Race
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Credit: KUOW/Ryleigh Brimhall

My name is Millionaire Lavish. I'm 18 and this is why I carry a gun

As told to Willard Jimerson Jr. and Patricia Murphy. Edited for length and clarity. Millionaire Lavish is a nickname. 

I

remember when I didn’t think about guns. 

Back then, I’d think about football. I’d go to YouTube, watch football videos of Barry Sanders and all these other guys. Now I go to YouTube to figure out what bullets to use, and what gun to get. 

That’s how life switches for people. It’s not because I wanted it to; it’s just the environment I’m in, and how life has to be. 

I wouldn’t have a gun if I could. Of course not. That’s the first way to jail. 

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But if I don’t carry a gun, I’m literally going to die on the streets, you feel me? I’d rather get caught with that thing than without it. I’d rather the police take me to jail, and I’m in jail living. 

I like to fight too, but my hands are not going to beat a gun. I can’t beat bullets with these knuckles. 

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Credit: KUOW/Ryleigh Brimhall

My mom’s been gone since I was 2. Coming up, it was just me and my dad. 

I’ve been to, like, 12, 13 schools from elementary to high school. I’ve never been sitting at one school for more than a year. That messed me up a little bit. 

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I played Little League. I was always faster than everybody. I don’t care what nobody says; I was filthy. 

When high school came, I moved to Ballard, and it was black and white. They never acted racist towards me, but I’d just never been around that many white people before. And in class, I'm learning about slavery and stuff, and it made me not want to go to school anymore. I felt like I was always by myself, because I was mostly the only black person in my grade. 

[The story behind our interviews with young men who carry guns in Seattle's southend.]

It didn’t go as planned at Ballard. I barely played; the running back coach said I was second string running back. He said he'd put me in after five touchdowns. For senior year I went to Rainier Beach, and I did all right. 

They love you when you’re popping. When I was doing good, you know, scoring touchdowns and winning games, everybody’s calling. You get calls from family members you ain’t ever talked to. Everyone show up to your games, you feel me? Your coach says they got you whatever you need, they love you. 

But then college wasn't knocking at my door. I didn’t give up instantly. I kept faith. But then after three months you notice you're not going to college — with a scholarship, I mean. You could go to pay, but look at me, brown from south Seattle; I ain't got no college money. So other stuff came up, and football start to fade away. 

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And soon your time’s up, and nobody cares about you no more. 

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Credit: KUOW/Ryleigh Brimhall

I’m homeless because they raised the rent. 

We didn’t get kicked out, but we decided to leave because we knew we weren’t going to pay the rent. I didn’t want to see that three-day notice on the door. 

Amazon, you know, these companies are causing more homelessness. Since they’ve been here, our rent went from $850 to $1,550. More people are going to be downtown homeless. More people are going to be committing more crimes because they’ve got no money and they need some money, so they’re going to be robbing people. 

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So I turned 18, and two months later, I was homeless, and it was over. I was on the streets day and night, man. I never used to smoke weed, but I started smoking weed every day, because I needed something to deal with my stress other than fighting and shooting at people. 

It sucks, bro, waking up, “Oh man, where I am going to go?” 

You're not supposed to be on a damn bus early in the morning trying to find somewhere to go. You're supposed to be waking up early in the morning to go to school or go to work, doing something productive, not walking around wasting time. 

I noticed it was life or death when I see my brothers get shot in my car. 

First time was two years ago. And then it happened a couple months ago. 

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To be honest, bro, I was thinking, I've got to kill these guys. That's the only thing I was thinking because it caught me off guard. I was loafing, I was just chilling. 

It's easy to get a gun these days. It's easier to get a gun than to do anything, really, in Seattle. It’s easier to get a gun than pay rent. You make one phone call, you can have your first 22-caliber gun that can fit in your pocket. 

You feel protected. You can shoot anybody. You could do whatever you want to do. You need to protect yourself. When you don't have it, all you have is your fist or your feet — because you're going to run or you're going to fight. 

My enemies are thinking, I got to kill him before he kills me, and that’s the same thing that I think — that you want to live. 

People kill you because they’re having a bad day. 

I can see my enemy, bro, and I won't say nothing to them because it's like, bro, I'm cool, I'm not trippin’ off you, bro. But then when I get mad and I'm already having a bad day, and I see someone, I think, I want to kill somebody, because there’s nothing left for me. 

If I don't carry my gun on me, and I'm out here, and I'm homeless, 3 o'clock, 4 o'clock, 5 o'clock — whatever time in the morning — and I see somebody I'm beefing with, and they might got a gun and I don't, they shoot me, you know? It's gonna be rest in peace to Lavish, you feel me? 

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Credit: KUOW/Ryleigh Brimhall

M

y dad calls me, whatever, we're chopping game, and I'm telling him I got in a fight. 

He's like, “Okay, cool. You good?” 

“I'm good.” 

“You're good.” 

Then he hit me with the one-on-one talk. He was like, “Hey, just listen to me.” I'm like, “Yeah, I got you.” 

And he telling me how I could've made it with football. I'm not knocking him for it, but it's just that he don't understand. It's just not that easy. The colleges wasn't knocking. 

We are both Geminis. Our birthdays are three days apart, so it's like, that's my guy, you know? But right now, he’s doing his thing, I’m doing mine. He's homeless. 

He found out I had a gun because I slipped. I was trying to tell him a story but I ended up telling him myself. 

He couldn't say stop because he knew I needed it. I'd rather say "free me" because I'm in jail than him say "rest in peace" to me because I'm dead. 

Black families, mostly we're down, we're poverty, we're Section 8. So most black parents and families are going to depend on sports. Thinking about, well, he plays basketball, he might be the next LeBron James, or he might be the next Barry Sanders. 

Black people, some of us don't really have that career thing when we're born. Some white people, their families already have businesses, so as their kids get older, and their parents die, they going to take over the business. But black people, we're dependent on sports and working at McDonald's. 

But that's only one side. Because there's the other side — that's hustling. 

You can make more money on the streets than you can at McDonald's. One hour on the streets, bro, you can make more than you make in two weeks paycheck or a whole month paycheck at McDonald's. 

I put my whole life into sports. So once sports was over, and I had nowhere to go to, I'm just 18 years old, left on the streets you know trying to figure out for myself, look for these programs and people who said they loved me, that they was going to help me when I was 17 and 16, playing football. But now I'm 18 struggling, fighting for my life. 

So many people want to protest and stuff, and like honestly, I don't think that's ever going to work. It’s been going on since 19—, what? 18— what? This has been going on for so long. People been trying to protest, fight back. I'm not saying give up, because we're never supposed to give up. But I don't feel this is ever going to end. We're just always gonna be the same way. Unless we get into that White House, or some of us get to the top tier where we can make the rules, we're going to be sad forever. 

There's trauma behind what we're doing. People don't have food to eat. Barely have somewhere to sleep — sleeping on couches, sleeping on floors. We're all trying to bear our life; we’re just doing it in different ways. It's hard to just wake up. 

More of us trying to better ourselves, but we just don't have that extra push, because everybody we know is either pimps or just in jail or just doing something that's not beneficial. 

Some people like me, I used to love school. I always wanted to be the smartest person in class. But I always thought, I don't have the money to go to college, after I leave school, I'm back to the streets. I have nowhere to go. 

As the days go by, and I'm on the streets, I'm mentally getting weaker and weaker. 

I can't keep being broke. 

The other day — this might sound funny, so don't laugh — I was watching Snoop Dogg on TV. Everybody knows Snoop Dogg being a gangster from Cali, but he was saying he went to Africa, or maybe it was Jamaica, something like that out there. And he said he felt way different and he just changed. He started moving differently, you know? 

All I see right now is Seattle, Washington. All I see is the streets I come from. All I really know is this place. But if I was to leave and go see something different, it might shake my life to be better. It could be better. 

They say Africa is popping, and you don't have to care about people shooting people like here. 

If I had better opportunities, I would be outta here. I would not be in the southend no more. I would not be in the streets no more.  

Since this interview was recorded at the KUOW studios, Millionaire Lavish was arrested; police said he was involved in a drive-by shooting. He is currently in jail, awaiting trial. 

This essay comes from an interview with Will Jimerson Jr., a community and youth advocate who works as program manager at the Urban League. KUOW's Patricia Murphy edited the interview for broadcast.