New RPC Staffer Hopes to Be a Vessel of Change for Youth in Our Community
Growing up on the west side of Chicago, Maurice Hayes may have never envisioned a time in which he would be helping build up a community instead of helping destroy one. The former gang member was selling drugs and living a life with very little structure, forcing him to take on complex adult issues before he had the maturity to deal with them. He would even go on to spend more than 17 years in prison for first-degree murder.
The author, poet, spoken-word artist, and entrepreneur has turned those tough and tragic years into a positive, however. Recognizing the resemblance to himself in a lot of the young people he encounters daily – and having the ability to connect with them – Maurice feels it is his duty to share with them the knowledge that he has acquired. He’s doing so now as the new Mentor with Lived Experience at the RPC’s Youth Assessment Center (YAC).
In this newly created position, Maurice provides life coaching and mentoring to YAC clients assessed to be at risk of or involved with gun violence. The position requires a strong background working with youth ages 10- to 17-years-old who are at risk of juvenile justice involvement, part of, as he calls it, “the most lost generation I’ve seen in my 46 years of life.”
“There is a great difference that can be made when we think outside of conventional thought,” Maurice says. “Those of us that come from High Hope communities and have lived a lifestyle that spans generations have an innate knowledge not found in a book. We possess default tools that can help to answer questions that are baffling to others. Given the opportunity, men and women with backgrounds similar to mine can help make a difference. I thank (Justice Initiative Coordinator) Laurie Britt and the RPC for creating this opportunity.”
We asked Maurice about the challenges he faces working with Champaign County youth, what led him to the RPC, and what he hopes to accomplish through his involvement with the YAC.
Can you tell us a little about your background and what led you to this position at the RPC?
Maurice Hayes: “I’ve been a resident of Champaign/Urbana for the past seven years. I am an author, poet, spoken-word artist, and entrepreneur. I started my life here in the private sector as owner/operator of Firehouse Subs. From there I focused my passion for mentorship and started HV Neighborhood Transformation, a grassroots organization geared toward ending gun violence here in C-U. What led to my position here at the RPC is my background as an Urban Social Science Researcher.
“My lived experience includes but is not limited to the 17.5 years I served in the Illinois Department of Corrections for the crime of first-degree murder. I grew up on the west side of Chicago with very little structure, which forced me to grow up pretty fast. I recognize the resemblance of me in a lot of the young people I encounter daily, and with the ability to connect with them, I feel it’s my duty to share with them the knowledge I have.”
What do you hope to accomplish in this position?
MH: “Change. I simply want to be a vessel of change for these young people. My testimony identifies personal solution to these social problems. The thought is always the cause of it all. If I can plant a seed to change thought, then we have the power to change action. With the right resources and intent, we can save a lot of struggling young people from making horrible life altering decisions. I want to help service that part.”
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the youth you work with?
MH: “The biggest challenge I see facing the youth today is the lack of a true village and support team. Society has already closed the door on the most lost generation I’ve seen in my 46 years of life. The generational misunderstanding and often the unwillingness to gain understanding has driven a wedge between the elders and the youth. This has created a mistrust on one end and a failure to communicate on the other, thus rendering those that are most vulnerable without a place to go. With no internal nor external support team, the challenges are many.”
What elements from your background can you bring to this position and turn into a positive?
MH: “My greatest asset is myself – my background is my lived experience. With all that it embodies, it made me the man that I am today. I am no longer the person I was 30 years ago when I was responsible for someone losing their life. I am not the gang member selling drugs in the community helping to destroy. I am the total opposite, and that positivity is what I bring to this position.
“I now am an elder and it’s my responsibility to help guide them. The RPC has given me this amazing opportunity to literally be myself. This position was created because its needed and I’m thankful to be in it. The journey has come full circle – from being convicted of taking a life to being hired to save them.”