By Sriya Reddy
Antong Lucky stepped up to the front door of his rival gang’s apartment. He thought he was on a suicide mission. Inside, he could hear muffled voices, feet shuffling, and the cocking of guns.
“The door swung open and these like 70 dudes, man, they had guns pointed at us,” Lucky said “And I remember I had my eyes closed thinking, ‘God, I know you are not going to take me out right now. I know you didn’t bring me this far to take me out right now.’”
At age 14, Lucky founded a local gang in the Frazier Courts neighborhood, now called Mill City, in southern Dallas where he grew up. He says to this day he formed it to protect himself and his community against the rival gang in neighboring Park Row. But by the time he went to the apartment, he was 24 years old, had served four years in prison, quit the gang, and begun to work against urban violence.
The meeting did not go as Lucky feared. Members of the rival gang listened and eventually the weapons were put down. Soon after, a peace treaty was signed and the man Lucky considered an enemy became a close friend.
“My enemy, who hated me, he became my brother,” Lucky said as he pointed to photos of them together in his office.
Now 45, Lucky is the president of Urban Specialists, a nonprofit organization founded by Bishop Omar Jahwar to advocate against urban violence for kids. Jahwar passed away from COVID-19 complications in 2020.
Lucky’s memoir “A Redemptive Path Forward: From Incarceration to a Life of Activism” comes out on May 17. And the run up to that date has him reflecting on the drastic changes he made to his life.
Lucky said he often reflects back on his childhood and the culture of violence that he was a part of. As a child, Lucky did well in school, got good grades, and was heading down a far different path than where he ended up.
But he lost focus when he was in middle school.
“By the time I got to seventh grade, my grades plummeted,” Lucky said. “It didn’t plummet because I wasn’t a student. It plummeted because I was spending more time worrying about my safety because this whole neighborhood idea was about being tough.”
Lucky said that he spent most of his teen years involved in the gang, where drive-by shootings and, for a period of time, selling drugs were the norm.
By 20, he was behind bars for possession of a controlled substance with the intent to sell.
“The judge sentenced me to prison,” Lucky said. “I remembered standing right there in front of the judge and the conversation inside my head was, ‘Judge, you gotta understand, I’m really not that guy. I was trying to survive.’”
But his prison time was a turning point. During those years, Lucky denounced his gang affiliation and vowed to get his life back on track.
It was there that Lucky realized he’d strayed far from the man he thought he was. He realized that he was facing the same fate as his father, who spent most of Lucky’s life in prison for aggravated robbery.
“I started to trace how I went from an honor roll student, a student who loved education and had high aspirations, to individuals calling me a menace to society saying I deserved to be in prison,” he said.
He not only wanted to turn his life around for himself, but also for his daughter, born just weeks before he was sentenced.
One day, on the news, Lucky saw Bishop Omar Jahwar in Frazier Courts, talking about his work in gang intervention and prevention. Jahwar, presiding bishop of the Kingdom Covenant of Churches and senior pastor of Kingdom WAR Legacy Church, was the founder of Urban Specialists, the Dallas-based nonprofit that seeks to stop senseless violence and help individuals reach their fullest potential. Lucky knew that he had to connect with Jahwar as soon as he got out.
When he was released from prison in 2000, he told Jahwar about his aspirations to help his neighborhood and mentor kids. Jahwar’s response was to convince Lucky to go ask for peace. That’s how he found himself face to face with the leader of his rivals.
Now president of Urban Specialists, Lucky works with kids who were about the same age he was when violence became a larger part of his life.
Urban Specialists was created in the late nineties, working with high schools, juvenile departments, and neighborhoods to encourage education, provide mentorship, and teach individuals what to look out for regarding urban violence.
Urban Specialists also runs the Bishop Omar School of Entrepreneurship, which pushes minority entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.
“We disrupt trends of violence and poverty,” Lucky said.
Lucky said that there has been an increase in urban violence in Dallas since he was growing up, partially due to social media, but the solution is the same.
“There’s a lot of kids growing up who are angry,” he said. “There ain’t nobody giving them the love that they need. That’s where we come in. We create an army of love and support that they need.”