Tio Hardiman knows a lot about survival and it is not just from running CeaseFire, a very unique anti-violence effort here in Chicago.

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Tio Hardiman knows a lot about survival and it is not just from running CeaseFire, a very unique anti-violence effort here in Chicago.

He grew up in one of the toughest housing projects on the West Side of Chicago, where drugs and gang life dominated the streets with an iron fist. It was an area where you had two choices: join a gang- or become an alcoholic.

During his adolescent years, Hardiman’s main focus was having fun and making money though illegal activities such as selling fake drugs and stolen smoke detectors. Although he did not join a gang, he lost himself during his teenage years in drugs and alcohol after his grandmother died from cancer.

Her impact on him was large.

From a positive, energetic youngster; he turned into an alcoholic who lost himself in chaos. “I grew up in a decent household with my grandparents and uncles along with five of my brothers and sisters,” says the 49-year-old.

“My grandparents sent me to Catholic school from first grade until eighth grade. My uncles were heroine addicts and my grandfather was a street vendor selling fruits, vegetables, and fresh fish. My mother would keep me and my siblings during summertime. This is how I got exposed to the West Side of Chicago where my mother lived with her drug-addicted husband, Fred. My grandmother died when I was 14 years old, which was the same year I became a drug addict and alcoholic. My grandmother’s death really took a toll on the family because she was the main provider. When my grandmother died, I was stuck in a house with my drug-addicted family with hardly any resources,” he said.

Seeking redemption from years of drug and alcohol abuse was not an easy accomplishment. After years of enduring a painful childhood, Hardiman decided that the only way to start fresh was to get clean. “My grandmother was the main inspiration for me getting clean from drugs. I didn’t want my grandmother’s investment in me to be in vain because everything she taught me was valuable. My addiction came as a result of not being able cope with death and poverty,” he explained.

Before Hardiman became a community leader for the Chicago Alliance for Neighborhood Safety in 1996, he began taking a string of jobs running from working as a dock hand to assembly line worker and other jobs that helped him make a living. He joined CeaseFire Illinois in 1999; an organization that is based on community organizing for peace and change within the Black and Latino communities.

Now, director of CeaseFire Illinois, Hardiman recalls the moment where and when he was close to meeting death; yet, he stood his ground to save someone’s life without backing down. “I received a call from a very distraught mother about how the gang members had snatched her son off their front porch and took him to an apartment complex on the west side of Chicago,” he said.

“Immediately, I rushed over to the scene to stop the madness. I walked over and spoke with the gang leader. He warned me to mind my own business- or he’d kill me. I stood my ground and helped liberate the young man from death by informing the leaders that the guy didn’t inform the police about their whereabouts and how his mother was ill and that he had to leave his security post to help her. Hence, the leader let us go,” he adds.

With all of the trials and tribulations behind him, he has decided to explain in his book Interrupting the Cycle of Violence throughout the World how people can change for the better if they believe in themselves.

Dana Rettig wrote this article for the We Are Not Alone campaign on youth violence.

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