From the day my daughter Dashana was born, two lives began hers and mines. Fatherhood was not something I ever thought I would be good at. After all, I was living the life of a gangster, on a destructive path, which usually leads to death. How could I care for a child when I felt love did not reside within me? I did not think I could love her because I did not love myself. That all changed the day I watched her come into the world. Simultaneously, as she was born I had just bailed out of jail on a first-degree attempted murder charge. The joy of her birth and the realization that I would not be going to prison created an opportunity for and instantaneous bond between her and me. When I first laid eyes on her, I realized there was nothing on the Earth that I loved more. All my previous poor choices that I had made, which made my family suffer, could now be redeemed through fatherhood. She saved my life.
In 2007, one of my closest friends was gunned down and killed in Paterson, NJ. When I received the phone call, I had every intention of seeking revenge running up the stairs, changing my clothes, and grabbing my pistol. However, I was stopped at the front door by my wife holding my daughter in her stretched out arms, screaming "What about her? Who's going to take care of her?" With the gun in my hand, tears in my eyes, and hate in my heart, I stood frozen because I had never experienced love and hate at the same time. I had feelings of weakness and confusion as I looked at my baby. What was I supposed to do? For the first time in my life, I realized love was greater than hate because I dropped my gun and fell to the floor in tears.
At age three, I began training my daughter, preparing her to run track & field. Every day, we would run laps around the neighborhood track. It was clear that she had a gift for track and field. Three years later, I decided to move away from Newark, NJ to Atlanta GA. I did not want to raise my baby in the slums of Newark. I felt there was more opportunity and resources to nurture her track and field talent and I couldn't be more correct. She trained hard and excelled in competitive meets. Two years later at age 8, I became the proudest father ever when she won the USATF Junior Olympics in the 1500m, setting a new national record.
When I think about all the hours we spent together training, watching film in the early morning hours, researching statistics, and analyzing previous races, I realize that I had become a workaholic. I could not sleep because her next race was on my mind. I had abandoned a personal life to invest time in her health, conditioning, and mental tenacity. It took some time to fully understand why I had become so consumed with pushing her to be the best. The same way I obsessed in the film room at Delaware State University, slept in the weight room, getting to practice early, and leaving late, all those characteristics are what led me to being the number one kick returner in the country in 2002. I had led the entire country for kickoff returns for touchdowns. After I missed the NFL Draft because of character issues, I became depressed and life had little meaning for me. I was so close to reaching my dream and I threw it all away.
Regrettably, I would never be able to buy my Mama Morris a new house I had been promised her since I was sixteen. How could I repay my Mama back for all the years of anxiety and pain I caused?
I live with these regrets until this day, but the sight of my daughter rounding the track with a support system I never had, resources that were not available to me, combined with her athletic ability, and restores the hope for success. My personal choices lost my opportunity to play professional football, athletic fame and success. I wanted my daughter to have the same opportunities with me to guide her towards better choices. To hear an entire Stadium cheer for her as she broke national records is the same feeling I once felt when I was named as a Black college first team All American, Sports Network first team All American, and the Associated Press first All American. As she wins competition, we both win. I realize now more than ever that sometimes the Universe blesses us with children not only for us to care, love, and provide for, but to breathe life back into us, especially those who need redemption. I am not only her provider and protector, but also I am also her biggest fan. My daughter was my second chance.
My daughter has made the darkness in my heart shine brighter than I ever could imagine. She gave me a reason to wake up each morning. I can't thank my Lord enough for blessing me with such a beautiful child. My life had been full of prison sentences, violence, hate, pain and misery, but my daughter's birth helped me through some of the most difficult times of my life.
My daughter is training now for the 2020 Summer Olympics and with favor from our heavenly father, you will see her in the near future. It has taken me years, to come to terms with the fact my path was not to score touchdowns on Sunday, but to inspire and spark as much change around the world as possible. I use my life experiences as a platform to provoke thought and change, especially among gangbangers. Dashana, my beautiful princess warrior, has inspired this commitment towards redemption.