For DeShawn Nelson, like so many young people growing up in North Lawndale, a Chicago neighborhood desecrated by the effects of systemic economic and racial injustice, gangs and drugs, unemployment and poverty were simply a part of his daily life.
When DeShawn lost his adopted dad in 2012 in a house fire, he began doing what a lot of kids in the neighborhood end up doing – he dropped out of school and started selling drugs.
He was only in 8th grade. As DeShawn said, “Everybody was doing it. It’s how you fit in.”
He first met Cliff Nellis, our Executive Director of LCLC, in 2013 after he’d gotten arrested on drug charges. LCLC represented him in some of his cases.
As DeShawn tells it, Cliff started talking to him then about making some real changes in his life, but he was too young to think straight, “too addicted to the fast money” and not thinking about the future at the time – a decision he later regretted.
In 2017, DeShawn ended up in prison for 9 months at Vandalia for a gun charge.
But when DeShawn got out, he was ready to listen. He was ready to make a change.
Working with valued community partners like North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN) and UCAN, we got him connected with the kind of support he needed – mental health services, paid transitional jobs and professional development. After two years, he had more of the grounding and tools he needed to turn his life in a different direction.
Just two years after that, in 2020, Mr. Nelson Movers was born.
When DeShawn started his own moving company, he had one truck and a passion to not only change his life, but help other young men like him.
According to some statistics, about 70% of young men between the ages of 18 and 24 in North Lawndale can’t get jobs because of their criminal records. And they’re going to earn 40% less in their lifetimes.
So, Mr. Nelson Movers currently has four employees, and two have prior cases in the criminal legal system. These are people DeShawn intentionally hired because he wanted to do what he could to pass on the kind of support he got through LCLC.
“I know how it is not to have a job…not even to get offered a job with my background.”
He also pays them daily, because he knows what it’s like to need money right away.
“Sometimes people got things going on – they can’t wait 2 weeks.”
Already his company has made about 100 moves, he’s landed a furniture-delivery contract with a furniture company in Niles, and he now has three trucks. LCLC has also recently provided space for DeShawn to co-locate his business at our building and we’ve begun providing him some operational support for his business, mentoring and referrals.
Though he’s only 23 now, DeShawn is thinking about the future a lot. Probably a lot more seriously than many 23-year-olds in Chicago, whatever neighborhood they grew up in.
In two to three years, his goal for the business is to have 15 staff, more trucks, more contracts and more shuttle buses.
He also wants to change more lives than just his own. He tells the young men who work for him, some of them older than he is:
“Your background doesn’t determine who you are. Don’t give up.”
For the past 9 years, we’ve given The LCLC Emerging Leader Award to a current or previous client who has demonstrated exceptional progress in self-development…someone who models leadership, courage, and success. When we celebrate our 10th annual benefit this year on November 4th, “The Justice Rising Gala,” DeShawn will be our honoree.
DeShawn’s adopted mother passed away in 2019. One of things that’s made him especially sad is that “She never got to see the legit me.”
We hope you’ll join us to celebrate DeShawn – we’re so impressed with the person he’s become and who he’s still becoming.
We think his mom would be too.
Timothy Jones is LCLC’s Vice President of Major Gifts and Individual Giving. Born into a heritage of community leaders on the south side of Chicago, he’s passionate about the work of LCLC and committed to helping it continue to make a difference for youth and emerging adults in North Lawndale and seeing it expand throughout Chicago.