Meet Aaron Morris, Ex-Gangster And Lowest Paid Public Servant In St. Louis
See also: Battle Lines Gangs keep their murderous hold on the streets of St. Louis. And kids like Lil' Robert Walker pay the price.
Aaron Morris Morris started the "Feed Our City" program, part a larger four year campaign to lower STD rates and stop gang violence.
By 2011, Morris says, his outreach efforts were "hanging by a thread." Nowadays, he tries to keep in touch with the teens -- many of them gang members -- who once were his interns. It was a good gig for a teenager, Morris recalls, because they could make $12 an hour.
"I don't want them to lose hope," he says. "I still have connection with those children, and they still come see me. They still talk to me, and they see me struggling with no money, trying to put things together."
Last year, the Youth Empowerment Services program dissolved due to funding problems of its own, says Stallings. Today, the door Morris escaped through -- from gang life to city employment -- is now closed.
"It is hard," Morris continues, "when those youth call me and tell me, 'Mr. Morris, I think I want to move this little package,' or 'I'm finna make this move.'"
Morris still organizes outreach and empowerment programs for at-risk youth, just without city funding. He gives speeches at churches and community centers, spreading the Good News and recounting his life as a gang member.
Aaron Morris Morris' "Body and Soul" program sought to lower STD rates through awareness and prevention events.
In 2012, Morris published a slim memoir of that life, From Gangs To God. In the book, he describes how he was nearly killed in 1997 when he tried to leave his gang. He was seventeen years old at the time.
"I know this will sound crazy, but my head was set upon some concrete stairs and stomped on three times, and my skull was cracked in half. I had an out-of-body experience, and I saw everything."
"I watched everybody beat me up and leave me there. I saw --" he pauses for a moment. "It's going to sound crazy," Morris continues, "but I saw the spirit of my deceased grandfather come to me, escorted by angels. He walked toward me."
Morris says he later woke up on a family member's couch, covered in blood. The experience left him filled with gratitude to God and, he says, a profound desire to help kids like he was, those with lives bereft of belief and hope.
"Now, the funds for at-risk prevention, the funds for the STD campaign, the funds for these different programs, they are gone," he says. "But I'm still remaining. As I live for a purpose."