Have you ever been so frustrated with a person or situation that you thought your mind would explode? We can’t do this work alone. No one can live this life alone. In this day and age, in the state of such a chaotic, and unbalanced world, everyone needs someone. We all need venting time, an ear to listen, and a nonjudgmental, empathetic, and nonthreatening space to just “be”. To be heard, to be felt, to be understood, to be accepted, to be loved and to be encouraged to press on. For you, it could be your mentor, mom, favorite aunt, or best friend. For me, that person is grantee, La-Ty Banks- fondly known as TY, who just happens to be my husband.

At 6 years old, TY was taught to lie and steal and forced to roam the streets late nights with his alcoholic mother and her boyfriend, pushing a grocery cart so they could snatch people’s car batteries. He and his older sister were left at home for weeks at a time alone, left to starve with an empty fridge or threatened with punishment if they touched any food if there happened to be some. School was not pushed, so he either didn’t attend or didn’t attempt to learn anything, using humor and becoming the class clown to hide his embarrassment, hunger, and pain. Living as a young, African American male in the streets of Compton and Long Beach in the 80’s, his only priority was surviving. Neighbors and family helped when they could, but ultimately TY and his sister were on their own and he earned loose change to eat by doing odd jobs for neighbors and winning money playing tag football.

The first time the courts removed him from his mom he was placed with his Uncle and Aunt, but his mom did what she had to and got him back. The next time he was removed, and place with his Uncle and Aunt for a longer period, but was still unhappy, neglected, and restricted from working or playing basketball, or doing anything fun that young men wanted to do. So at 13 TY requested that his social worker transition him into group homes and he bounced from school to school, group home to group home until age 21, all the while feeling angry, hurt, and filled with so many emotions with no positive outlets to express himself and no programs that interested him. In high school he fell behind and was told he would not graduate. Ty turned to writing poetry and song lyrics as a way to express his emotions, and began to believe that there was more to life than pain and sadness.

Ty and Jamila BanksDetermined to make something of himself, to succeed despite having no support, TY learned his multiplication tables at 16, did extra work to catch up on credits, and started focusing on writing poetry and music. In spite of the challenges, he graduated high school on time, beating all the odds. After he graduated he held various jobs trying to find his way in the world, and at the age of 24 decided to pursue his passion in the field of music full time, becoming an entrepreneur starting his own record label, Real Recognize Real Entertainment. Using his own initials to convey a concept that has always been close to his heart, in 2010 TY created the Teaching Youth Song Writing & Music Production Workshop to help encourage healthy attitudes and behaviors in at-risk, low income youth. His goal is to activate their inner strengths and abilities by giving them a safe space to be themselves and by providing a positive forum for self-expression and communication. The song writing aspect teaches grammatical and technical aspects of writing including poetry and song, and the music production aspect involves teaching entrepreneurial and marketing skills, and gives youth the opportunity to learn how to transform their creative expressions into song and melody.

That same year (2010), I was recovering from a divorce, depression, and struggling to re-find and re-define myself. I had been a single parent for 3 years, started a business which wasn’t working out as I had visualized, and along the journey had lost friends, money, and was feeling really beat down by the world. I was at the point where I was living in survival mode and I was contemplating about putting my dreams of building my nonprofit, Walk in Faith Foundation on hold.

Then one day on the way to meet friends, I misread my GPS, made a right turn instead of a left, and rolled into a parking space in a shopping lot just as TY was walking around the corner. He told me later something in his spirit had told him to move and walk to the store. When I first saw him I did a double take-he is definitely easy on the eyes, standing tall at 6’5 with a freckled face and cool walk, causing him to stand out from a crowd. He approached me with confidence as I was getting out the car and asked if I would be interested in purchasing his CD. My first response was no (with a big kool-aid smile on my face).

Ty Banks in class with kidsHe went on to explain that his name was TY, which stood for Teaching Youth. He said that he had grown up in the system, and wanted to use music to help youth in the community get through their pain and to empower them to become successful, productive adults. He was clean, well dressed, well mannered, and spoke with such passion and conviction that I decided to buy a CD from him. Before I could tell him he had won me over, he asked me if I wanted him to sing something for me, which he did, and that’s the moment he had me. I had found my person.

We went to the beach that same day, caught a movie later that evening, and spent the entire day and night talking about our hopes and dreams. That day after learning about TY’s journey, I was so inspired by his heart, tenacity and resiliency that my own dreams of being of service to the community were re-ignited. A year later, on the anniversary of the first day we met, we were married and he put the ‘Banks’ in Foster & Banks Walk in Faith Foundation.
Thank you TY for being the Father today that you never had growing up, for being that person to motivate me to go after my dreams, and for setting the foundation of greatness for the next generation!