Published January 5th, 2021 at 6:00 AM
Andre Harris will be the first one to tell you that he was going nowhere fast.
A lucrative life of drug dealing beckoned, but he soon realized the lifestyle wasn’t what it seemed.
“For a season it was very entertaining for me, but then it catches up with you,” Harris said. “And when it catches up with you, you either make changes or you die.”
Harris grew up with a group of 26 men in Kansas City – friends, brothers and cousins who sold drugs together. Of that group, only five are alive today. Of those five, he said, one is in a penitentiary and two are “strung out on meth.”
Harris grew up with an abusive father who he said “beat him relentlessly.” After that childhood experience, he adopted a “tough guy persona” and vowed no man would lay their hands on him again.
“I was fueled by anger,” he said.
It was that anger that led him to choices that briefly landed him jail time and years of probation. Eventually, he reached a breaking point.
At the height of his drug dealing, Harris was making so much money that he didn’t care that his uncle was stealing from him. Soon after, Harris lost everything and asked his uncle to give a portion of the money back. When his uncle denied him the money, Harris was so angry that he pulled out a gun and threatened to kill him. The two never really spoke again.
Harris had the chance to apologize when the two ran into each other at a party, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Later that same night, his uncle died in a tragic car accident.
That was rock bottom for Harris. And at the bottom of the pit, he found God.
After seeing Harris spiral out of control with drugs and alcohol in an attempt to cope with his uncle’s death, local pastor Bruce McGregor from Freedom Covenant Church reached out and showed him a new way of life.
“If God didn’t rescue me March 15, 2012, I know without a shadow of a doubt I’d be dead,” Harris said.
Since then, Harris has been involved in a ministry through Freedom Covenant Church called Freedom Fire where he does outreach to kids in urban communities.
Eight years after turning his life around, Harris watched the news in horror when four-year-old LeGend Taliferro was shot and killed in Kansas City. In the midst of the sorrow, he made an observation.
“I saw how everyone was giving attention to LeGend’s mom, and my heart went out to LeGend’s dad,” he said.
To him, there seemed to be a pattern of mothers receiving support and resources after a trauma while fathers are left to grieve in isolation, even if they were just as present in their child’s life.
He went home to his wife, Nikita, that day and said, “Honey, we have to do something for men who lose a child to gun violence.” The idea for a nonprofit called Dads Against Crime came soon after.
Harris and his wife had a vision of creating a lifelong brotherhood of fathers where they can support each other and guide younger men, as well as find therapy, coping resources and job opportunities.
The first man Harris reached out to was LeGend’s birth father, Raphael Taliferro.
On the Dads Against Crime Facebook page, there are videos of Harris interviewing fathers who have lost children to crime.
“It’s like a piece of you is gone. Just gone,” Taliferro said in his interview.
After being asked what he and LeGend liked to do together, tears started to well up in Taliferro’s eyes. Instead of hiding the emotion, he let them run.
“It’s rare for a man to show his emotions, and if he does it’s looked at as a sign of weakness,” Harris said. “We want to break that.”
Getting fathers into therapy in order to become more comfortable with mental health is a large part of Dads Against Crime’s mission. The stigma of mental health in the Black community can cause people, particularly men, to suffer in silence. Harris’s experience was no different.
In 2005, Harris attempted suicide and didn’t tell a soul until 2011.
“I was afraid that I would be looked at as weak,” he said.
Harris has battled depression, and doesn’t want any fathers to go through that experience alone. His vulnerability with what he has struggled with encourages vulnerability in others.
“I’m not trying to be that tough guy anymore,” said Daquan Mcdonald (known as Quann Macc) in his interview with Harris. Mcdonald has been in a relationship with LeGend’s mother for a while, and was an active co-parent.
“He was a powerful, smart little kid,” Mcdonald said.
LeGend’s tragic death was a wakeup call for many in Kansas City’s ongoing battle with murder and gun violence. In 2020, there were 174 homicides in Kansas City. Harris has had enough and is ready to do what it takes in order to take back his block.
Harris knows that Dads Against Crime’s mission might ruffle some feathers. Changing the culture of a city and driving out those who do crime, a lucrative gig, will likely be met with resistance. But Harris isn’t afraid – only tired of seeing people live in fear.
The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down the plans to form this nonprofit, but Harris is hoping for funding in order to achieve all that he dreams. In the meantime, he and his wife reach out to local fathers to provide support in whatever ways they can.
“COVID can stop some stuff but it can’t stop us from loving on these men and showing them someone cares about them,” he said.
Click here to find the Facebook page for Dads Against Crime.
Catherine Hoffman covers community affairs and culture for Kansas City PBS in cooperation with Report for America.