T.J. was in the streets of Lancaster, Pennsylvania as a troubled kid. ‘’Streets almost ruined my life’’, he said. Fortunately, he woke up before streets swallowed him. He is a motivational Speaker who knows what he is speaking about. He created the V.I.S.I.O.N [ Values Inspiring Students In Overcoming Negativity] Program to teach and reach at risk youth by using the streets’ experience and hip-hop culture.
He is working in his first book; a self-help business book for at risk youth / young adults and youth care workers. He is also working on other projects such as television and film industry where he is mentored by a friend, Ice T; rapper and actor of Law & Order; Special Victims Unit.
Attracted by the life in street, he one day realized that he was not where he was meant to be. He then chose to be a positive influence for his family and community through his V.I.S.I.O.N. Program (Values Inspiring Students In Overcoming Negativity) to teach and reach at risk youth. Todd Griffin, shares with us the how and the why of his wake-up call.
-You have dealt with streets’ life before being the person you are today. Tell us a little bit about what did attract you to the streets…
When you grow up in the inner city environment you are surrounded by poverty. The people in the neighborhood that “appear” to be living “the good life” affect your thinking as a young man or woman. You see your mother or father working minimum wage and can hardly keep food on the table. They cannot afford to buy you the nice things you see on TV and music videos, you see the stress in your parents face from working a job that is not fulfilling and is not paying the bills. So it becomes only natural to want what the other guys in the neighborhood have, the nice cars, clothes, jewelry, house and girls. That is what attracts inner city youth in the street life. There is also no one in the neighborhood that has that kind of success living productively and positively so you have no one else to model after. You put on the TV and in Hip-Hop videos, you see the rappers who look like you and who come from where you come from and you immediately relate. Youth start to feel like the rapper sells drugs (Because they say it in the music) and he made it so they can too. That is why I was attracted to the streets and why our youth choose this path today.
-What was your wake-up call to get out of the streets?
I lost my wife who was my girlfriend at that the time because she no longer wanted this lifestyle in her life and our newly born son. She gave me a choice, the streets or family, and that moment I chose the streets and moved out. After about seven months I realized this was not the man I wanted to be. I feel God intervened and spoke to me and decided to go home and change my direction.
-Sometimes people who have dealt with streets’ life get addicted to its lifestyle. What is your secret to avoid going back to that kind of life?
You are right, it is an addiction. It has been 10 years since I left that life and to this day it still will cross my mind every once in a while. Fast money is as addicting and just powerful as a substance addiction, like heroin. I choose to be a positive influence for my family and community and keep myself busy with work and business, and that is why I do not allow the street life to sneak back into my life.
-How your combined streets’ experience, your wake-up call and your new life are used to help the community today?
I decided to use my life lessons in the streets and in hip-hop culture to reach youth choosing the same path I chose. I was blessed to get out before it ruined my life and future, and I now show troubled youth that there is another option. I created the V.I.S.I.O.N. Program (Values Inspiring Students In Overcoming Negativity) to teach and reach at risk youth. VISION teaches the youth that you don’t have to be a drug dealer to be successful, you don’t have to super smart and get all A’s in school, you don’t have to be rapper to create a life where you can enjoy nice things. I give them a map and a compass to follow their dreams in any environment.
-Why do you think that hip-hop would be a positive tool to help young people today?
People get Rap and Hip-Hop confused. Rap is something you do and Hip-Hop is something you live! Hip-Hop is a culture a way of life and it influences how our youth live in day to day life. There is many positive aspects of rap and hip-hop culture but the current state of hip-hop is saturated with negativity. I have worked in the music business at a high level as a recording artist manager and executive and because of this 3 rd. party validation; I can quickly gain the youth attention. I use my knowledge and experience in Hip-Hop to teach our youth how the culture is lying to them and setting them up for failure. I also show them the positive aspects of the music and culture that they are missing.
-What would be your legacy in this fight?
I just want to make a difference, I just want my time on earth to mean something and I want to help inspire our culture to change its path and direction.