I was born in San Francisco but spent a lot of my youth with my father and stepmother in Eastside San Jose in the 1970s. I grew up in a non-typically agnostic American family with naturally gifted and brilliant parents who were also alcoholics. My brother and I broke into a Stop N Go through the roof at 10 and 11, stealing about 600 dollars' worth of candy. I went back two more times and got caught giving away too much candy at school. Things escalated when I moved back to San Francisco at 13 with my mother, who just worked and drank. My mother was beautiful and had a natural signing voice like a superstar, but she was gentle and passive. I joined a street gang of mostly Greek Orthodox Palestinian kids whose parents all owned liquor and grocery stores in San Francisco. My best friend, Ramiz Yousef, and his precious mother, Nabila, were the first people on earth to share their faith in Christ with me. I was always in trouble, and finally, at 14, I had my first taste of alcohol. Two tall cans of Old English 800. The night ended with me leaning out the passenger window of a cohort’s car, knocking side mirrors off of parked cars with a baseball bat as we drove by. Only to crash into a parked car after a police chase and get the pulp beat of us by San Francisco’s finest. My mother, overwhelmed with her drinking and my new stepfather beating me up every other day, signed me over to the State of California Youth Authorities. I was in and out of juvenile hall and a state-run foster home until my father rescued me at 15 and I went to live with him in San Jose. He was sober and is now trying his best to mentor me. I went back to my mother in SF at sixteen, but my stepfather got a job in San Jose so we moved there near my father, which I was happy with. But it wasn’t long before I was running the streets again. A Mexican gang jumped me one night, stabbed in a phone booth, talked to my father, who raced to the scene in his pajamas holding a baseball bat. The police sat me upright, asking me if I knew who might have done it. I said that I wasn’t sure exactly, but that they came from those third apartments down the street. Little did I know then that those apartments were a hideout for Mexican mafia members in and out of San Quintin. So when the police went down there, they found parol violations, and some of them were sent back to prison. They came for revenge while my stepfather was at work. They knocked on the door of our apartment, carrying 357 magnums. It was just me and my passive mother. I knew they were there to kill. I handed my poor mother a baseball bat and sat on the floor facing the door with my stepfather’s 22 revolver. Thank God that the apartment manager came halfway out of his unit with his own 357 and yelled at the perpetrators, warning them to clear out because the police were on their way. We moved out the next day. My mother and stepfather moved back to San Francisco, and I went to live with my father, who was now managing a Pontiac dealership and making lots of money. But the salespeople turned him onto cocaine, and it wasn’t long before he was selling marijuana with an ex-pro football player and free-basing cocaine. My older brother Mitch joined the US Army to escape it all, and I followed him a year later. We were both stationed in Germany. But I became ill from spoiled vaccines and was chaptered out honorably after only serving 11 months. I moved back to Eastside San Jose with my father, who was now a born-again Christian. He was now married to Jeraldine Lewis, whose family, the Rance, Jackson, MacAdory tribe, entire church, pastor and all from Mississippi, moved to San Jose, CA, for an opportunity because a family member was a superstar in Silicon Valley technology. Reverend Houston (seated front left) was my father’s spiritual mentor. My father became the first non-African-American ordained minister in the history of their congregation, Saint Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Eastside San Jose. I was happy that my father had turned his life around, but I made it clear to keep Jesus to himself because I was going to be a Super Star. But my father, who saw my gift and loved me so much, couldn’t help himself. I finally agreed to go to church with him at Cross Road’s Community, where he did some counseling. As he sang and cried, I couldn’t wait for it to end, and when it did, he went to talk to the pastor, and I went straight to the piano. Yeah, I was Prince without a revolution, and I was going to show these religious fools what’s up. Right when I sat down at the piano, a dorky-looking young man sat next to me and asked if he could read the Bible to me. I said, Yeah, whatever, but I’m going to play this piano while you do. As he read, my entire memory of what I taught myself to play that started in a state-run foster home was gone! Suddenly, the piano keys made no sense to me. Shocked and irritated, I told my father, I need to get the F’ outta here. In the parking lot on the way to the car, I exploded on him, calling him things that you should never say to your father. He was drunk, divorced my mom, and left us on welfare. Was a selfish drug addict on and on and now you want to claim Jesus? As we drove off, it escalated, but my father just stayed calm and talked about what the Devil had done to our family and how he was wasting my gifts. My father was a brilliant, well-read, self-educated man and a master of one-on-one conversation. Out of frustration, I screamed at the top of my lungs and smashed both of my fists down on the dashboard, screaming, “Life is FCKD!” My father pulled over to park the car and shut off the motor. We sat for a moment in an awkward silence, and then my father said to me in the most sincere voice, "No, son, life is not FCKD; you’re FCKD. And if you don’t get Jesus in your life right here and now, you will go out there in the world and learn the true meaning of that word. Trust me, son, I’ve been there already. My rage turned to sobbing, and I turned to my father with my arms out and said, “Help me, Papa, I’m lost.” He reached out, held me tight, and led me in the sinner’s prayer, and I was born again. Suddenly, in an instant, I was filled with great joy!  It was as if a thousand pounds of weight were lifted from my heart. He drove me home, and Jeraldine had already thrown a sheet over the toilet and put a lit candle on it. The bathtub was full of the smell of rose oil and my father baptized all six feet of me. As I came up out of the water, my father, in tears, held my face so sweetly, hands shaking, gently stroking my hair back as he said to me, “Welcome home, son, welcome home.” What happened from that day on is all history.

Below: My first pastor, Reverend Houston, and Saint Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Eastside San Jose, CA.

Reverend Houston (Front right) and Saint Paul Missionary Baptist Church