Deborah Houston saw her drug lord father make tons of money and command respect for his ability to administer street justice. She also saw drugs cause death and diminish the lives of her own family members.
Houston said she wanted a different future.
"God placed some people within my life that enabled me to realize that my environment or my circumstances did not have to dictate my destiny," she said.
Instead of selling drugs in her father's footsteps, Houston has become a wife, mother of two daughters, model and author of the book "Father Knows Best."
Houston, of Rochester, N.Y., will be the speaker at the Chattanooga chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women's Let's Save Our Sons and Daughters banquet tonight.
About 400 people are expected to attend.
The goal is to raise money for scholarships and to encourage young people that they can have a bright future despite seeing crime in their community.
"There's peer pressure on every corner and they have decisions to make," said Colleen Ford Canion, co-chairwoman of fundraising for the event. "We're hopeful that they [youths] will hear something to make them think, 'I can do this [be successful].'"
Be careful about choosing people who will surround you. Choose people who are positive, said Houston.
"To overcome and fulfill your dreams, you're going to need people in your circle to help you achieve," she said.
Her father used some of his money to send Houston to private school where she was exposed to other paths for success.
She said it was teachers at the private school who saw more in her than "just a hood rat." They encouraged her to run track and she had friends who encouraged her to write. She encourages youths to listen to people who cross their path who may help get them to where they want to be in the future.
"Sometimes we get caught up in the confines of our city block, but the world is so much bigger than that," said Houston. "There are so many options and avenues that we can travel if we allow our minds to open up to the scope of what can be as opposed to what is."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6431.