Cook: The two lives of Isaiah Moore

Cook: The two lives of Isaiah Moore

February 10th, 2019 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

Isaiah Moore, right, argues with counter demonstrators about race relations during a "Declaration of Resistance" rally in Coolidge Park on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Organizers said that the purpose of the demonstration, held in response to violence at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Va., was to declare resistance against Nazism.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

When it's warm out, Isaiah Moore, 27, likes to go outside and practice yoga with his wife, who's a model. Most days, he's vegan. He's read over 1,000 books.

He's also a felon, having spent six years inside federal prison.

Does that surprise you?

Moore, an African-American, meditates. He works two, sometimes, three jobs. He's quick to tell friends, even strangers, he loves them.

Yet he also used to sell dope, tote guns and gang-bang.

Does that surprise you?

Is it surprising when a young man from a demographic often seen as thuggishly irredeemable becomes outstandingly redeemed?

It shouldn't.

There is no life beyond repair.

Isaiah Moore's story is a treasure to tell: he's been brought back to life.

And if it happened to him, it can happen to anyone.

"You have God and the devil residing in yourself," he said. "It's up to you who you choose."

In 2009, Moore graduated from Ooltewah High. He was 18. He'd been gang-banging with the Skyline Pirus — they called him Lil' Ru — for more than four years.

It was a typical gangster's biography:

No father.

No mother.

A toxic environment.

In 2010, he went to federal prison. He fought. Got stabbed by white supremacists. Went in full of rage, and came out just as full.

So, he returned to the streets.

Six months later, he's back in federal prison.

That's when he woke up. Guards moved him in with an older, wiser inmate, who pierced Moore's illusions.

"This O.G. tells me, 'You can be angry at the world or you can get your mind right,'" Moore remembers.

And his awakening began.

"I changed my life," he said. "I stopped blaming others. At the end of the day, I had to take responsibility."

Waking up meant changing his mind. He put down behaviors that led to war and picked up behaviors that led to peace.

"I read over 1,000 books in prison," he said. "I meditated in my cell. I opened my third eye."

There are many types of prison; you and I may be free to come and go as we please, but if we are locked in habitual mental patterns of destruction and negativity, then we are not free at all.

"I preach accountability and loving yourself," he said. "Solutions, I see solutions. A closed mind doesn't see that."

Moore returned home from prison changed, but his bills hadn't. He faced The Felon's Dilemma: how do you pay bills, buy food and keep the lights on when you also owe court fees or child support or lawyers?

That's when he met Troy Rogers, the public safety coordinator for Chattanooga.

If you're ready for change, Rogers said, then I can help.

"We been going off like a rocket ever since," Moore said.

Rogers mentors the young men and women everyone else forgets. The felons. Dropouts. Triggermen and gunshot victims.

"I sell hope. I love people," Rogers likes to say. "Nobody is born bad."

He helped Moore get a job. (Moore can weld, run a man-lift, skid steer.) Moore bought a pressure washer and chainsaw and wants to own his own business and nonprofit while helping other young black men do the same.

"My mission now is to help my community," he said.

A few weekends ago, he spent $70 in Uber fares, going from neighborhood to neighborhood, making friends, changing minds, loving kids.

He has a vision: each weekend, rent inflatables for neighborhoods, one block to the next, while offering field trips for kids who have never seen the Tennessee Aquarium. Or a mountain stream. Or a college campus.

When he speaks, Moore emanates both vulnerability and strength, a Malcolm-and-Martin approach to racism and violence. (Invite him to speak at your school or church or book group.)

"Find a higher level of consciousness. Stand 10 toes down," he likes to say. "Love your brother. Love your sister. Stop the violence."

Not long ago, Moore took his message to the Westside; days later, his cousin, who lived there, was shot six times and later died.

He remains undeterred.

"Yes, we have been oppressed for so long," he said. "We know this. But we also know we can change things. Poverty, gang-banging, violence — all this has been set because of racism. But that is not an excuse. I preach accountability."

Such accountability goes for white Chattanooga, too.

Whatever toxic cycle found in the ghetto is also matched by generational racism practiced in white homes.

And businesses.

And board rooms.

Nobody gets off.

Everybody has a role.

"Don't blame," Moore said. "Only see solutions. Always practice love."

There is no life beyond repair.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329.

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