One Year No Beer Podcast Episode 096 – A Message of Hope with Andre Norman
Thanks to the tragic killing of a black man by a white police officer in Minnesota, the world is experiencing a period of unrest – and perhaps of enlightenment as well. People around the world are questioning their own beliefs about race and the way that their institutions handle racial issues and conflict. The conversations that have sprung up from this incident and the subsequent outcry of protests and demonstrations are often difficult, but they’re necessary. Today’s guest, Andre Norman, has his own story to tell and an important perspective to contribute.
Andre Norman’s story isn’t what most people would expect. Andre grew up in poverty, underachieved in school, and started down a path of criminality in middle school. As a young man, Andre was sentenced to over a hundred years in prison, and there he became known as one of the top gang leaders in his state. It looked as though that was going to be his life for the rest of his life, however long that happened to be. But then something changed.
“I got a whole building full of people with the same capacity, have the same skill set, but the world doesn't see them as valuable.”
Andre describes his moment of epiphany as God speaking to him. It was just a brief statement, but it was long enough for Andre to reconsider what he was doing, and it sparked a change. Instead of fighting other prisoners, Andre began fighting to get out and to become successful. He set goals for himself. He was going to get out. He was going to go to Harvard. He was going to be a success. And he didn’t just set goals, he made a plan to achieve those goals. He got his GED. He attended counseling and anger management. He spent time in the law library of the prison, learning the law.
And Andre’s plans were successful. He worked long and hard on himself, and 14 years later, he was let out of prison. He became a Harvard fellow and an international speaker. He’s known as the Ambassador of Hope. He’s negotiated with riot leaders in prisons. He teaches other prisoners how they can turn their lives around. He works with families who have experienced tragedy, such as the father of Michael Brown from Ferguson, Missouri.
In today’s episode, Andre shares his story in his own words, and talks about the meaning of privilege and the effects of racism on Black people and Black communities. Andre also talks about his work with people who are struggling with addictions and other difficulties. Andre’s message is uniquely suited for this moment in history, so listen in to hear it in his own words.
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ANDRE NORMAN’S LINKS
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Andre on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/andrenorman/
Ruari: Welcome to another awesome episode of the One Year No Beer Podcast. We normally always talk about your alcohol-free journey and whilst today we will be talking a little bit about addiction, hope, and finding hope. Today's guest is somebody that I've known for some time and have been meaning to do a podcast with for some time, but the recent events going on in the world, the tragic death of George Floyd and the rise of protests around that really started something going on in my mind.
As I started to look into this, research a bit more, find out more and more, read some books, read some stories, and see what other people were posting, I realized that I am incredibly ignorant, I guess being born in Scotland and as you'll see in this podcast, only 4% of its population are black, Asian minority ethnic.
I did live in London for a long time, 13 years, but yet, I never really understood. I never really understood racism. For what I thought it was is actually something very different. I guess what I'm saying to you is that I'm learning. I don't know what to do. I know that I don't want to be racist, and that I know that I believe that all humans deserve a good life, and this podcast is about living a good life.
I hope you'll forgive me if I sound ignorant. I hope you'll forgive me if I ask a stupid question. I hope you'll forgive me if you don't really resonate with something that's said in this podcast. I'm trying to learn. I want to be there for everyone. I believe in love, kindness, and compassion for all people, for all of the human race.
If you're a human on this planet, then I offer you kindness, compassion, and love. It's that simple. I want to be less ignorant. Also, I have a duty. I have a duty as somebody who has listeners, who runs a podcast, and has a community to be making sure that I stay educated and I help all of us to live life better. On that basis, I hope you really enjoy this podcast. I hope it opens up some thought in your mind. I hope it asks some questions about yourself, what you're doing, and if you can do anything, and then I hope that we all work towards a world where we can all live life better. Wouldn't that be amazing? Let's get into the interview.
Today, my guest was sentenced to over 100 years in prison after growing up, surviving the only way he knew how—a life of crime. In prison he became one of the top gang leaders. During two years of solitary confinement, Andre had an epiphany and started to turn his life around. He taught himself to read and write, learn self-development, left and went to Harvard University. He is now known as the violence interrupter, the ambassador of hope and founder of The Academy of Hope. Andre goes into some of the worst prisons in the US and talks down gangs, inspires gang leaders to become peaceful and has negotiated mass riots peacefully in maximum security prisons. Andre, thank you for joining us on the podcast today.
Andre: My pleasure to be here.
Ruari: Andre, I've given a bit of your top highlights of this incredible past. Let's hear it from the horse's mouth. Can you give me a bit of background into your story?
Andre: My story is classic at one level of black American kids in America. Grew up, my mom and dad didn't get along, a lot of domestic violence in the house. He leaves the house. You get a single mom with six kids. She's struggling to get by. We go to public school, and we're just poor. It's that simple. She doesn't have enough time to dedicate to all six kids. I fall through the cracks and my brother fall through the cracks. She tries and does the best she can.
By the time I get in school, it's just not the best. I found out in the third grade about 10 years old I was illiterate. At that time they had a thing called a dummy class. It wasn't a problem the you couldn't read, getting stuck in a class with a bunch of kids who couldn’t read. They left us there. Luckily the teacher pulled me out of that room and she taught me my learning style. She said you're not a dummy. You just learned differently.
At Middle School, you don't have the cool things the other kids have. Nobody's coming to father-daughter dance. None of that stuff, so it's just as bad. Then you start wanting the stuff that you don't have. Your mother can't afford it, your father's not around, so you make the best way you can. You start selling drugs after school. You [00:05:46] after-school hustle as we call it. That started me down the path of criminality. I was trying to be accepted by the other kids and had to commit crimes and violence to be accepted [00:05:56] lots of stuff in middle school.
By the time I went to high school I was just a mess. I'm out on the streets full-time. I effectively quit high school and just took to hustling all day. Anybody before me spending time in the street, you run around and you get arrested enough times so finally they said, okay, you’re going to prison.
Seven to 10, two 9 and 10s, two 10s, two 15 and 20s and a 5 is what they gave me years. Sent me in the state prison and they dropped me off. I spent the next six years fighting, gang-banging, selling drugs, extortion. Prison doesn't stop criminals. It just collects them. If you are a criminal before you got to prison, you're a criminal when you get to prison. It's just a bunch of us together and that's where you learn how to be a better criminal. You learn how to be more violent, you learn a lot of stuff.
In the end, it's just craziness, so fast forward six years I did this. From there, I had an epiphany one day. I realized being a top gang leader in the state was cool. It was status. People looked up to you, but the truth was I was a king of nowhere. As a king of places nobody cared about was when people just went away to [00:07:13]. I made it a goal for myself to become successful. I said I'm going to go home and become successful, take to school for Harvard University. I said I'm going home, I’m going to Harvard.
Everybody thought I was crazy. Everybody I thought I lost my mind. I never had a drink or drugged up, but they said he must be on something. Nobody could see it, but I could see it and I believed it. I set a plan for myself and I stuck to the plan. Step one I got my GED for high school equivalency degree. Step two I went to counseling. Step three I went to the law library and taught myself the law. Step four I go to anger management classes because I had an anger management problem.
For eight years I worked on myself. Stop gang-banging and stop selling drugs, stop fighting, focus on bettering myself. After 14 years, they let me out. For the last 20 years of my life, all I've been doing is helping people, because there were people who stepped up to help me in my transition, and it made a difference in my life. Those mentors that stepped up helped me get to where I am today, I now have the obligation to be a mentor for somebody else.
I go to prisons around the country and around the world. I go to programs around the country and around the world. I help people from Australia to Guatemala, from Honduras to Sweden. I've been too many countries and cities to count and the goal is simple. How do you help people get better?
Ruari: It is amazing. I've heard your story a couple of times. We've met a few times before at Genius Network over in the US. It's hard to describe to everybody listening out there the presence that Andre has. When Andre speaks to you, there's just this powerful feeling. You talk straight to people's soul. It's a really powerful thing. There are many times I've seen somebody crying with Andre in a corner somewhere and this could be a CEO or an entrepreneur, and they've just caught you for a 10 minute conversation. You've just communicated directly to them, and we're going to come much more into that, about how you created or found that gift in yourself to speak to people.
Going back into your backstory a bit, you said it is common for underprivileged and black to be around that environment. Do you think that you almost didn't have a choice for the life of crime? Was that just the paved path? Or do you think you had choices but made bad choices? How do you feel about that for you and for other people? I'm curious.
Andre: The first thing I would say, underprivileged and black seem to be synonymous. When you say underprivileged, it’s two distinct different things, but in this country it’s synonymous. Underprivileged means black. If you say, tell me somebody is underprivileged, 9 out of 10 people go and check a black person; some might check a Latino. Very rare you're going to check a white person or maybe an Asian, but underprivileged and black being synonymous is a problem by itself.
Relative to that I have options. Yes, I had options. It wasn't just like those 1000% no way out. I had to commit crimes. I could have gone to school with dirty clothes. I could have stayed for free lunch. I could have stayed being ridiculed by all the kids in school. I’ve been treated as an outcast my entire school career. That was my option.
That was my option to just go to school and that every kid from 6th grade to 12th grade, just give me the business, hate on me, crack jokes on me, be mean to me all day long because I don't have the cool clothes, because I can't pay for my own school lunch, because I can't afford to go to the movies with these kids, I got holes in my shoes.
My option was, except as a 12-year-old, completely ridiculed my entire school or catch up. And the only way I could catch up was to commit crimes. It wasn't an absolute my life was in danger. No. But as a 12-year-old, there's nothing more important than fitting in, and I could not fit in with what I had, period.
Nobody's going to say, well, Dre is a good kid. We should let him play with us. It was never going to happen. Sixth graders don't do that. If you don't fit in, you’re the target of everybody's problems every day, you're the target, and I was the target. The only way to get that target off my back was get them dirty clothes off my back, get them dusty shoes off my feet, and get out of the free lunch line. That was my choice.
I did have a choice, but as a 12-year-old, if you put me back there again, I'd probably choose selling drugs to be accepted versus I'm going to stick this out.
Ruari: Absolutely. The choices are there, but they're so minimal. One thing I want to mention is just how much learning I've done over the last 48–72 hours, not just in getting you as a guest on but obviously what's going on in the world, and again, we're going to talk about that and how ignorant I have been overall to racism, I think how ignorant we all are, and this is why I wanted you to come on the podcast so that we could talk about exactly this. We are all being white privileged people, and just how privileged we are.
Andre: This is my thing with the term privilege because people get that confused. Privilege doesn't mean you were born rich. Privilege doesn't mean you went to a private school. Privilege doesn't mean that everything can be easy for you and you've never had to suffer or maybe you weren't a free lunch line. Maybe you had dirty clothes and dirty shoes too. Life is hard, but your life is not hard because you're white.
My life is hard plus it’s hard because I'm black. When you walk in, you can be the biggest homeless, craziest ass stinkiest guy in the world, [00:13:22] for six years straight doing nothing. If we take you to a barber shop, get you a haircut, put you in a suit, and puts you on a briefcase, you're accepted. I could have been in private school since birth, and I'm still going to be questioned. The privilege isn't what you have tangibly, physically, monetarily is just being white. No one's going to question.
Are you a good person? I have to prove I'm a good person. A white person doesn't have to prove them all the time. There are circumstances where you have to establish yourself, but in every scenario, or most every scenario, I have to prove it. I'm not going to be one of the violent, crazy, out of control, lazy, whatever you categorize black people, and a white guy in his suit, nobody's asking where he was last week.
Ruari: Yeah, exactly. It's the system. Is the societal advantage or disadvantage by being black and this is what I've been awakened to thinking—we are going to talk about this so we're jumping around, but that's always me—that racism is making a joke or saying something, but it's not. It's actually the system. The system is racist. It is unfair from the get go because of the way it is set up and all of these things that happen inside our brain.
When I look at a group of five black kids across the street, instantly I think I feel unsafe, versus if you just saw five white kids on the street. You wouldn't even bat an eyelid or think and that's all part of the system. We are programmed to feel that fear. We are conditioned to experience that, and it's been so insightful to start learning this.
Andre: I used to swim, and I became a good swimmer. When I became a good swimmer. I can't get into the pool. When you say your condition, you have a choice to allow the condition to go forward, or to say no. I personally listen to heavy metal music. I listen to it long enough, I can get conditioned to get used to it. I don't really listen to country music, but if you put it on long enough, I can get conditioned, but I have to agree to listen to it for a long period of time to become conditioned.
You can't snap your fingers and condition me to country music. I can't snap my fingers and make you condition to ignore racism. You've agreed over time to say, you know something, I'm just going to agree or ignore. If you did so intentionally, unintentionally, consciously, but I can't subconsciously say I'm not black, not be black, or be blind to racism. I don't have the option. It's not that you are a bad guy, I'm a good guy. I just don't have the option. I can opt out of not having to deal with racism where other folks can.
Ruari: We're going to talk more about that soon. Talking specifically about crime, what do you think it is that makes somebody commit a crime, when you speak to somebody about that?
Andre: Let's take Andre. Andre committed crimes because Andre needed to get stuff to get up to speed than the other kids. I did not have and I did not see a way of getting it. For me I can talk about many people but for Andre it was the lack of having that forced me to do crime. I didn't just wake up and want to be a bad guy one day. I didn't want to be ridiculed one day again and again and again.
Let's back up. Crime starts from, and I'm the guy first, second, third, fourth, fifth grade with extreme learning disabilities in the sense of not disabilities. I just wasn't learning. I didn't have disabilities, I just was written off. Had I been an educated kid, had I actually been up to grade or been up to speed, I might have been able to think of different options, but me being uneducated, me being behind everybody else, and being poor made it that much worse.
I couldn't connect with people on academics. I couldn't connect with people in programs, not the school stuff, and I couldn't read it well. If you educate people, they'll start thinking on their own of different solutions. I had limited education which gave me limited solutions in my mind. We balance the educational system. That will diminish crime itself because most people who are committing crimes don't have money or don't have hope.
If you lost $10,000 today, you're not going to go rob a bank or sell crack. You're going to sit down and probably planning a strategy to start a new business, launch a new plan and do something, and grow that money because you have the skill set/education to do so. If I don't have that skill set and education, but I still need $10,000, what do I do? In my mind I have to get it. In reality I need to get it. The truth is, I can't get it through honest means because I don't have the education and insight to do so.
Ruari: On that note, though, do you feel the education is set up? You're a part of Genius Network. You see the kind of education that goes on for entrepreneurs. You see the learning that we get versus the learning we get at school. Do you think education from that perspective is right?
Andre: I'm not going to compare it to Genius Network. That's adults and kids. I do private school and public school. My son, black kid, goes to private school. Me, dad, black kid went to public school. My son right now in 2020 goes to a private school. We just had the pandemic. All the schools in the world were shut down. Kids were sent home. Before my son stepped foot in that school, I was forced as a parent to buy him the latest phone with some iOS code. I was forced to buy him the latest iPad, and I was forced to buy him a laptop.
Those were three mandates before he got off the bus. If your kids are coming in, he needs these three things. I need an iPad with the draw pencil, and wasn't just an iPad. I had two things. I had to send my son to school because their school would have to be able to send him texts, lesson plans. It's all technology. Going in school close my son didn't miss a beat on me and had access to his teachers.
I have access to his classwork, I have an access to his classmates. My school had no technology. All the public school kids went home, they just weren't getting taught anything. That is completely in the dark. They were not set up or geared to do any type of education beyond in person. All the public school kids, the majority of them got sent home with nothing. All the kids in private schools, often better schools, got sent home with technology.
Ruari: Tell me about your epiphany. You're one of the top gang leaders in a maximum security prison. You've got a reputation to uphold. People have expectations for you. How did this epiphany come about and what happened?
Andre: What happened? I was in solitary confinement when trying to kill some people. I was just given an additional 10 years to my sentence for 2 attempted murder charges I was convicted of while in prison. I was sat in solitary confinement for 2½ years. Towards the end of my solitary time, some friends of mine got into a fight in a dispute and I was going to retaliate in my unit, but before I could, God spoke to me. God told me Andre, don't do this. It's a life choice.
I got mad and I said, God, why are you speaking to me because all my life I said there's been no God. My mother used to get beaten to the floor. There was no God. When I went to school as a kid, white kids [00:21:20] threw rocks at a bus and call us niggers, there was no God. I can just go down a list of times, I saw no God. I'm like, why do you bother me to go find your people, because evidently I'm not one of them.
Me and God had this big argument. He was like, this is a life choice. At the end I went back to the cell. I didn't hurt anybody that day. I came up with the plan to go home and go to Harvard. I didn't go to the cell. I didn't start speaking in tongues. There's nothing floating. There's no smoke or voices. It was just that brief encounter gave me a chance to reflect and redirect myself.
I've turned every direction and I went down a path of becoming successful. It was a long walk. The hardest part was all my friends and a lot of my family was going the other way. They thought it was [00:22:10] at the end of the road and it's not. It's just a lie.
Ruari: It's just more pain.
Andre: I figured the light out and I turned around, and I spent my entire days trying to convince people not to go down that path. I live two minutes from maximum security prison. I go into it every day. When I get off this call with you, I'm driving down the street—I can't walk to work—I'm going inside the prison and talking to guys in real time because people think, Andre you're wonderful. Andre you're so helpful. Andre you turn stuff.
I got a whole building full of people with the same capacity, have the same skill set, but the world doesn't see them as valuable. You can see me as valuable, but you're not going to say well, where did he come from? I came from prison. There's a lot more people in prison who are as gifted, if not more gifted than me, but nobody's saying let’s tackle in a resource. They just say leave them in there.
Ruari: Throw away the key.
Andre: [00:23:05] right now. The right, right now. You have police officers on the front lines dealing with rioters. You are putting their lives at risk and it's more conflict. I would dare to say if you got the gang leaders from my prison or prisons around the country, and you can tell them to stand in front of them rioters, they would do a lot better at turning this around.
Ruari: Because they speak from a place of knowing?
Andre: They speak from a place they know, and the other people to people look up to. [00:23:40] on the street, when I grew up, in my book, there's a guy named Dominic Williams. He was the coolest guy. He was the biggest guy in my neighborhood; he was like a god. If Dominic came on and said you guys need to shut this down, I would have done it. Whatever Dominic said I've done. Hands down no question.
But they didn't get Dominic. They sent a white state trooper. They sent somebody I didn't have any relationship with and the people that the folks in the street have a relationship with are not making a sense of it. You're going to risk the cop's life not saying you should risk a prisoner's is life, but it's a lot less risky using the people they look up to versus the people that they don't get along with from the start.
Ruari: Who they identify as the enemy or the oppressor.
Andre: The black guy was a cop [00:24:36] calmed me down, doesn't work.
Andre: The cop killed a black guy again, and in the black community, we've never seen them as police. We saw them as occupying forces. We don't receive the police in the black community as here to help us. They are here to manage and make sure we stay in this little box called the Ghetto. We don't go out into the suburbs where you live. Keep them out there. Keep them boxed in. There are neighborhoods that we know better than going as kids, because they're rich white neighborhoods.
If you want a rich white neighborhood, you're going to get pulled over, police don't pull up on you, you gotta justify why you're there just because I'm black, even the fact that no black people in the neighborhood shouldn't matter because it's still America.
Andre: You can't [00:25:33] nice white neighborhood as a black man.
Ruari: The reality of that is crazy and how that system. I think, in a way, a lot of our listeners are UK-based. In fact, international-based and I think there's a tendency to whenever we're looking at a problem is to disassociate it from us. We say, well, racism isn't really here in the UK. It's not as bad as it is in the US and I see people posting about this.
Andre: One question. How many black politicians do you have in the UK? I'm just [00:26:05]. Of all [00:26:07], your Congress, your Senate, your Parliament. How many black members of parliament are there?
Ruari: Not many. It'll be disproportionately. You see, interestingly that in England and Wales 14% of the population are black, Asian, and minority ethnic, but make up 25% of the prison population, very disproportionately. Interestingly, in Scotland, 4% of the population is black, Asian, and minority ethnic, which is absolutely tiny.
Andre: Okay, while in America, there are 12 million blacks in the country. Let’s make 50% of the men, split it down even. That's 6 million blacks. Then let's just say of the 6 million black males, half of those are 18–50. That's three million black males. Three million black males. Not going to say Michael Jordan's in in that list. Charles Barkley, Tiger Woods on that list, three million black males make up 70% of the country's prison populace. Out of 3 million is about 700,000 locked up. That's beyond disproportionate.
Ruari: It's just awful.
Andre: That system out there.
Ruari: Absolutely. You had your epiphany, you came out, and you really focused on improving yourself and obviously in prison people have this identity of who you are, that have been trying to pull you back into that. How did you or did that not happen? Did you clean cut [00:27:54]
Andre: People wanted me to stay where I wanted because they were comfortable. [00:27:59] would avoid, misery loves company, all those things are true. The biggest part was—this is bigger with my family as well as my friends—if he makes it, what does that say about me? Why am I not making it? One of the biggest things that I had was pull back in the city. Andre turned his life around. He says he made it. Why can't I? He had no education. He had a bad upbringing. He lived in the same neighborhood, lived in the same house, had the same issues, but he managed to turn all this around and fix his life, which says it's fixable. Hard work attacks, but it's fixable. It's not predicated on me having Michael Jordan’s or Kobe Bryant’s skill set. I just wanted to work hard.
I didn't need a rich uncle or to be 6’8”. I just had to work hard and if you work hard in this country, you can overcome racism. You can overcome poverty. You can overcome disenfranchisement.
Ruari: That's powerful, but there's a magic ingredient that you need. This is what makes you so passionate because this is what you do now in going to speak to people, that magic ingredient that helps somebody turn around to then apply themselves hard work or to change their life. I'm guessing that's hope, but tell me about what you do now and how you go in and speak to people, and how you get to turn around people.
Andre: What I understand is this is connectivity. There are people who are oppressed and people who are underserved. Those people were neglected and it's a certain type of pain. That pain produces a focused certain type of person. You can grow a great person out of pain, if the gods of it and the mentors of it. Let's take Mike Tyson. As a young man, Mike Tyson used to rob people, beat up people, snatch pocketbooks. You go to juvenile detention, and he's fighting every day, because that's what he did, he was a fighter.
Finally, somebody said, instead of sending Mike Tyson to solitary confinement for the 20th time, they sent Mike Tyson to the gym program that they had. He went to the gym program and a guy put them in a room. The first guy knew enough to know he couldn't help Mike, so he called in Cus D’Amato. Cus D’Amato came by and looked at Mike. He said, Mike, let me [00:30:29]. I'm going to turn you into a heavyweight champion.
Mike Tyson, being in the inner city of New York, not very literate, not very educated, and a fighter his whole life, he's like, what are you talking about? I beat up people for a living. What are you talking about? Nobody talks to me and does anything for me. They just ask me to do stuff for them. That is wrong. Cus D’Amato told Mike Tyson in a conversation, I'm going to make you a heavyweight champion and he said I just need you to trust me.
He trusted him and lo and behold, he’s one of the most feared heavy champions ever. Think about it. Mike Tyson doesn't meet Cus D’Amato, what is he? He's just another thug in jail. He had the ability, but he needed a mentor. There's a lot of people who have the ability, they just don't have a mentor.
Two years ago, there was a riot in the prison where I work. Seven men were murdered, 30 were injured, and they didn't know what to do. They called me, I came in, and I rounded up all the top gang leaders, influencers, religious leaders in the state, and moved them into one unit. I started teaching them how they can apply their leadership, how they can achieve greatness. We went 13 months, with no fights, no weapons, no murders. The same way Mike Tyson walked out of that [00:31:51] detention center became heavyweight champion of the world. I'm getting people to walk out of it. These people right here right now. Have the ability to walk out of it and impact the country
Ruari: That was amazing.
Andre: People [00:32:07] experience and sensitivity actually engaged and connected.
Ruari: As well as doing that, speaking into prisons and gang leaders you also missed part. You are also a Genius Network. You have gone to people who are suicidal or heavily in addiction and in a difficult place, and yet pulled them back. How are you talking to them? What is it you're doing?
Andre: I talked to everybody for starters, but a lot of the times when you see me I'm talking to white folk. My situation with white people is you take somebody who's depressed, on drugs, suicide, whatever the thing is. They're expecting the stereotypical response. Let's take them to the doctor, let's take him clinician, let's take him to the side, let's give him meds (whatever the scenario is), let's send him to some place. The guy with the khakis on and a blue shirt shows up and tries to talk to him.
What they don't understand is if it's a teenager, you look like somebody that identifies with a parent, and they’re not siding with their parents, so they automatically dislike you and not listen. When I showed up for the juveniles, for the young, for the teenagers, or young adults, I was nothing like their parents, I sought nothing like their parents, I don't resemble their parents. They're like, oh my God, he's different. Just because I don't resemble the white kid's parents, I have a [00:33:41] and they identify if they're on drugs, with oppression, bad treatment and neglect, which automatically pushes on the line of understanding somewhat what it's like to be black.
We have a connectivity point there and suffering. Then, I have experience and I speak direct. I speak the language of their pain. You take a middle class mom who's never used drugs, never been poor, and never been through any hardships. Now you have a daughter who's out here, struggling with addiction and all the stuff that comes with that. Mom can't speak that language. I can.
When mom speaks, it wraps in all the 18 years of conversations this child ever had with mom. The kid can't separate this one conversation and the other 5000. With me it's separated, it's equal, it's off to the side, and they can listen. The key thing is I don't represent and remind them of the thing they're running from. They're generally not running from black people. Whatever their pain was, if somebody molested them, somebody beat them, somebody neglected them, somebody didn’t show up for their birthdays, whatever it was that happened, it’s like a 99.9% chance a black person [00:34:54] had anything to do with it, so they don't associate me with their pain.
Whereas they associate their parents or whoever they think is the person with their pain. It makes it easier to have the conversation because it feels like it's an authentic offline conversation. Then I'm able to penetrate and break through with my communication skills and actually get them to talk. I spent 14 years surrounded by hardened criminals who are masters at hiding their emotions, masters at deception, masters at lying, with the intent of trying to murder you. I'm walking around the prison with 2000, 3000 people who are up to no good all the time, and I have to be smarter and think faster.
Now you put me in a room with a 16-year-old kid who does not hide his emotions, he's on his sleeve and his problems, even though they're big to him aren't big to me, but I can walk them through that. In prison I have to know what they are thinking before you do. When you put me around with a 15-year-old, it's not even [00:35:53]. I can hear their pain, I can see, I can just summarize it all up and their movements in how they move and how they speak, I can start touching the pain points without them asking questions, or having to ask certain questions that are embarrassing. I just answer, give them their answers.
Ruari: Getting them to talk being absolutely key and hearing their pain. I love that. If somebody is listening—as they will be—and they're in that cycle, they won't be considering it addiction, but perhaps resetting they've tried doing this alcohol-free challenge with One Year No Beer a couple of times and reset and reset and reset, and they're blaming themselves because they can't seem to get control over this, the feeling full of self-loathing and regret, et cetera, what would you say to somebody in that situation?
Andre: I'm going to use a Keith Cunningham quote. “If you want a great idea, the best way to get it is to have a bunch of women and pick one.” If you want great ideas for One Year No Beer, that's great, but it's standalone. I say, okay, I'm going to do One Year No Beer. I'm going to do one year being more sensitive, one year being a child's mom. Just don't let that be your only thing. I'm going to say my mama calls every day or texts every morning. I'm going to send my kid I love you text every morning.
I'm going to make breakfast for my wife, a lot of small things. Do you like this one big thing, no beer, you need a lot of small things to train you because you're going from 0 to 1000 real quick, and it's not easy. You're going back and forth whereas if you have a lot of smaller things, you build a pack. One pebble was just a pain, 1000 pebbles is a pathway.
Ruari: I like that.
Andre: With that, building a lot of small things that you know you can do. I'm not going to watch TV anymore. I'm not going to check my social media feeds at 9:00. What happens is you have this whole [00:37:54] doing new things, not just this one. I'm not going to break through it. You have all day long doing everything you've always done, and at 6:00 [00:38:04] I can't do that. You have no track record. You have no momentum and then say no or doing something different.
You need to create a lot of different things. It will train the brain to being different then the benefit just becomes one or not the only one. You figure out by itself, it looks crazy. You put in a group of other things, maybe not as hard. It looks a little bit better.
Ruari: I like it. Breaking absolutely in what we do is getting people to break it down into small bite sized chunks and lots of good healthy habits. While they're doing it, I love all that. Why do you do addiction outreach?
Andre: I do addiction outreach because kids are dying. There's no two ways about it. I watched some relatives struggle with addiction. Some relatives were really close to me and it was hard. It was part of the reason I wasn't where I was supposed to be because other people weren't who they were supposed to be, that I should have been relying on. It's one of the hardest things to have and addict in your family, because it affects the whole family, not just the addict. I'm saying it so.
I want to see kids free of addiction, live their best life and go out and do things because they get to this George Floyd thing. The next generation doesn't carry the biases and lessons that we have. My father grew up in a town at a time when he was just every bad name you can think of you call black he was just because he woke up. My father wasn't allowed to be born in a hospital because he was black. Him and all his brothers and sisters were born at home in the house because blacks weren't allowed to be born in the hospital when he was born.
Imagine that. You can't have your kids in the hospital. Your wife's pregnant, you're like, oh, got to have it at home. No medical equipment. You're going to keep your kid up. If he makes it, he [00:40:02] that's what my father came from. You can't unlive that experiment, and he comes to me. Now I'm having a variation of experiences with my own. I get rocks thrown at me. I'm in a dummy class and here comes my son.
My son doesn't have 100% of my issues and 100% of my dad issues. He's clear of that, but he has his own so it lessons with generations, if it's directed correctly. We need this generation to rise up and be strong because they're going to lead us out of this. Not the old minded. I used to be a racist, but I reckon myself [00:40:38] racist, he was a racist the day he dies.
My father does not like white people, I don't care. I don't care what he tells you in public I'm going to say what he told me in the house. He does not like white people for the way they treated him his entire life [00:40:52] he watched his father treated horribly. He watched his mother treated horribly. He was treated horribly and I'm talking about 20, 25, 30 years of his life, this was his reality.
No, no cultural classes may never go away. He's going to go his way with a lot of animosity and distrust of white people since the fact. My son doesn't have that level of animosity and distrust. Your son is not going to have that level of animosity interest with distrust, because he's not going to live doing my part. His mind is open into a different space and not your kids and my kids can move forward without the problem of blacks and whites in the country. Slavery hasn't gone away in the minds of the adult. Like I said, my father grew up, so my father's grandfather was a slave.
You take that, you imagine your grandfather being the slave and the lessons he's telling and teaching you. Now my son is four generations removed from that. His grandfather wasn't a slave. His grandfather, his grandfather was, so the trauma that comes with that is not been removed yet.
Ruari: The trauma.
Andre: Think about it. I have people who are 85 years old, so back to maybe 5 years a little bit. What was the world like 80 years ago?
Ruari: Probably different.
Andre: Black people 80 years ago. That's what this will carry.
Ruari: There's going to be no quick solution, but the solution is educating and not just education for black kids, not just education and good educational fair education for all so that they can then have the power to improve their lives, but also education to white people about racism, and this is why I wanted to do this podcast is that to be a part of that education.
Educating myself and educating people. Just opening the doorway so that people want to go and say, well, hang on a minute. I'm not a racist. I'm not a racist people might say, but you are racist because you're part of the system.
Andre: I'm not going to say [00:43:17] part of the system, you're racist.
Ruari: Involved in racism then.
Andre: You can benefit. I've benefited from being black. When I walk into a gym I get credit for being athletic, I might not be athletic. My coach does this extremes and that's we want to stay away from the extremes of because you're white and you have you stood up in a sign you're racist. I'm not saying that. This is my take on racist. There are racists in the world my [00:43:46] it's okay. You can be a racist. It is completely okay to be a racist.
I have zero problem with a racist. My thing is if you're a racist and you happen not to like black people, they do not join the police force and go work in a black neighborhood. That's my thing. You can be racist hate me because I'm black, hate me because of my culture, hate me because I'm tall, hate me because of whatever. Just don't join the police force and come down as your job mandate to protect me, because it's not going to be possible for you to do that. From a cop and go work in a white neighborhood.
Ruari: It's like having a pedophile being a teacher in a school you would never have that. You would never have that.
Andre: I don't need to not be a racist. I need the racist and not work as a police in the inner cities. I'm so cool racist. It's fine. When I was in prison, I dealt with the [00:44:42] I dealt with the Mexicans. I've dealt with a lot of groups, in many cases who just don't like blacks. I'm cool with that, but when your mission is to not like us, then you want to govern us. Then you run it. Don't become a court judge and go sit on a bench in the inner city where you always see black.
You're putting yourself in position to not just be a racist, but to tear down a whole generation of people. I'm [00:45:09] being a racist, knock yourself out, but just don't become a cop and knock one of us off the plane.
Ruari: We're all about living life better. This is about living life better. What I want is I want to be involved or I want to inspire people to live a better life wherever you are from. I want to help create this awareness of racism but more specifically asking you somebody listening to this podcast.
Andre: Leave the racism part alone. Racism isn't the problem. The racist takes the job as a cop, you could stay home and hate me till you're blue in the face. It doesn't bother me. It doesn't bother me to turn your home not liking me because I'm black, it only bothers me when you become a school teacher and refuse to teach my students, my kids. You become a cop and you choke my son out and give him a false charge. That's when it bothers me. When you become a district attorney, you want to get my son 25 years for a stolen pack of gum that he may not have done.
That's what my problem is. You cannot stop racist. Let's stop that [00:46:22] I'm going to take violence out of the world not going to happen. Racist will exist in some capacity. We are okay with that. How do we string them out of certain jobs? That's all. I might mean trying to get rid of racism, you'd be able for many years. You got a better chance [00:46:41] the dinosaurs back. What can you do the history? If you went back to slavery in America, say slavery started at eight months in. Eight months into the first wave of slavery. If you went around all the slave camps and took a poll of all the slaves said who wants to vote the end slavery?
Every slave would have raised the same. You can come back and five years now that they got settled in and hold on to slaves. Who wants to end slavery, all the black people to raise their hand. Black people saying they want to end slavery didn't end slavery. Black people not being agreement didn't end slavery. Those when northern white's stood up and said we disagree if slavery come to an end. The slavery won [00:47:28] ran 100,000 people up north didn't end slavery.
Nat Turner turn and killed a bunch of people didn't end slavery. There's been 1000 votes they took over Haiti. Ran off the people off the island didn't end slavery. Slavery didn't end until the white folks from out north the liberal said no more. Whatever the reason it was, I'm not even asking. White folks in the north said no more. That was a catalyst in slavery. It was never a poll of the black people.
Here we are, again. We're asking black people. Do you want to be oppressed? We're asking black people, do you want these bad schools? We don't have the voice. Let's keep it really basic. We don't have the voice.
Ruari: I think this time, I hope and this is not just my awareness, I've seen more conversation. I've seen more leaders talking about it. Whether those are leaders of communities like we are, but I think there is a bigger conversation being had globally right now. I want to firmly believe that that means we are taking a step towards change. For me, I'm going to educate my kids, they're young, I'm going to make sure that I'm passing this across to them so that they are thinking about what they can do because I actually think that we can go a long way to changing racism over the next generation.
Andre: As we have more mixed ration couples, more model kids that are going to just over time will wear itself out. Just by proxy. There was a time when you didn't have black people in your family. You didn't have Latino people in your family. Everybody's anybody's family. You go to Tennessee used to be a whole row white folks now as white [00:49:21] or white Hispanic. Time we'll fix the cultural part. What we have to fix is how we handle it right now.
I don't need an ally. I need abolitionists. No [00:49:36] they talk more allies nation. No. I need an abolitionist. Let's end the oppression the same way you try to end slavery. You end the slavery, now let's end the slave white treatment.
Ruari: What do you think about the riots and what's going on at the moment?
Andre: I don't believe in looting. I am a firm supporter of entrepreneurs. I believe entrepreneurs should be at the table, not politicians, because politicians' sole job is get reelected, whereas entrepreneurs' sole job is to get something done. You give me a choice of a politician or entrepreneur, I want entrepreneur at the table. When you loot you're hurting entrepreneurs. Those are the people we need at the table speaking for us on our side. You say hey, do I need 20 politicians or 20 entrepreneurs? I'm taking entrepreneurs every time because entrepreneurs will get something done. Politicians will have 20,000 meetings and get nothing.
Ruari: Do you think that the message is being heard?
Andre: The message is being heard. The biggest message was we've had scenarios in the past where black people have died at the hands of police. It's sad that we need a video to live that. We had a gentleman a few months ago who was jogging through the neighborhood and two white guys ran him down and they murdered him. When the police came, they told the police, oh, he looked like a burglar from two weeks ago.
Now he had a TV, now he had a DVD player, now he had nothing. He looked like a burglar from two weeks ago. He resisted whatever the hell they were trying to do and we had to kill him. The cops send the two people home. Me and my brother would wrestle you down in the street and kill you. Shoot you and then the cops come and say what happened? Well, he looked like a burglar from two weeks ago. We go straight to jail.
Don't pass go, death sentence is coming. Two black guys killed a white guy and that story is he looked like a burglar from two weeks ago. Are we going straight to jail but in America, you can do that and they'll give you the benefit of the doubt. Well, maybe he was a burglar. If you know what I mean, you know the work that I do. That could have been me on a sidewalk and had it been me, the media would have dug into my files and said, oh, he's a criminal. He spent 14 years in prison. He was a gang member.
He was this, he was that and that would have been the narrative not the 20 years of me helping people. The narrative would have been. Andre was a former gang member, former criminal, former bad guy. That's all the police today would have pushed out. When Michael Brown died, oh, he broke in a store. He stole some Skittles or something from a store. He had an augment and he stole from the store.
Arrest him, send him to prison. Arrest him and take him to court. Stealing from the store isn't a death sentence unless you're black. You're using a stop and identify yourself isn't a death sentence unless you're black. Selling cigarettes that are unlicensed isn't a death sentence unless you're black. In this case, forgery, writing a forgery check a month ago, which is a non-violent crime isn't a death sentence unless you're black.
I don't believe in the history of America. You can find me one white forger who was killed for being a forger, but if you're a forger and you're black, so is it the black or is it the forger?
Ruari: Before we finish up, give me a story of a turnaround that particularly comes to mind, from an individual, how you went about it and where they are today.
Andre: I'll give you a story, we turn around. We all know Michael Brown Jr., who was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, by a police officer Darren Wilson and the entire country erupted like it is now, and the whole city, the whole country is on fire. Black Lives Matter was born. Out of that came a lot of things. The one thing that came out of that was Michael Brown Sr. lost his son, and he was angry. He was frustrated. He was highly upset, and there's all of this stuff.
I became his mentor. I still am his mentor. When I started mentoring Michael senior, I said to him, you had a choice. You can be the angry father or you can be the guy who teaches forgiveness. He says, Dre, what he's talking about? I said, the world needs healing. The world doesn't need an angry father. You can be an angry father, but the world needs healing. I sat with Mike and we had discussions for many months, and he became a forgiveness coach.
Michael Brown Sr. is now a forgiveness coach, and he's been doing that for over a year now. He [00:54:38] comes in and teaches forgiveness to people who have suffered loss. He's worked with me down here to prisons. He's worked around the country as a forgiveness coach. At the end of the day his son is still not coming back. At the end of the day that cop will never be charged. At the end of the day the stories will be stories, but his son will still be gone.
You can get to a place of higher ground, if you have the right coach and the right guides. Mike could have just stayed angry with just cause from anybody. Yep, yeah, he needs to be angry or if you give him the right guidance. He can do way more than being angry.
Ruari: It was amazing. Brilliant, Andre. Really amazing because not only have you turned him into somebody who's accepted forgiveness, but also he is now giving that gift to other people. That's just amazing. Well done. You've got a book out at the moment. Tell us about the book and where can we find it?
Andre: Where is the book? You come to my house.
Ruari: That's awesome.
Andre: Called the Ambassador of Hope. You go to Amazon. Just put in Andre Norman. It's the only book I have, it will pop up [00:55:52]
Ruari: Excellent. Thank you very much, Andre for your time. It's been great to see you again. Thanks for sharing your message and your thoughts. Check out Andre at andrenorman.com. You got a TED talk.
Andre: I have two TED Talks. One is how to fix a prison system and the second is black prisons being punitive. How does movement of law and stuff? Just put in Andre Norman TEDx it will come up.
Ruari: Brilliant. Andre, thank you so much for all the work you do. You're amazing and look after yourself.
Andre: Thank you, sir.
If you want to transform your relationship with alcohol find out more about our challenges over on our website oneyearnobeer.com and join our booming global community.
If you want to transform your relationship with alcohol find out more about our challenges over on our website oneyearnobeer.com and join our booming global community.