Youth leadership home helps men escape cycle of violence in Chicago

A Southwest Side home is helping young men escape Chicago violence and turn their lives around.

The youth leadership home is part of a program giving at-risk youth a chance at breaking the cycle of violence.

"The say that you're going to die in prison, and they gave me that at 16 years old," said Steven "Mustafa" Hawthorne, House Manager.

For 34 years, Hawthorne sat behind bars for murder.

He was convicted as a teenager and planned to spend the rest of his life in prison until an Illinois Supreme Court decision changed that, allowing him to go free in 2017.

"I'm starting a career. I'm starting life at 50," said Hawthorne.

Hawthorne found a home with the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, graduating from its green re-entry program before taking a job with the non-profit to help at-risk youth.

Now he serves as the manager at a Southwest Side home where five other men are trying to restart their lives.

It's a home that didn't exist until two years ago when the founder of the nonprofit Chicago Beyond found herself at the funeral of one of her former students, Jason Barrett.

"I ran into one of his best friends at his funeral," said Liz Dozier, Founder and Managing Director of Chicago Beyond. "We're talking about how he was next. But I talked to him about getting out of the neighborhood and doing something different and restarting his life. There was nowhere for him to go until Chicago Beyond teamed up with the Inner-City Muslim Action Network to build this youth leadership home."

The home gives men a safe place to start over and supports them as they focus on things like finishing their education, going to trade school or getting mental health help.

"We try to give them everything that we can possibly give them to help them succeed," said Hawthorne. "Is it a challenge? Absolutely. Is it trust issues with some of these young men? Absolutely."

Under the guidance of the program and the mentorship of Hawthorne, Talib is now on his way to becoming a mechanic. 

"I wouldn't really change where I come from because it gave me the humility and the humbleness that I have and just the person I have," said Talib. "I wouldn't really change that, but I want to change my future where I'm headed."