This is the story of graduated gang member Antonio Powell—but call him Bankroll if you see him in the streets—and remember you never heard anything from Annesti. Everybody has rough times, so Antonio doesn’t really fuss about when life gives him oranges. Instead, he thinks, “How am I supposed to make lemonade?”
Living with Mama use to be cool when Antonio was still in school. But after seventh or eighth grade, hanging out with friends soon turned into late nights. Late nights turned into not coming home, which turned into growing up, which turned into becoming a grown man. Soon, the innocent Antonio became the go-getter Bankroll. On his way home one night he ran into his uncles, Wuga and Black. They were just standing on the corner. The two looked as if they weren’t even thinking at all. Their backs leaned on the brick wall of the liquor store, and their faces turned toward each other as they had a conversation.
“Hey Uncle B. ‘Sup Uncle Wuga,” Antonio said to them.
“Hey nephew! Stay in school dude,” Uncle Wuga said.
Antonio ignored the statement. He wanted to be like his uncle. Something about them standing there was cool to Antonio. It seemed like they had no worries, and he felt like he needed some of that action.
Soon, he graduated from middle school and then he really changed. He doesn’t even remember if he went to high school or not. He just knows he got into the street game quickly. When he first started standing on the corner, it seemed as if there were fewer drugs, less violence, and not so much gang-banging. “If I had nothing, I had my bloods,” Antonio said. It felt like he was on top of the world, like nothing could stop him.
Everyone looked up to Uncle Wuga and Uncle Black because they were the oldest and wisest on the block. Soon, 075 (another way to say 75th Street) had a lot more teenagers who also looked up to the older men on the block—all the little teenage boys. Their uncles kept them on the right path, too. They didn’t tell them anything they shouldn’t hear, and they never did anything bad in front of them. They all had a good time without the gangs and the drugs and all that unnecessary violence. Everything was all good, until one day Uncle Wuga and his baby-mama Bone walked into the gas station. A gun boomed—POP POP. An unknown and unfamiliar man whispered, “R.I.P.” Wuga was lying on the concrete, breathless and motionless. People screamed, “Oh my God, someone do something! Hello!? Hello!?”
His girlfriend Bone was lost. It felt as if no one was there. Everything was all bad for the 075 family. The funeral was the most devastating scene. To see a gangster cry is like watching a puppy get run over by a car. That year, 2002, was a terrible year for their family, including Antonio. They lost their auntie, who was his granny, they lost Uncle Wuga, his favorite uncle, and they lost half of their hearts. Nobody knew what was going to become of 075. No one knew that soon it would be a block full of bangers who ganged together to defeat their rivals.
That wasn’t something Wuga would tolerate. Soon 075 became “7nickle,” which was just another way to say “75th.” After “7nickle” became “WugaWorld.” WugaWorld went from hanging on corners to banging on the corners. From all for one and one for all, to if one of us trip then all of us fall. Antonio became T.O, and then Bankroll. All of his names changed as he grew into the streets. This just shows how much the streets can change you. Bankroll didn’t know where to turn. Even a lion can get lost in the jungle, and soon Bankroll found himself stuck in the madness.
Through all this craziness, even years later, his beloved girlfriend, Monk, was by his side. One day, Bankroll was caught with a gun and was sentenced to two years in prison. At this time, Monk was a couple weeks pregnant.
After prison, Bankroll went back to his normal life. He was just more careful because he had a little boy looking up to him. For three years everything was normal on the block: the bros in and out of jail, smoking dope, playing dice, losing friends and family due to guns. Same old, same old. Bankroll decided to attempt to go back to the street life.
One night, while the baby was asleep, Antonio said, “I’ll be back tomorrow, babes.” He kissed his girlfriend and son as if he was going to be gone forever.
Tomorrow turned into two weeks. But then one day, he walked into his home yelling, “I’m back.” Neither Monk nor their 3-year-old boy, TayTay, were in sight. The bathroom was empty, so was the kitchen, and the front room. As he walked up to the door of their bedroom he could already see pain in his girlfriend’s face. She looked as if she had lost her best friend. Bankroll took a deep breath and asked, “What’s good? You look nasty!” She raised her face slowly and looked him in the eye. For two minutes, no words were said. Soon, they began to spill out of her mouth. She choked a little and her voice went in and out as she said, “I’m pregnant.”
With a confused expression Bankroll said, “You say what?”
She laughed and repeated her words: “I’m pregnant.”
He rubbed his head. Monk looked at him as if she was surprised at his reaction. Bankroll looked back up slowly and laughed with joy. “Oh Lord, I bet it’s a boy,” he said. They both jumped and Monk screamed with joy.
That night, Bankroll couldn’t sleep. He was so excited, but also kind of scared at the same time. He knew there was money that had to be made, but he didn’t want to make it the way he normally did. Things were definitely going to change after his second child was born.
Nine months later, Bankroll had his second child. All he cares about now is his family. He has been on the block, but he hasn’t been involved with any gang activity or drug violence. Monk has a job, and Antonio is on the search for one. Their kids, KayKay and TayTay, are doing great. KayKay is a few months old and TayTay attends preschool.
“I feel like my kids are a sign from God,” he said. “He is telling me to slow down.” He finally learned the true meaning of growing. “It’s not about what you can do. It’s about what you do.” Antonio learned how to be a man.
“You’re all I need,” Antonio said as he kissed his child.
Originally published in Even a Lion Can Get Lost in the Jungle, a collection of short stories by 7th and 8th grade students at Englewood’s Harvard School of Excellence, with 826CHI.