“Before rap, my last name was like my lifestyle / And when I visualized success it looked like right now.” Nipsey Hussle

When you first meet Laron, you first notice is his eyes. Not so much for what they look like, but more so what they carry. His eyes are guarded. They hold a mixture of pain, rage and aggression. He’s not much of a talker or very social, so at first glance it’d be hard to believe he’s one of the most caring men you’ll ever meet.

Laron grew up in San Francisco’s Double Rock Projects near the old Candlestick Stadium in Bayview Hunters Point. He attended public schools and was a star athlete in high school. He started on his high school football and basketball teams helping take them to citywide championships multiple years in a row.

When he graduated from high school in 2011, he had been recruited to play at one of the community colleges in the greater Bay Area. He knew the commute from home to school would be a challenge, but his dad promised to help. He never knew his mother and throughout his life he had come not to rely much on his dad, but they bonded over his accomplishments in athletics.

Sure enough, at $11 per round trip, the daily commute costs started to add up. His father got angry after a few weeks when Laron kept asking for help. Laron started to miss practice and was dropped from the team. Soon after, he dropped out of school as well.

His dad moved to Tracy, CA with his new girlfriend, but made it clear there wasn’t any space for Laron in the house. Laron now had a son of his own with a woman he didn’t much care for. He wanted to stay close to his son and decided to move back to Double Rock to live with his Uncle Ray.

Uncle Ray had an active crack addiction and often had different people in and out of the house. As a resident of public housing, one of the requirements with the housing authority is for all tenants to be listed on the lease and to report their income. It’s not unusual for tenants to go unreported and charged rent by the lease holder. That was the arrangement Uncle Ray made with Laron and several other people for weeks, months or years at a time.

Laron slept on the couch, floor or a lady friend’s house depending on the night of the week. After sleeping on the floor one night Laron woke up to find that there was money missing from his jacket. He accused his Uncle and an argument ensued. Words were exchanged that both men now regret. The argument ended after a right hook from Laron landed across Uncle Ray’s jaw and left him unconscious. Laron moved out that night.

This is only a mild account of the types of conflicts that Laron would encounter. He’s been stabbed, shot at and, unfortunately, seen people lose their lives in his neighborhood. He’s never picked up a firearm or sought revenge. He never liked sharing these stories because they were so painful. He told me things slowly over time and over time what his eyes carried started to make more sense.

When Laron’s housing situation got especially bad, I strongly suggested that he come live with me. I was in a cramped and overpriced studio in the Mission District, but I thought a few months with me would give him some room to breathe. But Laron had made up his mind not to ask for help. He was set on making his own way. If there was a work opportunity I had for him, he’d gratefully accept it. If it ever felt like a hand-out, he would respectfully decline.

When a man has character and self-restraint, it’s hard to not root for him. Laron and I would fall out of touch for months at a time, but everytime we did cross paths, he was doing better than before. He and his partner just had a daughter. They found a place not too far from where he grew up.

I started this piece by calling Laron caring, but when you consider where he’s started and where he is now, I’d also consider him one of the most successful men I know.

Book Recommendation: Victory Lab, Shoe Dog

Music Recommendation: Mailbox Money

Stevon Cook