When I grew up in Southern Ohio, I really didn’t worry about anything bad happening in my neighborhood.

I used to jog around my community at 10 p.m. in the summer because it was cooler. I ran through the streets alone, I didn’t have a cell-phone back then, and my parents never worried about my safety. I never felt threatened growing up. I was an athlete and thought I could take care of myself if danger presented itself. Plus, I was a really fast runner too.

But T.J. Starks lived the opposite life as a kid than I did.

Be ye followers of me, even as I also am
of Christ.

I Corinthians 11: 1

He grew up in Lancaster, Texas, near Dallas, amidst violence and uncertainty. He had no role model as a child, but he relied on his instincts for survival.

For T.J. to make it out and have a chance for success is amazing.

“I was exposed to a lot of things at a young age and seen a lot of stuff you ain’t supposed to see as a kid,” he said at the Athletes in Action Basketball Captains Academy in Xenia, Ohio, when I visited in May.

As a youngster, he witnessed violence at all levels, from burglaries to homicides. “My home was broken into, I saw other places robbed and I saw people shot,” he added.

He could have easily fallen through the cracks and succumbed to a life of crime. After all, according to numbers from Neighborhood Scout, Dallas has a high crime rate. They score Dallas as a nine out of the safest score of 100.

“You have to grow up and mature to survive,” T.J. said. “You just know at a young age that life moves quickly and you have to keep up or get left behind.”

 

Author Del Duduit with T.J. Starks

He grew up fast on his own, and something deep down enticed him to want more out of life than violence.

“I saw so much bad in my life that I got tired of it and wanted more,” he said. “I wanted to let young kids know that there is another way to go than violence. I want them to know that they can have money without having to take it from other people.”

He doesn’t remember where his first Bible came from or how he even got his hands on it, but he does recall the words he read when he opened it up.

“I just remember meeting God, and He changed my life and my outlook,” he said. “That’s when I knew I wanted to make a positive difference.”

He admits he still has work to do, but T.J. has made great strides in reaching his goal to make a positive impact on his community. He also discovered he has a talent on the hardwood and excels in basketball.

As a freshman last year for Texas A&M, he saw quality playing time and figures to be a vital part in the success of the men’s basketball program.

The 6-foot-2-inch tall guard averaged 9.9 points per game last year along with 2.1 rebounds in 21 minutes of play each game. However, in December 2017, he was suspended one game for violating a team rule. 

This is one reason why he attended the Captains Academy. He saw an area of opportunity to improve.

He’s trying to diminish a tendency to become angry, which festered inside of him as a child growing up on the streets near Dallas. “I saw a lot of things as a kid, and it made me mad,” he said. “The older I got, the madder I got.”

But college and the Holy Spirit worked on T.J. to the point that he felt a desire to become a quality person. He knows anger cannot be a part of his attitude.

“I have a responsibility now, and young kids look up to me,” he said. “I want them to know there is a way out, and it starts within. You have to want to get better and get out. I don’t want to let those kids down.”

I never grew up in the same type of environment in which T.J. was raised. I have never witnessed a murder, but my home was once robbed a few years ago. My hometown in Southern Ohio has provided a life of safety and security. However, I experienced the same Jesus who came into his heart. I needed the same Lord that he needed. I learned there are wonderful young men who have pulled themselves up out of the gutter because they were tired of the life they lived. My two sons did not experience what T.J. did as a child, but they too needed the same loving Savior.

By his own admission, his attitude needs work. He told me he plans to make it to the NBA and “take care of the people who are important to me,” he said. I’m glad I was able to spend a few moments with T.J. and listen to his inspirational story. Men like him give me hope in our younger generation. Our conversation showed me he is well on his way to accomplishing his goal, and once he sets his mind to accomplish something, he is determined to succeed.

Does your anger get the best of you? Does your attitude need work? What are you going to do about it?

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