I can’t say I know much about the rapper T.I. Until recently, I couldn’t name one of his songs. I do know his babies’ mother Tameka “Tiny” Cottle was a member of 90s R&B group, Xscape and bears an uncanny resemblance to Miss Piggy (Hey, don’t go there. I happen to like Miss Piggy.)
No, I don’t know much about T.I. but I feel I know his heart thanks to MTV’s T.I.’s Road to Redemption (Tuesdays, 9:30 p.m. Eastern) in which the rapper, as a condition of the reduced sentence he received for carrying firearms as convicted felon, has to complete 1000 hours of community service.
I guess T.I. could have chosen anything to do to complete this mandate but the rapper decided to help some youngsters on the verge of making tragically life altering decisions — youngsters like PeeWee.
We meet PeeWee in the first episode. His story is sadly familiar. His father is in jail. His brother is incarcerated as well. His mother, who we meet briefly, lives in virtual squalor. Her brain addled from drug use, she is more than willing to accept, without question, the mounds of cash that PeeWee earns from “hustling.”
PeeWee (like other subsequent participants) thinks that he is being filmed for an MTV program about his life in the ‘hood. He has no idea that T.I. is listening to his story from another location. Later, armed with information about the kid’s life, T.I. makes a surprise visit to the teen.
And this is when the journey begins.
We’ve seen this story before: benevolent ex-gangster wants to teach youngster a lesson and put him/her on the right path. It’s based on the belief that if the youngster could only be shown how his life would turn out if he chooses the wrong path, that youngster would disavow his errant ways.
In this vein, PeeWee was “arrested” and placed in a jail cell — left there for a while to think about about his actions. Later he is taken to a funeral home where he sees young men, both dead — one on a table waiting to be prepped and the other in a casket. He is clearly moved by both experiences.
Trey, a 14-year-old wanna be gang banger, who we meet in the second episode, has a similar ephiphany after T.I. takes him to a the grave site of the rapper’s best/childhood friend, Philant Johnson, who was killed in a shootout following a visit to a nightclub. T.I. was traveling in the van in which Johnson was shot and “held him in his arms until he took his last breath.”
Both boys decide to leave the path to destruction and take the road to a brighter future. PeeWee stops hustling and Trey, stops hanging out with gang members and devotes himself to his schoolwork. Both boys are rewarded for their efforts. PeeWee, who wants to be an actor, is given an opportunity to take acting lessons.
And Trey is flown to Washington. D.C. to the Hip Hop Inaugural Ball where T.I. is being honored. He introduces Trey to rappers MC Lyte and LL Cool J and even mentions the teen’s name in his acceptance speech. At the conclusion of the activities, Trey says that he hopes to be the “first man in his family to go to college” and that he used to say he wanted to be like his brother (who is incarcerated) but now he says, “I can be like myself.”
The cynic that I am, a former teacher of students from inner city and volunteer with well-meaning outreach programs, I am apt to believe (but still hoping it’s not true) that although we are told that they are still continuing to make positive strides, they will stop somewhere along this new road and return the more familiar, well-worth path. Even the road to hell, they say, is paved with good intentions.
Despite my desire to be the cautious realist, I am swept up in the emotion of their stories. Damn you T.I., you got me crying like a baby. (Now, if you could only have my skin looking like a baby’s, we can be friends for life).
Could T.I.’s efforts be a publicity stunt or a plea for an even lighter sentence? Perhaps. Personally, I don’t give a damn about his intentions be they pure or otherwise. I do believe that youngsters in general, and these youngsters specifically, benefit from knowing that someone give a damn to something, anything.
I, for one, am glad that T.I, is taking the road to redemption and attempting to bring others with him.
On March 27, 2009, the date of his official sentencing, we will see where that road will ultimately take him.
[UPDATE] Clifford “T.I.” Harris was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison on federal weapons charges. He has 30-60 days to report to prison . (Source: AP)
The following is a clip from the show.