When he was a teen, he chose to the run the streets, instead of staying in school, but after a life-changing incident, the latest New Yorker of the Week is spending every day encouraging students to focus on their education. NY1's John Schiumo filed the following report.
Kareem Nelson grew up with family and financial struggles, thinking life wasn't fair. This mentality sent him down a bad track, one he sees many young New Yorkers following.
"I paid all the consequences from what the streets have to offer," he says. "I don't want to see kids go through what I went through. I don't want to see the kids go through what the streets are going to put them through."
When this former drug dealer got shot at 21-years-old, he sustained a spinal cord injury that left him bound to a wheelchair.
"This will happen, and that you will be lucky to be in a wheelchair, because the other alternatives are death and jail," Kareem says. "Because I know there's a kid that's going to be in the same position I'm in if he doesn't know that this is what he could get if he takes this route."
So Kareem is trying to lead young New Yorkers in a positive direction. Two years ago, he founded "Wheelchairs Against Guns." Every week, Kareem and other reformed convicts visit schools in low-income neighborhoods, sharing their stories, hoping students make better choices in the future.
"We want them to know that when you're growing up, that there's so much more to life," says Terry Parris, a member of Wheelchairs Against Guns. "It's OK to dream and be something different. But you're in school, so you're already halfway there, you know?"
Their message hits home.
"Kareem comes from an urban environment, just like the students. Many students come from single-family homes, struggle with economics, meeting basic needs like food and rent," says Megan O'Toole, dean of students at the Bronx School of Young Leaders.
"And their eyes are wide open and their ears are wide open, which ultimately means to me that their hearts are wide open," says Allison Farrington, principal at Research and Service High School. "I know that they're all going home and thinking about what it is they learned today."
"If we don't provide nothing, the corners are going to provide, with the crews with the guns with the drugs. That's who's going to provide for our kids if we don’t find a way to provide for them," Kareem says. "Out there is the wrong place."
So, for pointing teens towards the right place, Kareem Nelson is the latest New Yorker of the Week.
FOR MORE INFORMATION