Thomas Tubbs, Jr. has finally settled into a positive mode; a mode of learning and helping and problem solving. Now 26, Thomas is a calm, inquisitive, and happy presence. It's hard to reconcile how a man who had such a difficult and challenging childhood emits such a pure feeling of contentment.
Thomas came from a family of 5 boys who grew up in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago. His grandmother took in all 5 when they became wards of the state during a time when both mother and father were heavy into drugs. Three of the five boys in Thomas' family got involved in gangs. Thomas' older brother, Jonathan, was killed in August of 2002, Thomas at his side.
Thomas was shot twice last July, in two incidents a week apart. Then CeaseFire began to work with him. CeaseFire, a program that aims to stop shooting and killing in Chicago, works with those like Thomas who are considered at highest risk for shooting and getting shot. Autry Phillips, the program coordinator, took a particular interest in working with Thomas, recognizing in him intelligence and potential to change and lead others in a positive direction.
I first met Thomas in March of this year, only 8 months after he had been shot. He was in a CeaseFire outreach worker training session. He had been hired, and was in my training class as a stand out pupil: hungry for every opportunity to learn new information, techniques, and ways to see the world. Later that month I happened to see Thomas with a couple of his coworkers. They were out on the streets trying to contain a situation that had turned into a bloodbath. That was Thomas' first week of work, and by all accounts he has been a blur of nonviolent productivity in that neighborhood ever since.
A few weeks ago, Thomas had just gotten off work as a CeaseFire outreach worker. He paused to talk to his father who was sitting on the porch of the house where they live with Thomas' younger brother, John, and his grandmother. Thomas eventually went inside, while his father went around the corner.
Thomas' heart sank as his father reentered the family home later that evening. His father's face was covered in blood, his eye swollen shut, his head misshapen by a devastating beating. The elder Tubbs was beyond fury; he had been beaten by a young man, who had struck without provocation.
Not so long ago, Thomas was running as an influential street leader in his neighborhood. The young man who beat his father knew Thomas, and would not have beaten the father had he known of their relation. It wasn't long before those faithful to Thomas were offering retaliation. The aggressor, referred to by Thomas as "Dude," is a member of the same gang Thomas used to belong to. It would be simple to bring him in for a "violation," a timed beat down by gang members, to discipline Dude for his trespasses against Thomas' father. Many thought a beat down was not enough. Threats of death heated the air.
A day and half after the beating, Thomas accompanied his father to the hospital. As they scanned the x-rays of facial fractures and blood clots, they came to a conclusion different than any they had ever reached in a situation such as this. The two Thomas Tubbs, one elder, one junior, came to an understanding together that they didn't want Dude to be touched. What became clear to them both was that God could work the situation better than they could. Mr. Tubbs told his son that he felt blessed to have a son like him. They shared a new understanding and respect for the bond they had come to develop; a bond that was hard won and especially precious for that.
Soon after arriving at this decision, Thomas and his brother were on their way to the store, when a group of young men brought Dude through the back gate of the Tubbs' home. Thomas made a beeline to bring his father outside. It was then that Thomas Tubbs, Sr., a carpenter who had fought back so many personal demons in his 45 years, would announce to the agitated men assembled on his behalf that he demanded that there would be no retaliation. Although this call for peace was greeted with anger and frustration, the elder Tubbs furthermore forgave his confused aggressor. When Dude understood that Mr. Tubbs was sincere, his disbelief turned to gratitude, and the two men embraced.
Recalling the incident some weeks later, Thomas still feels hurt for his father and wonders if he did everything that he could for him. "Change," Thomas states, "doesn't happen in one day. I have two sides. One tries to drop me down, and the other uplifts me. And God cleared all the negativity out of my head, and the side that uplifts me finally won out."