From Adversity to Advocacy: Laquan Hill’s Journey in Black History

In the heart of Black History Month, we are honored to share the empowering story of Laquan Hill, a resilient individual who transformed his life from the struggles of self-identity to becoming the Deputy Director at A Brighter Way. In this interview, Laquan reflects on his pivotal moments, the impact of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, community healing initiatives, and the significance of mentorship. His journey from incarceration to leadership sheds light on the flaws in the criminal justice system and the vital role of rehabilitation. As a father, he imparts wisdom on instilling resilience in his children and, as a representative of the Black community, offers valuable advice for young men facing adversity. Join us as we delve into Laquan’s remarkable narrative and the lessons he shares for building a brighter future.

In the midst of your struggles and challenges, what was the catalyst that fueled your determination to overcome adversity and emerge stronger on the other side?

Laquan: What sparked my changes was recognizing that I had no real self-identity, realizing that I had different pieces of family members and people in my neighborhood…and not liking what I was seeing coming out of myself. The determination for finding myself was fundamental to this change. I began replaying my life and seeing the destruction I was causing, and I was trying to get to the root of it. I wanted to understand why I had done what I had done. I needed to understand what brought these thoughts that motivated my behaviors. After examining myself like this, I didn’t like what I saw and what I was doing, and I realized I was mimicking poor role models (both real and on TV), but I never had a sense of who I was. The question was posed to me: Who was I, really? And I couldn’t answer that question. When I came up empty of an answer to that crucial question, I knew I had to do something different, because what I’d been programmed and learned how to do sure wasn’t working.

How do you incorporate the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and the lessons from “Houses of Healing” into your daily life, both personally and in your role as Deputy Director at A Brighter Way?

Laquan: The heart of both CBT and “Houses of Healing” is challenging and questioning everything. It involves challenging my own thoughts, asking where are these thoughts coming from, are they originally mine, or are they residues of things taught to me or picked up on from others? Both CBT and “Houses of Healing” required developing an understanding of what my emotions and thoughts are stemming from, learning about my options, and then coming up with the best decisions based on the options I have. They also helped me to understand trauma, both for myself and to others. My story is not unique. Trauma is universal. So, having the ability to recognize my own traumas has given me the upper hand in helping to recognize those issues in others, and understanding them so I can help the people I work with in my position as Deputy Director at A Brighter Way, as well as in other areas.

As a community healer, what specific initiatives or programs do you find most impactful in fostering positive change and empowerment within the communities you serve?

Laquan: There is no silver bullet program, no surefire equation for impact and success. What matters and what works is any program that shows support in the places it is needed and that there are people willing to help implement that support. It doesn’t matter what the program is, as long as it is designed with the people in mind — anything can be successful, as long as it is developed and implemented with the good of the people at its core.

Can you elaborate on the importance of mentorship in your life, particularly your friendship with Adam Grant, and how these connections have played a role in your personal and professional development?

Laquan: That relationship has been an integral part in my development and who I am today. He is someone who is not a “yes man.” Adam is someone who hears and listens to you attentively while being able to assess some of your flaws in thinking and behavior. Then he helps you challenge your thoughts. He gives you someone to confide in and bounce your thoughts off of and be challenged by them. My friendship with Adam is more of a best friend/uncle/father/brother kind of relationship. He has been paramount to me becoming who I am, using his own creative way of modeling behavior and showing me how to challenge my thoughts, then pushing me to do so. He has been quintessential to me becoming who I am now.

Without me meeting Adam, I probably would be back doing the same things that got me into trouble in the first place, truthfully. I probably wouldn’t have gotten parole the first time I tried for it without his influence. I probably would’ve had many assaults and tickets inside without him being there to mentor and befriend me. So, I truly owe a lot of my personal success to him, because he helped me to re-shape my way of thinking. Because of being able to recognize his impact on me, I have no choice but to pay this impact and effort forward. I have to do for others what he did for me. This is a debt I’m willing to pay and will keep paying for the rest of my life. It’s a good debt to have.

How has your journey from incarceration to Deputy Director at A Brighter Way influenced your perspective on the criminal justice system and the opportunities for rehabilitation within it?

Laquan: My journey started off seeing it from the punitive aspect only, and the flawed system within that punitive perspective. Now I am out, and I am seeing that I wasn’t prepared to be successful out here — that punitive system is, of course, only about punishment and not rehabilitation, no matter what they try to say. The programs inside aren’t really geared toward setting up an individual to be successful. In the field that I am in now, I constantly see individuals coming out unprepared, which is why organizations like A Brighter Way are so important, and why being a peer mentor in a helping capacity is necessary for assisting the reentry process. We have walked the walk and know the challenges and barriers, and we have the ability to recognize certain behaviors and thought patterns that are unproductive and detrimental to success. There is some incremental change coming from the MDOC; they have finally realized the importance of returning citizens having social support during reentry, and they are finally reaching out to organizations like mine — but it is truly incremental and still very much a work in process. People need support. They need to be trained before they get out.

One of the biggest issues for people coming home is technology. MDOC has a lot of fear about inmates using tech, because of the possibility of abuse (they have a zero-tolerance policy, where one infraction by one person ruins everything for everyone else). They need to try to focus on training reentering citizens in tech, because tech runs the world, and every person coming home is behind before they even come home. Everything is tech-focused now and our brothers and sisters need to have confidence and skills in these areas for them to really thrive and progress in their freedom.

Being a father, how do you instill resilience and a sense of purpose in your own children, drawing from your experiences and the challenges you’ve overcome?

Laquan: I am a very vulnerable and open parent to my kids. I share my challenges and experiences and try to get them to do the same with me. I challenge my thinking and therefore my behavior, so I challenge them to do the same for themselves, because I know how important those processes are to real growth and maturity. I am resilient because I not only survived but learned how to thrive, and they have seen the journey that I have been on, and the obstacles I had to overcome, and the barriers and stigmas I am still trying to overcome and fight against. They see me not giving up. I can’t give up for myself, nor for them, or for the next person coming home. Giving up is not an option. By displaying this behavior I can only hope and pray they can take on this mindset for themselves, so that when things happen they will sit down and think it through and come up with the right plan to overcome some of those challenges. I think resilience is in our blood, but we have to be nurtured and taught how to activate it. I never want my kids to have a sense of hopelessness. I want them to be hopeful, determined, and purposeful.

As a representative of the Black community, what message or advice do you have for young Black men facing adversity, and how can they navigate challenges to build a brighter future for themselves and their communities?

Laquan: I would tell the young brothers to be in tune with themselves. To understand yourself. To challenge everything. To think about everything, to act purposefully instead of reacting blindly out of habit energy. I would tell them to be a scientist in their own life, to gather as much information as they possibly can about their options and surroundings, so they make choices that are wise and informed. I would urge them to get as much education as they possibly can, which will provide them with information, wisdom, and skills, which will help them break through boundaries and move into material and personal success. I would tell them to find someone they can confide in and can bounce their ideas and thoughts off, because no man is an island, we all need other people sometimes. And so importantly, I would urge them to venture out of their comfort zones and do things they never thought they would or could do.

Connect with Laquan Hill by emailing mentoring@abrighterway.org

Tammy Reese

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