Author & Motivational Speaker Shaka Senghor Is Fighting For A Fair Chance
I had the privilege of speaking to Mr. Shaka Senghor, author and motivational speaker extraordinaire. When I saw his interview on OWN’s Super Soul Sunday with Oprah, his story was really interesting to me. At 19 years old Shaka Senghor was convicted of second-degree murder, and he went on to spend 19 years in prison. After receiving a letter from his son, he made a decision to change him life. Released in 2010, Senghor has since penned his memoir, Writing my Wrongs and he speaks as a motivational speaker across the country.
Clearly he has changed his life from that of his past. Nowhere in his Super Soul interview did I see the person who was incarcerated. If you look beyond his past, you see a kind hearted gentleman who became a victim of his environment. But, as I stated earlier, that is the past. Now, we have a man who is comfortable enough in his skin to tell his story. Thank you again, Mr. Shaka Senghor for the opportunity to speak with you!
Parlé Mag: First of all, thank you for taking the time out to have this interview. My first time hearing of you was actually just recently when I saw Oprah posting a picture of your book on Instagram. My first thought was, who is this author? Then I went to your website. I read a bit of your bio, I saw the book cover with you and your son. I wanted to read your story. Then I saw your interview on Super Soul Sunday with Oprah. I really enjoyed the interview and after that interview, I had my own questions. I took a chance of asking you for this opportunity and you responded. Thank you!
I would like to open by highlighting how you said that people come out of prison worse than what they were when they were in because of the way they were treated when they were in prison. I think it takes an extremely strong person to not only endure what we hear prison life to be like, but to come out as a better person. I know one of the things that makes you different is the fact that you take full responsibility for what you have done. From your book cover, to your Instagram account to the interview; I didn’t see a person that made the mistake you made. I saw someone who stumbled or took a hard fall… a very hard fall and made the decision to get back up and try again. I also believe that because you started life a certain way, you know what it’s like to live a certain life and to know right from wrong. So it was easier than someone who doesn’t know any different to get back to that. Do you feel that the main reason some never get better in prison or afterwards is because maybe some of them didn’t know any different, therefore they think that’s all there is to life?
Shaka Senghor: I think it’s a lot of things. I think it’s a combination of experiences in their childhood growing up, what they think about themselves and what happens once their actually incarcerated.
Parlé Mag: When you were in prison, did your mother visit you or write you any letters?
Shaka Senghor: She wrote a couple of letters. I didn’t see my mother until I had 17 years in prison.
Parlé Mag: You said that you always wanted to be a doctor. I remember you choking up. You realized that it was because you felt that your mother would be nice to you. Do you think subconsciously that’s why you are the speaker that you are today? Because if you think about it; doctors encourage healing. They try to guide you in a direction that would make (the patients) feel better. So, with the things that you discussed, you don’t think that, that innocent little boy is somewhere hiding in you wanting to be a doctor?
Shaka Senghor: I think that’s possible. I think it’s multiple things. When I first started doing this work, I didn’t think of it as healing. I thought of it more as raising awareness. But, it’s fortunate that people are really responding that the way that they are though.
Parlé Mag: When Oprah said that she knew you weren’t a bad person when you thought about your nephew-just looking at the interview and reading your story; I never see that person. I don’t. And, that’s one of the things that touched me and made me want to reach out to you to speak with you. In your novel; after getting into an altercation and being roughed up to the point of your hand bleeding. You said you calmed down when an officer asked you if you needed to see a nurse. That was another point in the book that highlighted that all you really wanted was to be cared for. Even the moment after you were shot and in the hospital, you felt a level of comfort when you thought you were going to be able to talk to the doctor, but of course the doctor didn’t express much concern.
When your parents came to the hospital and requested that you come home and leave the street life alone; why was that not some hope that you could move in the direction that you wanted with your mother?
Shaka Senghor: I think it’s one of those things where you get accustomed to living a certain lifestyle, it’s not easy to re-adapt when the pieces aren’t all in place.
Parlé Mag: Do you sometimes wish that you could’ve grown into the person that you are without all the mistakes that you’ve made? Or do you feel that in your particular situation, it was necessary?
Shaka Senghor: I won’t say it’s necessary, but I think that we are definitely a product of our life’s experiences. My life experiences being what they are leads me to being who I am today.
Parlé Mag: Do you feel like you have any regrets sometimes?
Shaka Senghor: I’m the type of person that doesn’t dwell on what’s already occurred because you can’t change that. You just learn to adapt to life and deal with things according to where they are.
Parlé Mag: That’s true. When one is released from prison; a job may be harder to get, a place to stay may seem impossible. Do you think that’s just another reason for many to go back into the routine of making unwise decisions that may have been the reason their freedom was taken away in the beginning?
Shaka Senghor: Yeah. That’s the way the system is set up. And that’s one of the reasons I do the work I do today because I realize how hard it is to be successful after you have a felony and the obstacles you face and I’m trying to get people to change that and start hiring people and giving them an opportunity to live. I definitely think it’s a direct result of people feeling hopeless. Normally when people are hopeless that makes it hard.
Parlé Mag: When you were incarcerated, of course you didn’t have freedom. Now that you’re released, do you feel like you have freedom now or are you in a sense still incarcerated?
Shaka Senghor: I feel free as possible. There are still things that I’m still prohibited from doing because I have a felony. You still feel, not necessarily locked up, but I don’t feel fully free.
Parlé Mag: I remember you saying all you wanted was a fair chance to be a human. Do you feel that now you have a fair chance or it’s that like the same answer to that question?
Shaka Senghor: I feel like I’m still fighting for a fair chance. Not just for myself, but for a whole lot of other people.
Parlé Mag: Well, you’re doing good and it was a pleasure speaking with you.
Shaka Senghor: Thank you for that.
For more information on Shake Seghor, check out www.shakasenghor.com