Baltimore – Tumani never thought he would make it to see his 21st birthday. Last year, at age 20, he was almost proved right when he was shot in the head. The shooting (an assailant has not been identified) left him with short-term memory loss, loss of hearing in one ear, blurriness in one eye and face paralysis.
Born in Baltimore where he spent most of his childhood, Tumani was living in Wisconsin when he was shot. Wisconsin is where his mother relocated to during the two years Tumani spent in youth prison for carjacking and armed robbery.
“I got locked up on December 17, 2017,” Tumani said. “(Being locked up) made a big impact on my life and my outlook on freedom and how it can be snatched away in a second.”
Once released at age 19, Tumani was referred to Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., a national nonprofit that provides services to young people and families as alternatives to youth incarceration and out-of-home placements. In 31 states and in the District of Columbia, YAP matches youth justice and child welfare program youth with neighborhood-based Advocates who help them see their strengths and connect with tools to achieve their goals.
Hesitant at first, Tumani didn’t mesh with his first YAP Advocate. Then he was paired with Jamal Connor.
“Jamal keeps me on my toes, he’s that guy,” Tumani said, speaking of their relationship in present tense, although he graduated from YAP before moving out of state. “I just moved back to Baltimore like a month and a half ago. As soon as I got off the bus Mr. Jamal was right there ready to pick me up.”
When Connor first met Tumani, he said he was unwilling to take many directives, but the two clicked from the beginning.
“(Tumani) was very vulnerable about where he was at in his life, what type of Advocate he needed at that point in time and what type of guidance that he needed,” Connor said. “He was pretty stern that if it wasn’t like that then he didn’t want to be involved.”
Tumani, who is very close to his younger siblings and cousins, has a lot of goals and aspirations, but just needed some consistency. Before heading to Wisconsin, he was working and had his own apartment, but worried, knowing that he couldn’t escape hanging out with the wrong crowds when he got off work.
“No matter what he went through he always remained bright and aspiring with his goals and trying to stay on task,” Connor said. “He is a product of his environment in that neighborhood and having to survive in that neighborhood. I tried to give him some tutelage to stay focused and stay grounded. Just the fortitude the young man had and the feeling of responsibly that he accepted that he had to do something.”
Although Tumani graduated from the program, Connor explained that once Advocates point program participants in the right direction, they want to see the result and make sure they stay on track. He is currently helping Tumani get his documents together so that he can get assistance and support and get the rehabilitative therapy he needs to get back to work. The bullet from when he was shot is still lodged in his head.
“I don’t want to set anyone up for failure,” Connor added. “I tell them to call me and I feel like it’s a duty of mine to answer. He’s a young man with a high level of resilience and very courageous.”
No matter what, Tumani knows that he can always count on Connor and YAP. Tumani is now a YAP Advocate helping youth like him stay on the right track and out of trouble.
“YAP has got to be the best thing that ever happened to me in my life,” Tumani said. “All the knowledge and everything that I know, all of that stuff came from Mr. Jamal and the YAP program. My eyes are still bright; I still got that twinkle. Sometimes I feel I lost a sense of value in myself, but I still try my best.”
Click here to see a video of Connor and Tumani from 2019. Learn more about YAP at www.yapinc.org and follow the organization on Twitter @yapinc.