by Leigh-ann Worrell
Before Zico John was a legal adult, he was a gang leader, drug runner and had been stabbed four times, almost to the point of being paralysed.
Even though he was multi-talented and versatile in various sports and the arts, the call of the streets was strong and a foreboding shadow in his young life.
Little did he know that this lifestyle would be used as a soundtrack for a powerful and intriguing testimony.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” it is often said. The saying can be used for the now 21-year-old. He believed that gangs provided a “family” for those who needed one. His was called “the Crips”.
“I would recruit different children out of different schools and ‘hoods’. I took that real serious and I got into drugs. I thought I was just helping out somebody that needed a family…
“I guess I had good intentions but the wrong approach and when I got stabbed, my mother begged me to come out of it. But I just tell myself that whatever I had to get, it was a small price to pay to help my family,” Zico said frankly during an interview with Barbados TODAY this morning.
Marijuana sale was the main source of income for the “family”, “so that if you come across a girl that said she don’t know where she gine live because she just get put out, I could simply go and help she out,” he added.
Zico’s true ghetto story unfolded on the infamous Nelson Street where he grew up. Trouble started from the time he was at Bay Primary, when he stabbed another student in the face with a pencil. He was moved to Hillaby/Turner’s Hall. Zico spent most of his secondary school tenure at the Grantley Adams Memorial Secondary, which solidified his gang mentality.
“I had a lot of friends and people I did know from my neighbourhood so when I got there I was well known…,” he recalled.
“We move as a group, so we did think – we was powerful. From there it just was trouble. If you touch that one person we would beat you… Coming on to my last year, it had gotten so bad they said I was in charge of a gang.”
The situation escalated to the point that men from the community would come after him, armed with guns and knives.
But teachers close to him saw his potential and encouraged him to turn his life around.
“I had a coach named Mr. Griffith and he used to tell me that he wanted me to change. When he drop me home, he would play all this gospel music,” Zico said with a smile.
“You know when people preaching to you they would just do it because that is what they were supposed to do? He really wanted me to progress. Around that time I wanted to change, but when you are caught up in that circle of violence it is hard to change.”
Zico’s mother made the choice to pull her troubled son out of school when he was 16, even though he did not complete any examinations. He went to work at Laurie Dash and attended evening classes at Springer Memorial in order to catch up academically.
One major changing point came at 18 years old, when a walk through Bridgetown nearly ended his life.
“This fella ask me, ‘You name Zico?’ … and I asked him what he wanted to know for, and when I said ‘Why you want to know for?’ he asked me if I was a Crip and… I ask he why he wanted to know…,” he began.
“I pulled out two scissors and then they dropped out my hand. He got one of them and nobody ain’t help me… After the first stab I say I can live, the second said I can’t get another then the third one came I said it was over. Then when the fourth one came I thought for sure it was over.”
Instead of encouraging Zico to change, this ordeal actually hardened the teen. Some time later, through a chance meeting of a cast member of Hush, he was invited to join the cast of the sequel. This opportunity would lead to a sequence of events to create the Zico of today.
“A man name Wayne Weekes gave his testimony one night. The funny thing about it was that out of a crowd he tap me on the shoulder and say I will get through it.”
A few days later, he found out what Weekes was talking about.
He recalled: “I was coming on this road and there was an event and Praise Academy and I was like nah, forget that. I was coming down this same road (St. Michael’s Row) and I saw 15 or so Bloods (his rival gang) coming after me. I said [to myself] I will put it in God hands…
“I crossed the road and they cross the road. I said, this is it for me. The same time a car pull up next to me, and the body just say, ‘Get in!’ I ain’t ask questions, I ain’t say nothing and he carry me to same Praise [Academy]. I still don’t know who the person that was driving is. This is not coincidence. From there I tell myself I will believe in God.”
One of the first steps along the path towards transformation after that night three years ago, was to change his company.
He quit the gang and became closer to the positive youth who gathered at the Praise Academy to dance and hear the word of God. The Bible became a bigger part of his life and he was a regular member of the Bible study group that met at the Cavans Lane, the City.
Like most Barbadian children, Zico attended church in his younger days, but at that time, he found the Bible daunting and hard to understand. Now, things have changed.
“I guess when you decide that you want to open up your knowledge and wisdom, it becomes second nature and then story after story, you just become so interested. I would stop working to hide out and read the Bible. I was just so into this thing!
“I would go to my father and preach the Bible and read it to him. I was so into this so strongly, and I wanted to know everything about the Bible in case something comes up and I can deal with the problem,” Zico explained.
Most of his growth in the church was at a result of Praise Academy, because, as Zico explained, his current job in Accra Beach Hotel’s Banquets Department did not always allow for him to attend Restoration Ministries, the church he went to as a child with his mother.
However, just as the Good Book says, even his enemies took notice of his change and asked him how they too could walk the straight and narrow. Members of his former gang also refer him to their friends who are seeking a change.
This does not mean the path was always easy. Zico admitted that some church members would discriminate because of the fact he did not “look” like a Christian with the tattoo on his arm and pierced ears.
“This one time, a fella tell me that he father tell he that he could not hang around me because I was a bad influence. That hurt me … so bad,” he revealed.
But he believed there was a place for him in the ministry of the word and changing the lives of others from a similar background.
“Some people may see the man in the suit and tie and say: ‘How can you talk to me? You ain’t know nothing ’bout me.’ But when they see me, I look like someone who understand de struggle.”
Currently, Zico speaks to school children about the dangers of gang life and is an avid reader of the Bible. His dancing, acting and singing are tools to spread God’s Word. What’s more, he is currently at the University of the West Indies’ Open Campus pursuing a bachelor in psychology and sociology with hopes of becoming a counsellor.
“I feel good about what I am doing. When I lay down, I feel at peace. My life had a purpose,” Zico said happily. [email protected]