely different lessons,
let’s say, came through each parent.
-I agree with that.
And my father taught me
respect, discipline, you know?
There are boundaries.
Like I was properly scared of him.
You know, I wasn’t gonna cross a line
but he taught me
a lot of good values I feel.
If I didn’t have that maybe I woulda
looked to be part of something else.
And again, if I’m in the inner-city,
gang culture,
now you’re part of some–
Everyone wants to belong, you know?
Nobody wants to be alone out there.
Right? They wanna belong to something?
-I would love to see
the two parent household work
because I know what it did for my house.
That separation anxiety.
-When your mom and dad divorce.
-And I was raised by a single father.
So when I said single father,
my dad took me in the divorce.
-Until he got remarried,
I watched my dad
clean, cook, work two jobs
to make sure I at least have
a roof over my head.
So if my dad worked overnight
I was running the street.
But the things
my dad instilled in me as a father though,
that father love.
Now I’mma make my own mistakes.
I’m still gonna make those but I always
go back to those principles of my dad
and yes, you are saying
some important things
when it come to that father.
I just want to keep putting that credit.
Giving those moms
that credit that’s been doing it.
That done put
three young men through college.
They doing a great job.
Some of them really just need help
and I think we are saying the same thing.
They need help from us.
We are in the historical
Downtown Jackson, Farish Street.
They are revamping this neighborhood.
We bringing it back.
It’s gonna look beautiful again
but we are on holy ground.
This is where
a lot of Black-owned businesses once were.
I got a lot of confidence that Jackson
is about to take this to another level.
They still do shows
in the Alamo Theater but on down…
There’s a lot of restaurants on that end
but you are in–
-You got some great art deco
in Jackson I gotta say.
Okay, so you’re saying
this gonna come back you think?
-I think it would.
I think they are in a development stage
of revamping this
back to where it once was.
[Peter] Downtown is pretty nice.
Quiet and clean, I would say
from what I’m seeing so far.
[Tommie] I believe we coming up.
It’s gonna get to a point where
we gonna compete with
other states across this world, man.
I went to Tougaloo College
and I got my PhD
from Jackson State University.
This is just one campus.
This isn’t the main campus.
This is the downtown campus.
-Okay, so how did you…
What was the turning point?
‘Cause getting kicked out of ten schools
doesn’t lead to PhD usually.
How did you change your life,
turn it around?
-I credit God but not only that,
I got shot my senior year in high school.
I think God knew what kinda story
he wanted to tell when he created me.
I got shot second period,
10:00, freak accident.
I was a standout basketball player.
Ranked in the country playing basketball.
I skipped school,
went to the neighborhood.
Sitting with my friend guys
and I just heart boom
and I couldn’t even move.
That day was the best day of my life
because it changed my perspective
but in the moment
it was the worst thing ever.
I’m a basketball player
and I can’t move my left foot,
and I jump off my left foot.
To get that phone call as a parent,
get to the doctor, your son been shot,
man, that’s the worst conversation
you ever want to have with a parent
but that changed the way
that I see friends
and it changed the way I see life.
If that bullet wouldn’t have never hit me
I wouldn’t be the man I am today.
Because it changed
the way I that view life.
Until you change a person perspective,
it’s a short term fix
when you shift a person mindset
’cause tomorrow I might change.
Tomorrow I feel like working out.
Today I don’t.
So mindsets are alters by your mood,
but when your perspective change
that’s your morals, your beliefs,
your values, your lived experiences.
That bullet changed my perspective.
So with me having a 1.8 GPA, and a 14
on my ACT, kicked out of ten schools,
I was arrested for breaking and entering
my fifth grade year.
Breaking and entering
in the state fairground
Judge gave me…
He labeled it as trespass.
I didn’t even know
he was changing my life.
He was helping me honestly.
Because if he woulda kept the crime
at what it was supposed to be,
breaking and entering, who’s to say?
But I didn’t know at the time
with him changing to trespassing
he was really helping me as young kid
but man, I did so much.
I repeated eighth grade, man.
So that bullet came at a time
that I probably really needed it the most
because it turned me to an educator,
it turned me to a scholar.
Because when I laid on that bed
and they told me
I probably won’t play basketball
my senior year I was hurt.
I was getting recruited
by so many colleges.
And I’m first generational everything.
So when I got shot, man,
that hurted my entire family
’cause they were like,
“This is our way out.”
Just imagine that
you’re a standout basketball player
and now I can’t even jump off
the same foot that I jump off of.
I got a bullet in that foot now.
That changed the way I see life, man.
So when I was blessed
to get back on the court it was over with
and at that point
it wasn’t about basketball no more.
It was about how can I do
something different for my family
and that’s what turned me
(into) this guy you see now.
[somber blues]
[Tommie] This is the historical
Tougaloo College.
[Peter] What did you get your PhD in?
[Tommie] Executive leadership
in higher education.
I got my bachelor’s,
I got my masters from this college.
-So how did you afford it?
-I was on a basketball scholarship
but I knew what I wanted at this point.
Once that bullet hit me
I realized that I need education
just in case basketball don’t work again.
When I got to college,
only time I probably missed a class
is we was on the road playing basketball
but other than that
I didn’t miss one class in college.
-How was it with your friends?
You get out on the basketball scholarship,
From the eyes of the community
you’re doing successful things.
Was there a lot of envy around you?
Was it like some of your friends fall off
because they’re like,
“Tommy doesn’t… He’s too good
for us now.” or any of that stuff?
-I fell off.
-You fell off? Okay.
-When I got to a place where…
And this is my mindset now.
In order to get something you never had
you gotta do something you never did
and become a person that you never been.
I couldn’t have the same mentality
I had growing up in college.
When I got to a place after I got shot
I looked at friends different.
I separated myself from the community,
my friends, everything.
I was so dedicated
to my ballplayers and basketball
I didn’t have time to run the streets.
I knew what friends got me back then
so when I got to college
it was mainly about my basketball players,
class, and that sport.
That’s all I was dedicated to.
It wasn’t me going out
and doing anything like that.
I was all about…
I had fun in college.
I did but I was so grounded.
[Tommie] You see what we doing here?
“Transforming students in preparation
for tomorrow’s professions.”
-Where is everyone?
-Everybody’s on break right now.
-That’s right.
-Let me see if she have a yearbook.
-They have great architecture here.
Gotta say, Jackson has been a surprise.
A, people, everyone I’ve talked to
from the hotel receptionist
to the barista, waiter,
people on the streets,
very, very open, cool.
There’s always…
The South is known
for southern hospitality
but I’d say it’s at
a more extreme level here in Jackson.
Not in an artificial way
but in a very kind, genuine,
open, curious, interested way.
Which has been great.
It’s really a cool city to travel to.
I didn’t think it would be like this
to be honest.
-This is the 2011
Tougaloo College yearbook.
This is my run for Mr. Tougaloo College
and there I go.
So I represented
the male population as the king here.
I take a lot of pride in that, man.
[Peter] You like no people being around?
-Well, I really miss…
I call them my babies.
The students here at Tougaloo College
because I’m mama to some,
I’m teetee to others.
So all of them are like my babies.
So it is really quiet today
and I’m really not used to it, so…
[Peter] You feel like
your the mother and the auntie here?
-Mother slash auntie, yeah.
-You’re watching over them
making sure they behave?
-Encouraging them, all of it.
I feed ’em… yeah, yeah.
-You got some good soul food?
-Yes! I cook.
-What are you cooking?
-Ooh, all kinds of stuff.
I do homemade dressing,
I do fresh green beans, potatoes…
-[Tommie] I love this.
-[woman] Potatoes and turkey mixed in.
Baked chicken, baked pork chops
with homemade gravy.
I do homemade scalloped potatoes.
[Peter] Thanksgiving every day?
[Tommie] Thanksgiving every day.
-Not everyday
but I cook at least three times a week
and it’s enough for at least two days.
[Peter] You bring food in
for the students?
-I bring some of them food, yes.
I buy their food, I bless…
I just randomly bless
some of them each day, yeah.
Some may not have enough on their card
and I’ll take up the slack for it.
-[woman] So yeah, they’re my babies.
-[Peter] That’s cool. All right.
[Tommie] That’s what we do here, man.
That loving family environment.
Wouldn’t that be amazing?
You drop your kids off at school
and then you understand
that you have a community around them
to help them get through college.
Like she just said,
that’s the entire college.
We a family.
[Peter] So what do you think
would’ve happened
if you didn’t get that scholarship?
-I probably would’ve
never came to college.
My family couldn’t afford
for me to go to college
and I don’t think college
would have been on my mind
if it wasn’t for basketball.
When I came here, just imagine a kid,
body full of tattoos, this is who I am.
I love this guy
and I had permanent gold teeth.
Not something you can take out.
I had to have surgery to get
my golds removed my senior year here.
So throughout life,
middle school, high school, and college,
I had gold teeth.
And I was the king of the university.
My story runs deep, man,
but I was the first male student
in Tougaloo College history
to get a bachelor’s degree and a master’s
from the same college.
I’m the first male to do it.
So man, I love this place.
This is where it’s at, man.
-You look happy here.
-I am.
-You can feel it?
I am.
My dad worked here,
I wanted you to meet him but he’s not–
-Your dad works here?
-He’s part of the custodian staff.
I call my dad my hero
for a lot of reasons, man.
My dad coulda gave up on me
a long time ago.
I gave him every reason to.
Just imagine you sitting in the office
and somebody tell you the teacher said,
“If he come back to school, she wouldn’t.”
And as a parent you like
wow, my son is that bad?
I gave my dad every reason to quit.
My dad never gave up on me.
Then to this day I love that man.
My mom too, same way.
-So you had both your parents
supporting you?
-Yeah, I can say my mom and my dad
has always been active in my life
but my mom stayed in one part of Jackson,
my dad stayed in another part of Jackson,
and they had their own lives.
So for the most part
I stayed with my dad my entire life
but my dad was working two jobs.
My dad worked overnight.
How you doin’ Mr. Prime?
[Mr. Prime] You doing all right?
-Yes sir, yes sir.
I’m your hero?
For real?
-Whenever you ready, I got it.
-Whenever you ready.
-I’m so proud of you.
-Thank you, man.
-[Tommie] Dr. Mavery.
-[Dr. Mavery] I know.
-This the new provost here at the college.
-Yes, sir.
-Peter, nice to meet you, sir.
-Very good to meet you.
-Welcome back home.
-Thank you, man.
-Good to have you always.
-Man, it’s a blessing.
This was my home,
they embraced me as a kid that came from
the neighborhood that I grew up in.
You all showed me that it’s possible here.
You all embraced me as a kid.
and when they say
meet a kid where he’s at,
you all did exactly that.
-Who wouldn’t want
to send their kids here?
This is the thing, it’s like you said,
it’s about preparation and opportunity.
Because when you’re prepared
and you have the opportunity
the success is guaranteed.
-That’s it.
[Peter] You think anyone can make it
as long as they apply themselves?
-Anyone can make it.
Anyone can make it
and that’s what it takes, application.
-How do you reach–
-You know what, let me pull that back.
It takes consistency and application.
-How do you reach the kids
in the hoods here in Jackson
that are pretty hard circumstances?
How do they know
that this is even available, right?
If their environment
is pretty small and confined
how do they know they can even do this?
-Conversation. Real conversation.
Not the pie in the sky stuff.
Like, hey every student’s gonna make A’s
and every student’s
gonna be a millionaire.
No, that’s not real.
It takes authenticity.
Be a real person, like,
“Hey, if you want to make it,
then this is what you do,
and you will be successful,
and you can make it to
wherever your dreams and desires are.”
But it takes consistency
and application in doing that.
So if you say you want to be successful
and I tell you this is how you do it,
don’t half do it.
Do it 110%.
[Peter] Is Tommie’s story super rare
or is that happening
more frequently than we know?
-Far more frequently than we know.
He’s just a fabulous face for the story.
Fabulous face for the story.
But there are successes everywhere
that we don’t celebrate enough
and so that’s why it’s good that he’s
doing right what he’s doing right now,
tell the story.
Jackson, Mississippi is a gem.
-You lived in other places?
-I have.
From Florida, to Tennessee,
to North Carolina, and it’s always,
“Mississippi? You from Mississippi?”
and the horror stories,
and I’m like it’s not 1943 anymore.
This is a fabulous place but you need to
come and experience it for yourself.
-Do you think the opportunities are there?
If a kid’s got the drive, can go to
higher education here, make something…
There are no barriers really?
-The barrier is not trying.
-That’s the only barrier?
-That’s the… Its here!
It’s here if you want to succeed
we can find a way to support you
to your success.
-How much is tuition?
-Tuition here, I think for annually
is right about $12,000.
-Okay, so on the low side these days.
-Yes, yes.
Especially for a private,
almost Ivy League institution.
That’s amazingly affordable.
-Student loans?
-You gotta take ’em.
-Hey, I paid my own way.
I went to community college
the first two years
and then I could
pull off university afterwards.
-And guess what,
for community college students
they can get a Phi Theta Kappa scholarship
that will pay for
their last four semesters here.
-See, you gotta let them know that.
-Right, because the narrative is
education is too expensive.
It’s crazy expensive
and there’s no way in.
I mean that’s a common narrative
these days
but you’re saying the opposite.
-But you need information.
That’s why communication is important.
Communication is essential to success.
There are avenues to assist and support
every student from every area.
So you want more of
Tommie’s stories coming in?
-[Dr. Mavery] Absolutely.
-[Tommie] I want more.
-We all got a story
and none of the stories are the same.
The success is the same
but the stories aren’t.
So you come and put the work in
so that we can get to the success.
[Tommie] This easily could be a story
where I’m just showing you
the worst things that happen in Jackson,
the worst houses.
There’s some bad apples
in every neighborhood.
But let’s just start highlighting
the goods that’s in the neighborhood.
Let’s start talking more about
the success stories that made it out.
Because that’s the only way
you can shift the paradigm.
By showing young kids
that even you can make it.
That’s the best way for you to show a kid,
is giving him an example, and a model
of somebody that made it
out of his neighborhood.
Until you able to show him that, look,
this young man looked just like you.
This young man is no better than you.
This young man went to
the same schools as you
but yet he’s gone to college,
he got a bachelor’s degree
now he’s got his PhD.
What you are doing is you are building
an example and a system around him
that he can operate now
and say, “Look that’s familiarity.”
-And breaking down the artificial
narrative saying you can’t make it
because you’re poor.
You can’t make it because you’re Black.
You can’t make it for whatever reason.
Breaking that down because it’s not truth.
-It’s not, man.
-It’s BS.
And that takes
all the agency out of a kid.
You can do what you did here.
-Don’t set limits for them.
Because when you set limits
and you tell me what I can and can’t do,
only thing you’re telling me
is you couldn’t do it
if you saw yourself in my predicament.
No, don’t put a ceiling on them.
Let them figure it out for themself.
When you tell a kid, “You can’t make it
out of this environment.”
“You can’t do this.”
You’re eliminating his growth
and you’re saying
that under those circumstances
you can’t see him making it
and that’s not true.
[Tommie] This is the Shady Oaks area.
Medgar Evers home, civil rights leader
is in this environment.
That’s another school
I went to growing up.
[Peter] Interesting thing
about Jackson is large tracts of land
that are vacant, grown over,
we’re still in the city, right?
-We still in the city but a lot of
these places used to be businesses
that was operating at once.
A lot of these places are coming back
but these are still…
Like that used to be a gas station
but now it’s not.
Getting ready to eat
some good soul food, man.
You getting ready to eat some [claps]
good, good, great, soul food!
[Peter] So Bully’s, you grew up going here
or what’s the story with Bully’s
-I’ve been eating
at Bully’s for years, man.
It’s just the hospitality
you get when you come in here, man.
You have people from senators,
congressmen, everybody.
-All coming to Bully’s, huh?
Hey, how you doing?
I’m good, I’m good.
I saw her in the airport, you fine.
-She told me she saw you in the airport.
-You know we love you.
This my man, Peter.
-How you doing, ma’am?
-I’m Gretta, nice to meet you.
-Nice to meet you.
-He travel the world.
-He travel the world?
[Peter] We’re doing a video today.
[Tommie] I wanted to highlight Bully’s.
This is where we eating, he gonna love it.
[Peter] Tommie’s saying
best soul food around.
[Gretta laughs]
[Tommie] Do y’all love it so far?
-[couple] We saw it on TV.
-[Peter] Oh, wow.
-[woman] True South.
[man] It was on True South.
-[Tommie] Wow.
-[Peter] Oh.
-[Peter] How is it, you guys?
-[man] All right, it’s good.
[Tommie] See I told the truth
apparently, right?
This is my barber… The barber.
-Peter, nice to meet you.
-I wish he woulda record,
“What is dressing?”
[all laughing]
-I said, “What is dressing?”
Salad dressing?
[roaring laughter]
You guys love that?
-He said salad dressing!
[laughing continues]
-Salad dressing for my chicken? C’mon.
-Tell him again what dressing is
so they would know.
-We make homemade cornbread dressing
in the South
but I think they call it stuffing
in the North.
-That’s a good way…
That was a good way to put that.
-He said, “Salad dressing?”
-All right, stuff me up. I’m in.
Hey man, nice to meet you, man.
[Peter] Take care.
-Brian Miller, nice to meet you.
-Peter Santenello, nice to meet you.
-I need to get my haircut too.
-We’re in the same club, man.
-You can get the shape up.
-A good thing about Marquise, he come from
the neighborhood I come from.
and what we talk about a lot is
there’s more ways to be successful.
Bringing it into
what I was telling you earlier.
I encourage young kids,
go to barber school.
Get your barber license.
Own you a shop.
He own his own shop.
Not only that,
he put young barbers in position
to go off and get their own shop.
So I’ve seen him mentor barbers,
after barbers, after barbers.
Everybody’s not gonna go to college
but to get a trade–
-Right, yeah,
we didn’t talk about that today.
-I would love for kids
to go to college but I also would love
for them to find their path.
-Certain kids don’t want to go to college.
-For sure.
-But it’s so many ways
that they can be successful.
Plumbers, electricians, drivers.
-There’s a shortage all over the country
right now for those trades.
-And that’s where you make real money.
Changed your life?
-Oh yeah, life changing for real.
I’ve been cutting hair about 13 years now.
Been owning my shop for seven.
It’s taken me everywhere I wanted to go.
[Tommie] You wanna explain to him
what I got?
[customers chattering]
[Tommie] This is beautiful.
Baked chicken, cornbread, mac and cheese.
Oh, it’s just all dressing, okay.
Check that tenderness,
you can see how tender it is.
-Oh yeah
-[Tommie laughs]
-Tender, juicy, little crisp.
-[Marquise] Like it?
-[Peter] Love it.
[Tommie] That’s good.
[Tommie] I wanted you to see the different
shades of Jackson, Mississippi.
These are brilliant homes,
Black and White owned homes.
And we are still in North Jackson.
-This is only a few minutes
from where I was born.
I love that home.
-I’ve seen that home a few times.
-It’s like a castle.
So when you were a kid did you ever
come over to these neighborhoods?
-I wanted to be in these neighborhoods.
I didn’t think I would one day
be able to afford a home like this
until now I got a beautiful home.
I used to always say
I want the gate, the white fence.
-Look at that place, that is huge.
-Lot of property in the city.
But you gotta protect your imaginations
and I tell young kids
that if you can dream it, you can have it.
It’s the law of attraction for me,
the universe is discipline.
So if you tell the universe that’s
what you want, you gotta work hard,
and the universe gonna bring you
all the resources you need,
but you gotta work, you gotta work.
And you can get the nice things.
These are just working families.
So you can’t blame it on
Black, White, or race.
No, these are Black people and White
but you just gotta work for that
and nothing gonna
just come to you in life.
You gotta work.
-Right, and you gotta fail, and you gotta
pick up again, and whatever it takes.
Maybe you don’t fail but a lot of people,
especially in entrepreneurship,
most of it’s failure.
-When you grow up like me
you think you’re limited.
-You think this is impossible.
But everything is impossible
until somebody does it.
[Tommie] Our kids have great access
to college, jobs.
There’s tons of jobs in this area.
-So to me it’s a choice.
Okay, here’s a point I’d like to make.
I travel all over the country.
What I notice in inner-city America
the opportunities are there
you just have to go up this road
or if you’re in the Bronx,
some bad part of the Bronx in New York,
you just gotta get on the subway
and go to where the job is.
There are parts of the country
like Appalachia
out in the sticks of West Virginia,
they don’t have that option.
There are like no jobs.
No jobs for the next
10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 100 miles, right?
-Like, they’re stuck.
These kids are stuck mentally.
-But the opportunity is here
right across the street.
-Look, this is one of
the biggest hospitals in Jackson
and it’s on the backside
of my neighborhood.
You know how many jobs
in that one building?
But you gotta go to school
to get in that building
for that kind of job.
You go to school for
the access to those jobs is here.
-[Tommie] Try something.
-[Peter] Yeah, you gotta try.
[Tommie] It’s a must that you try
and if you are failing in today’s time,
I tell a lot of kids
it’s either you’re lazy or you’re sorry.
Because you have
a smart phone in your pocket.
You have a smart phone with dumb habits.
You can do everything on your phone.
You can translate Spanish to English.
You can break down
two step equations on your phone.
Right now, your phone,
you can take a picture of a book
and it can screenshot it
and it’ll write it for you.
You have all the tools to be successful
in today’s time.
It’s no way I would be failing
and you can go on YouTube
and break down everything
-But you gotta want it.
That’s why I said
I can’t make excuses for you.
You gotta want it.
If you can see it,
and you work hard, you can get it.
-Yeah, the work hard part
is the critical part though, you know?
You have to put in the time.
-And it’s not gonna come overnight.
I wanted to show you
a lot of different parts of Jackson.
Jackson is a beautiful place, man.
But again, you gotta show the world
because they think
it’s only cotton and open fields.
No, Jackson is beautiful
and as you see, it’s beautiful people.
-Yeah, it is peaceful here.
When I got on YouTube
I think the first video that popped up
or one of the first were
“Ten Reasons Not to Live in Jackson.”
-See, I don’t like that, man.
Because this the part
that they don’t show.
They just show the struggle.
-As a creator, you have the power
of what to show and what to edit.
And I can show… You know?
-I can show that or I can shot that
and I can put the camera
where I want it,
and I can direct the audience
however I want, right?
That’s the power of the creator.
-So you’re right, you can–
-Just do the right thing, man.
-You see that? Just do the right thing.
All right Tommie, that was awesome, man.
Appreciate it.
-Man listen, thank you
for showing my city, Jackson, Mississippi.
So when you see people like me…
When I say people like me,
that come from challenging areas.
You will see the greatness within them.
You will see the genius within him.
So I’m excited for you all, the world to
just see Jackson, Mississippi as a whole
and just see the beautiful things
that come out this place
-What I really loved about today
was obviously your story
but driving home the point that
it’s actually not that far away
from where you grew up
and where you succeeded in life.
-And the barrier is
mostly in people’s heads.
-They can do that.
The opportunity is here.
Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t
because of your color, economics status,
because of anything.
Because in Jackson, Mississippi,
what we saw today is the reality.
You’re the walking reality.
-I appreciate that.
It’s not an expiration date on success
and I’mma leave you with my quote.
-I cannot walk in my future
with my foot in my past.
You gotta be able to look past
wherever you gone through in life.
-Right, you can’t control the past,
only the future.
-Yes, sir.
-And Tommie,
you’re doing some cool stuff here, so…
-This is “Little Tommie’s Four B’s”
pre-K to third grade book.
This is my new book, “Perspective
for Educators Across the World.”
This is my middle school book,
“If Tommie Can Do It, We Can Do It.”
-Sixth through eighth grade.
And this is my prize.
“A Dark Journey to a Light Future.”
This is my life story.
This to show you that
it’s not an expiration date on success.
One day I’ll have the movie to this book.
I just wrote the movie to it.
So hopefully one day
God can bring that to reality.
But this is my four books, man.
-All right, and Tommie,
you do speaking all over the world.
You’re a busy man.
I’m gonna leave those links
down below for the books
and if you’re interested
in Tommie’s speaking engagements,
to hire him for a speaking engagement
link’s down below.
-Thanks, brother.
-Oh, man.
-Thanks for doing it.
We did it, we did it.
All right guys,
thanks for coming along on that journey.
Until the next one.
[somber blues]

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