SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) -They call themselves ex-gangsters. They’ve lived the life and nearly lost their lives to the streets. Now they want to take back the streets and lead children down a positive road.
A new organization is called STEP UP — Staying Together Everyday People Unity Progress — plans to do just that, and it was founded by Willie Baker.
Baker says he was sentenced to 36 years after he was convicted of having more than 4 pounds of marijuana. During his appeal, he was re-sentenced to time served and served 3 years and 9 months.
Now he says he wants to make a difference. Baker says he wants to end violence and be a part of the solution.
Baker says today’s youth are influenced by music and rap culture. He says some youth become products of their environment.
“At the end of the day the streets are going to always be there, even when they are gone," Baker said. “Incarcerated, life sentence, or dead the streets are always going to be there.”
Willie was released from prison about four and a half years ago, and said he has always had a passion for youth.
Willie says his testimony is real. From the streets and by the grace of God. He’s even using a former death row inmate to help drive the message home — Rodricus Crawford.
KSLA News 12 interviewed Rodricus Crawford in 2017, just a few months after the Louisiana Supreme Court vacated his sentence.
Crawford was convicted and sentenced to death for killing his one year old son. During his appeal, his attorneys reveal nine different forensic pathologists agreed that Crawford’s son was not murdered but died from sepsis.
Crawford goes around and shares his story.
“He gave a testimony how he was young when he went to death row," Baker said. “I can’t even imagine being on death row."
While the center will have mentors on hand to listen to concerns, students can also do homework, play games, and just be kids in a safe environment.
Baker says if he can reach just one child he feels like he has accomplished something.
Parents are invited to the STEP UP Meet and Greet from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. on on Saturday, April, 27, 2019 at 5708 Mansfield Road in Shreveport. Rodricus Crawford is expected to come and say a few words.
There will be free food, bounce houses, a game truck, door prizes, and more.
The center plans to open officially to students on Monday.