Antong Lucky’s Journey: Former Gang Leader to Founder of Urban Specialists

Interview and video by Jedarrian Jones. Photos provided by Urban Specialists

Antong Lucky is a name that resonates with transformation and resilience. From a troubled past as a gang leader in one of Dallas’ most notorious neighborhoods to becoming a symbol of hope and change, Lucky’s journey is nothing short of remarkable. His life story is a testament to the power of redemption, the importance of second chances, and the impact one individual can have on a community.

In this Q&A, we discuss the experiences that shaped Antong Lucky’s path, exploring the pivotal moments that led him to renounce gang life and dedicate himself to mentoring at-risk youth and advocating for criminal justice reform. Through his candid responses, Lucky offers insights into the challenges he faced, the lessons he learned, and his ongoing efforts to create a safer, more just society. Whether you’re familiar with his work or learning about him for the first time, this conversation provides a profound look at the enduring strength of the human spirit and the potential for change.

You’re the CEO of Urban Specialists. Can you tell me more about Urban Specialists and the mission of the organization?

Urban Specialists is basically an organization that seeks to disrupt trends of violence and poverty in their urban communities. We do so by leveraging local leaders who we call “OG’s.” We started twenty-five years ago, with the beautiful mission and vision of the late great, Bishop Omar Jahwar, who was my mentor, who was my big brother, who was the visionary for this work that we do right now. Unfortunately, he passed in 2021, to complications with COVID, but Bishop Omar was a community leader who had a knack for negotiating gang peace, agreements, truth, and conflict resolution.

He started in the juvenile system in Texas, a youth prison. And then a mentor of his said, “If you do that in prison, you can do that in society.” Then, he started an organization called Vision Regeneration in 1997. In 2000, I was being released from prison. Once we met, it was like, God put us together Batman and Robin. We did the first gang peace treaty in Dallas. We had over 400 people sign a peace agreement. That became the catalyst for the work to go into the schools and into the juvenile system. The mission back then was about gangs, but we wanted to create a different path for young people. As opposed to choosing gangs, choosing prison, or even death, we wanted to say, “Hey, how can we use our influence to navigate them a different way?”

We started back in 2000. Since then, it has grown because we realized we couldn’t do it all by ourselves. We knew we needed help. We knew we had some skills, and that if we could train other people to utilize the skills, the lessons, the losses, the wins– they too could go into communities and mentor young people and be advocates against violence. And so, in 2019 we started the OGU program, where we bring OGs from all over and started catalyzing them back into the city of Dallas. So, we address and speak against violence on the one hand, and then we provide resources to people in communities on the other hand. That’s been the work, man.

That’s amazing. I’m going to be honest with you, I probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for OG’s like you.

Wow, I appreciate that. You have to understand, we were once young, right? I remember people saying “Hey, you’re not going to make it to 18. You’re not going to make it to 21.” And then after a while, I thought, “I’m going to make it.” I had mentors, people that I idolized, and they changed my life around. Most young people that are growing up in urban cores around the country live in this duplicity, where they try to be one person in this setting and they try to be another person in that setting. Normally, they try to be good at school and home, but in the neighborhood with the idea of survival, they have to become someone else. So, one of the things for me was eliminating that duality that young people have to play both roles. I just say, “You can be a good man, you can be wholesome. You don’t have to be a gangster. Let’s help you walk through this.”

How did it feel when you finally denounced yourself from a gang?

It was liberating. It was a choice I made because I went to prison, and I had to reflect on my life. My father went to prison when I was nine months old, and he did 37 years. I knew how it felt as a little boy growing up in the projects, not knowing who my father was and missing his presence, right? Fast forward, when my daughter was born, I didn’t want her to feel that absence that I felt about my father not being there. Unfortunately, I was being sentenced to prison, and so I felt like I had failed as a father in that regard. But it did provoke me to think about my life. I saw all the choices I made that led me to this particular place. And I said, “If I really love my baby, if I really love my mother, and my freedom, then I will make those kinds of choices that would support that.” So, I went into prison and said, “I’m not with it,” which was a total shock for people. You know, you just don’t denounce the gang in prison. That’s where your protection is. But I was so committed I thought, “If I spent 18 years of my life doing the wrong thing, and I was willing to die for the gang stuff. Then, at this point in my life, I was saying, I’m willing to die to live for my family and my kid.” And I was willing to stand on that, so I denounced my gang.

What was it like uniting all the rival gangs together when you got out of prison?

Growing up in our neighborhoods we were indoctrinated to hate people that come from other neighborhoods. Simply because they are from somewhere else, or wear another color. That’s wrong information, right? We have to challenge that information. I realized that I was a part of that process. I was at one point under that impression; I bought into that. Once I was around these brothers and denounced my gang, I realized that we had a lot of stuff in common. I met brothers who I felt were my enemy, but once we sat at the table and talked, I realized they missed their baby just like I missed my baby. They missed their mom just like I missed my mom. So I thought, man, where did we go wrong that we don’t have empathy for someone else?

Tell me about your journey of transformation.

The difference for me is that duplicity that I was talking about the dualism that most young people that come from neighborhoods like we come to deal with, I was fortunate enough to have enough courage to break away from it. Right? As I said, a lot of times, we were good kids, but society, family, and ideals corrupt us, right? Well, we still got the core in us right? And our souls bear witness to it in truth. And so I was just fortunate enough to reconnect with who I was, you know, my real self, and had the courage to break because of the pressure of society, the peer pressure side of everybody doing this, and you doing that, the pressure that is strong, it’s stronger than drugs. And so being able to break away from that, and be in tune with myself, and then live by principles like integrity.

What are some things you have learned while doing this work?

This is what I learned. Twenty years ago, I was chasing success. I was thinking that I had to have things, right? In the process, I learned a new definition of what success means for me. Success is not measured by things I accumulate, money, or material things. Success to me is when I run into a young person who was in my program, who is now an adult, who says, “Man, my life is different because of you.” Then I’m saying, “Oh man, that’s great! Thanks.” And they say, “You may not remember, but you told me this. You told me to do this. So my life is great because of you.” That’s success for me.

This story is part of a series that highlights individuals who have showcased remarkable resilience and transformation. Through their inspiring journeys, they demonstrate that it is possible to overcome significant obstacles and make a meaningful impact on society. Stay tuned for more stories of perseverance, success, and the power of the human spirit.