HOUSTON—Every year in Harris County about 14,000 children end up in the criminal justice system. But one Houston man is on a mission to change that with his message and his music.
Ronnie Lillard raps about how Christianity set him free.
“We’re doing shows nationally ‘cuz people just resonate with that message,” he said.
He goes to juvenile detention facilities to break kids out, to free them from destructive patterns.
“A lot of these guys, who grew up without a father, a lot of these women they grow up and they’re told they're not beautiful because beauty looks like this,” Lillard said.
At 24, Lillard is not much older than the kids he mentors, but there’s another reason he relates so well. He grew up in a Florida mobile home that housed 10 kids, various adults and his fighting parents.
His mom often threatened to leave him and his siblings.
She'd say, “’One day y’all gonna come home and I’m not gonna be there.’ And I kinda’ shrugged that off as, ‘ Aw, (she) trippin’ man,’” he said.
She made good on the threat when Lillard was in grade school.
“Around ninth grade me and my father were getting in full blown fist fights,” he said.
His dad kicked him out. He drifted from place to place, in and out of trouble. Then he got an invitation.
“There was this church,” Lillard said, “in front of my grandma’s house where I would only play basketball at. They were like, ‘Hey, you want to come in?’ I was like, ‘Naw, when y’all play basketball, holler at your boy.’”
One day, however, he did go in. Lillard said the pastor talked the talk and walked the walk, helping him complete his community service and start taking school seriously.
“He showed me just another way to live, and so, because that happened to me, it changed my life forever,” he said.
Before long, Rice University noticed the juvenile delinquent who had become a student athlete.
Today Lillard is a proud Rice graduate.
“I ended up triple majoring while I was there, philosophy, sociology and religious studies,” he said.
Lillard runs a non-profit and walks neighborhoods. He wants troubled teens to know there is always a way out.
“We might go out and nobody responds, but one person,” he said. “And we feel like that one person’s valuable. That one sheep is worth giving all our time and resources to.”
Authorities said about 80 percent of the children in the Harris County Criminal Justice System are male, but only about five percent of the mentors are. They said they are always on the lookout for qualified men who are willing to volunteer as mentors. Background checks are required. If interested, contact: Harris County Juvenile Probation at 713-222-4816.