When writer and minister Keith B. was growing up, his family didn’t have much.
“I remember walking my mom to the chicken house in South Chattanooga,” he said. “We didn’t have fancy clothes or nice shoes.”
The drug dealers on the corners of his neighborhood held an immense fascination for him as an impressionable boy, he said.
“I looked up to those guys on the street,” Keith says. “They had it all — the cars, the clothes, the women. So I started selling drugs at around 14 years of age.”
It was an exciting life, fast and adventurous, he said.
Keith had a special bond with his oldest brother, who we’ll call Ronny. He shared this memory about his brother’s dedication to loving and protecting him.
“When I was around 8 or 9, Ronny, roughly four years older than me, decided we should go to Rock City. We collected bottles and cans for a week and turned them in for money. Then we walked from Alton Park to the Incline and rode it to the top of the mountain.”
Upon arrival, Ronny began to lead the way to Rock City, following the street signs. He didn’t actually know where he was going, however. When Keith asked how much longer, he replied, “Just around the corner.”
Darkness began to fall, and Ronny had to admit they were lost. Finally, a car stopped, and a woman offered to help them. Ronny pulled Keith back, warning him to run if something bad happened. Thankfully, the woman took them directly home.
Keith excelled in athletics. He wanted to go to college, but the temptations of his lifestyle were pushing hard against him. By the time he left high school, he was responsible for three children and had gotten his first drug case.
While awaiting trial, he received another drug charge. Keith explains, “I had to pay the lawyers.” Without any other viable resources for fast cash, he resorted to the only life he knew and paid the price for it.
He spent 10 years in jail, caught in the prime of his life. He still remembers what one judge told him: “There are people who are worse off than you who have not chosen to do what you have done.”
“I had an empty feeling in my stomach as I waited to begin my sentence,” he said. “It’s the understanding that your mama can’t help you, feeling that God has turned his back on you and that the people who once loved you no longer do.”
While in prison, he worked on survival, and finally turned to faith in God. He then asked God to give him a gift to share with the world.
He discovered that he loved to write. He said he has written over 20 unpublished books and has self-published several titles, including “Hell House, Who’s Loving Who” and “Lord, Hear My Cry.” His novels are of a new genre of urban writing that is lightly edited and gritty. Earlier this year, he received a call to the ministry.
His beloved brother, Ronny, died of AIDS, and the impression he left on Keith’s life has fueled in him a passion to promote HIV awareness through his writing and a possible film project. Married for several years now, Keith is also working to open a local restaurant and barber shop.
Though things have not been easy, and his former demons often reappear in the shape of discouragement, shame and frustration, Keith refuses to return to his old life. “I tell (young people) they can change their lifestyle,” he said.
He should know, because his life has been truly transformed.