From Convicted Murderer to Motivational Speaker, a Conversation with Poet Will Latif Little
Today’s guest is a mentor, activist, poet, author, inspirational Speaker who has appeared on the TEDx stage … and a man convicted of murder.
Will Latif Little grew up in a single-parent home with his four sisters in Philadelphia. Without his father, or any father figure, Will began to venture out, picking up bad habits and negative ideas on the street. Becoming a product of his environment, Will dropped out of high school in the 10th grade and got involved in the Philadelphia drug trade and other illegal activities. This ultimately landed Will in prison for 10-20 years on a murder conviction at the age of 19.
While in prison, Will decided to turn his life around, by first getting his diploma by way of a GED. He became a voracious reader. What began as a way to pass the time actually helped him become a man, a storyteller, and an inspiration to others.
“He stalked me before. He had guns out, and saw me at restaurants and places with my lady and my daughter. He said everywhere he went, ‘everyone loves you but I didn’t care, you killed my brother.’” - Will Little on meeting the brother of his shooting victim
The Experiences That Change Us
When Will was a young man, with no father figure in his home and trying to find his place in the world, he was exposed to many dangers, dangerous people and a life of drugs and crime. When he was 13 years old, Will bounced between his mom’s home and his aunt who treated them like grandchildren.
At one point when he moved back to his mom’s, Will got into a fight with his mom’s boyfriend defending her from domestic assault. The older man “called him out” and took him outside. At that point the man grabbed the young teenager and pointed a gun in his face. Will had to face his own mortality and make a decision.
“I blacked out. I was so angry, I became fearless that day. I used to be afraid of the dark. But that moment dehumanized me.” - Will Little on how experiences shape us
Story Can Redeem
The man Will shot in the gunfight who died had a brother. That brother planned to follow the street code - eye for an eye. He planned for years, while Will served his prison sentence, to exact revenge and kill the man who killed his brother.
Eventually Kadir walked into Will’s barber shop to confront him, but not with the expected reaction. Instead, the men talked, Kadir forgave him, and they now speak to young men on subjects like forgiveness, grace and the fact that they don’t have to live this life the way they’ve been taught.
Will believes part of what helped this happen was story - sharing each other’s stories in this situation. Stories can connect us, teach us empathy and help develop emotional intelligence.
“If a person can’t find themselves in your story, they drift off. Life experiences connect us because we all live and have experiences. I want to hear that story of redemption, of how you overcame.” -Will Little on the power of story