PHILADELPHIA (WTXF) - "I just was a kid that liked sports and entertaining people."
On a scorching summer evening in North Philly Rasheed Smith flashes a charismatic smile and still exudes a youthful energy despite all he's seen and been through at such a young age.
"2010 to 2012 I was incarcerated, then in a halfway house and I was finally released from the halfway house and I was still walking off time. I get off February of next year," he said. He’s 23- years old and a parolee convicted on a gun charge when he was just 16 years old.
"I knew it was serious but I'm thinking it was like a slap on the wrist and they were going to let me come home and it wasn't like that," he said. We met at 18th and Dolphin to talk. “This is where I started the process of turning my life around at," said Rasheed who tells me how the streets got hold of him when he was a young boy with dreams of becoming an entertainer.
"I grew adapted to what I seen every day. The hand to hand, standing on the corner and then it became accustomed and the norm to me. I was 16 and I was selling drugs from the county to North Philadelphia to anywhere I went," he said. But his involvement with drugs and guns was only reinforced by the streets. He says he was actually introduced to that life at home.
"My mom had her own hair salon but she was also a big time drug dealer and so was my father. They were into the streets. They were street pharmacists I’m going to say that. This is what I'm seeing everyday so I'm thinking it's ok," said Rasheed. His life took a drastic turn after the two men most influential to him were gone. Still he hung on to their every word.
"My dad used to say it in a joking matter that the working man is a sucker. He used to always say that to me and he'd be playing but I really believed that. So when he went back to jail and my stepfather got murdered I started being out here." Rasheed says his desire for street money came from being forced into the role of a provider for his mother and siblings.
“I saw my mom struggle so much to the point where it put tears in my eyes. We were waking up and no food in the house," he recalled. But his rise in the streets would soon come crashing down. He took me to Germantown and Indiana where it all ended after a night at what used to be Club Aces.
"One of my friends was fighting. It was a big free for all that broke out. So I run and go grab my stuff from where I hid it at and let off a few rounds and they called the cops," recalled Rasheed. Police arrested him running from the scene with the gun he fired, he says, after someone else pulled a gun on the group he was with.
"I woke up with an $800,000 bail. I'm like wow I'm 16 turning 17. I'm never coming home. They got me to plead guilty to the gun and I plead guilty," he said.
Prison was a wakeup call.
"A bunch of young guys in there for murders and stuff like that. You got young guys stabbing each other in there. When I was sitting in jail I was just thinking like I see grown men in here meeting their fathers for the first time and uncles meeting their nephews for the first time. I don't want to be a part of this," he said.
When Rasheed was released he was referred to Philadelphia Ceasefire. It’s an organization dedicated to reducing homicides and shootings in the city. It's housed in a building on Temple's campus. They helped him transition back into society and eventually hired him.
"He has that “it” factor. When he talks to folks they are often times spellbound listening to him and hanging on to every word because he's speaking passionately,” said Marla Davis Bellamy. She’s the director who helped bring Rasheed on board to do community outreach after he spent time volunteering. She gave this convicted felon a second chance.
He's the youngest employee on staff.
"He's able to kind of get in and really relate to young people because of his own background. He certainly has some challenges and struggles in terms of his own upbringing but he also knows about the struggles that many of our young people struggle with," said Davis Bellamy.
We caught up with Rasheed speaking during a Philadelphia Ceasefire anti violence rally in response to a shooting in a Kensington neighborhood. He told his heartfelt story to try and reach others on the verge of violence and gave tough talk to the community about getting involved.
"A lot of y’all act like you don't care until something happens to one of your family members. I'm out here because I care," said Rasheed to the community. It’s a big responsibility. He makes house visits to clients in the position he was once in and helps them get back in school or find work. He's also a hospital responder for victims.
"A hospital responder is a guy that responds to any trauma. You have an hour to get to the hospital once you are called and you have to have the address where it happened, what happened and why it happened and you have to talk to the person injured or going through the trauma," he explains.
Rasheed says the job and his Philadelphia Ceasefire family help him stay on the right path.
"I surround myself with positive people. People that want to make a change and really care about their community."
And there's someone else. Rasheed’s 3-year old son Alon.
"That's my favorite person in the world," he said. He says being a father is his main motivation for changing his life.
He recalls wise words from a co-worker.
"If you hold that gun and you go back out there selling drugs whose going to hold your baby? And that sticks firmly with me because ain't nobody going to raise my son or have the bond that me and my son got," said Rasheed.
With this life change also comes the opportunity for Rasheed to pursue his burning desire to become an entertainer. He's known around the city for his party music.
He hopes his popularity will also help him reach young people before they get involved with guns and other crime.
“If all the youth already follow behind me from when I was doing bad why not do something good to get them to follow behind me? No matter what you go through God always going to make things easy for you. He don't put too much hard on you that you can't bear and you just can’t give up hope. You got to believe in yourself first."