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Talking His Way to Redemption
, Former hustler sharing
his cautionary tales
with young people
BY LAYLA GARMS
For much of his youth, High
Point native Greg Commander was a
"I tore up High Point," admitted
the 48-year-old. "1 had a lot of peo
ple following in my footsteps; I sold
a lot of drugs and caused a lot of
These days, Commander, a moti
vational speaker, dedicates his time
and energy to repairing the ills he
sees in his community, addressing
young people every chance he gets
and imploring them not to make the
, negative choices he did.
"God told me, 'You need to go
back to the city that you destroyed,"
| said Commander, who returned to
High Point in 2009, following an
18-year prison term. "...For every
wrong that I've done, I want to turn
around and I want to show that you
can do it. I work hard to better
myself so that I'm able to better oth
This kinder, gentler Commander
didn't surface overnight. The new,
improved version is the
result of decades of tri
als, self-discovery and
an ever deepening faith.
As a boy and young
man. Commander said
he ran the streets, doing
as he pleased, believing
he was "too slick" to get
"I got caught up in
the streets - that street
life was alluring,"
who dropped out of school in the
eighth grade. "I went out there and
started smoking weed and drinking
beer and partying - that was my life
- I was in and out of trouble, in and
out of jail."
Commander's late mother tried
to get him back on the right path,
encouraging him to go to church and
change his ways When she died of
an aneurysm in 1987, Commander
found himself deepening his debt to
the streets, as he struggled to keep a
Greg Commander speaks to a
group of kids.
roof over the heads of his four sib
lings. Three years after her death,
Commander and fellow members of
his "Juice Crew" clique were arrest
ed. The father of five was convicted
of drug charges and sentenced to
24.5 years in a federal penitentiary.
It was one of the hard
est parts of my life I ever
experienced, when I
walked into the Atlanta
penitentiary for the first
time, shackled up, chained
up," he related. "That was
one of the coldest points of
my incarceration when I
walked through that door.
This was like something I'd
never experienced and it
was humbling to me,
because I'd come from a
life of ballin'."
Although incarceration was a
"culture shock" for Commander,
whose life of crime had kept him in
the lap of luxury, it wasn't until sev
eral years into his sentence that his
perspective began to change. To pass
the time, he had begun attending
Bible studies and talking to others
about their faith. Four years into his
sentence, he watched a fellow
inmate die after a lunch line stab
Following an unwritten inmate
code, Commander said he and other
prisoners ignored the victim, step
ping around his body. Commander
was no stranger to violence. He had
seen a lot of it on the streets and lost
sight in an eye after being struck
with a baseball bat. But that day in
the "chow hole," his heart went out
to the victim, and Commander real
ized he had reached a turning point.
"From that point on, I felt some
thing deep inside me that I needed a
source that was higher than myself,"
he said. "I really started seeking
who God was."
Shortly after returning to High
Point, Commander met Paul
Lessard, who helped secure speak
ing engagements for Commander at
local high schools through The
Lighthouse Project, a nonprofit
speakers' bureau Lessard founded.
Lessard, who also heads the
High Point Community Foundation,
said he felt the message Commander
has to deliver was too important to
"He's becoming a recognized
and well respected speaker and has
got a great way with the kids. He's
got an in-your-face kind of presenta
tion, which I think is what some of
these kids need to hear," Lessard
said. "The reason why Greg is so
good at what he does is because he's
been where these kids are and he's
speaking from experience."
To date. Commander has
addressed more than SO groups in
cities across North Carolina and
beyond, delivering his no-holds
barred account of the consequences
of a life of crime, in hopes of spar
ing the youngsters from suffering
the same fate. Lessard also helped
Commander enroll in college, an
achievement the grandfather of five
says he never even dared to dream
about. A junior at Laurel University,
a Christian college in High Point,
Commander is pursuing a bachelor's
degree in counseling and maintains
a 3.2 GPA.
"It's been an adventure; it's been
great, and I'll always want to contin
ue doing what I'm doing." he said of
motivational speaking. "...It's just
my desire to give what I think socie
ty needs, and that's knowledge,
that's love and to be an example."
Contact Greg Commander at
336-991-3592 or greg.comman
der? yahoo .com.
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