Editor’s Note: Shaka Senghor is a Director’s Fellow at MIT Media Lab. He is also a recipient of Knight Foundation’s BME Leadership Award. He is a writer, mentor, and motivational speaker whose story of redemption has inspired young adults at high schools and universities across the nation. You can read his full bio from here.
eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Shaka Senghor recently to gain insights about his ideas, books and works which is given below.
Niaz: Shaka, Thank you so much for joining us.
Shaka: My pleasure.
Niaz: Congratulation on being selected as a Director’s Fellow of MIT Media Lab.
Shaka: Thanks so much Niaz.
Niaz: You are a writer, mentor, motivational speaker and role model of hundreds of youngsters. Your fearless life has inspired so many minds. You have been a dedicated social activist. Now what are you doing at MIT Media Lab?
Shaka: As a Directors Fellow, I am currently working on the Atonement Project. It’s a collaboration between the Civic Media Lab, PCAP Prison Creative Arts Project and Mothers of Murdered Children. The project promotes healing between victims of violent crime, and bullying and those who perpetrate those offenses.
Niaz: Great. So what is your plan with MIT Media Lab?
Shaka: My plan with the MIT Media Lab is to expand the work I do as a mentor and a writer. I am looking forward to working with the Lab on a variety of projects that connect the resources and innovation of MIT Media Lab to people in communities who normally wouldn’t have access to the Lab.
Niaz: As far as I know you have an astonishing story. It is a story of redemption which has inspired young adults at high schools and universities across the nation. Can you please tell us about your story of redemption?
Shaka: My story of redemption grew in stages during my 19 years of incarceration. Early into my sentence, I was introduced to literature through an author name Donald Goines who was from my hometown in Detroit. After reading his work I began to read everyday and it was during this time I read The Autobiography of Malcolm-X which made me think about my life as being one worthy of redeeming. I did a lot of soul searching and journaling and worked through the baggage of my past. With each book I read, I learned something about my own humanity and felt like it was important for me to share what I was learning with young men and women in my community.
Niaz: You have published your new book ‘Writing My Wrongs’. What were the reasons behind writing ‘Writing My Wrongs’?
Shaka: The reason I decided to write ‘Writing My Wrongs‘ is because I wanted to help young people who come from hard scrabble backgrounds. I also wanted to show people what causes young men and women to go from wanting to be doctors and lawyers to ending up in prison serving lengthy sentences. I take readers deep inside the violent filled Detroit streets through the eyes of a teenager who was abused as a child, taken advantage of by older hustlers and ultimately made the worst decision in the world-pulling the trigger. I also wanted people to understand the far-reaching implications of gun violence and post traumatic stress disorder, both of which are causing devastation in cities across the world.
Niaz: That’s really impressive. My readers will love to know about your book ‘Live in Peace: A Youth Guide to Turning Hurt into Hope’. Can you please give a brief summary of it?
Shaka: Live In Peace is a companion piece to a project I started called Live In Peace Digital and Literary Arts Project. After winning the Black Male Engagement leadership Award for work I do in my community I launched the project in two local high schools. The book is comprised of essays, short stories, chapters from my memoir and my poetry. Each chapter deals with some of the major problems we are dealing with in our community from gun violence and sexual abuse to teenage drug abuse and teen suicide.
Niaz: What is your motivation to motivate others?
Shaka: The students, my son and the youth I work with motivate me to work as hard as I can to make a difference. As a man and a father I want our youth to inherit a better world then the one we inherited and so I will continue to do my part as best I can.
Niaz: What have you learned from your fearless life?
Shaka: The thing I learned from my life is that no matter how hard or far you fall, you can always get up if you have the will and desire.
Niaz: As you know, the baby boomers generation is going to retire within couple of decades. Today’s youths are going to take the positions to lead the world. What are the set of advices you want to give to youths so that they can lead the world to make it a better place to live in?
Shaka: The thing I share with the most with youth about the future is that there is nothing more important than the decisions they make in this moment in our time. They are the decision makers of tomorrow and they have to start working now to make life better for them and those coming behind them in the future. I also advice them to be conscious of the information they take in on a daily basis. When they have healthy thoughts they will make healthy life choices.
Niaz: Thanks so much for your valuable time.
Shaka: Thank you so much for having me.
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