Local Youth Find Direction And Inspiration At Leadership Conference

Community Access Unlimited's TOP program leaders with Hashim Garrett. (Photo courtesy of CAU)

Community Access Unlimited’s TOP program leaders with Hashim Garrett. (Photo courtesy of CAU)

ELIZABETH — Hashim Garrett was shot six times at a New York City store and left paralyzed from the waist down. In recovery, the former gang member discovered a new path to a safer life based on forgiveness and positive choices.

Garrett shared his story and discovery this week with more than 200 at-risk youth gathered at the annual Youth Leadership Conference hosted by Community Access Unlimited (CAU) of Elizabeth. The conference each year brings together members of the agency’s Transitional Opportunities Program (TOP) and Union County community service professionals to inspire and empower attendees to identify a life path that leads away from risk and toward greater reward – even if that path at times winds and turns, according to Cara Pavia, marketing/fundraiser coordinator at the agency.

The event included a day of workshops, awards and entertainment and was highlighted by Garrett’s visit. Garrett is founder of Wisdom & Understanding, LLC, a consulting and life coaching entity in Orange. He spoke to the youth about conflict resolution and forgiveness.

Garret shared with the audience how his broken past left him searching for acceptance. As a youth growing up in New York, he was faced with feelings of confusion and frustration and surrounded himself with people who made him do some very bad things, he explained.

“I had so much anger in my heart,” he said.

One night while at a nearby store, Garrett was shot six times by a member of a rival gang. While fighting for his life, all he felt was fear, he explained – fear that he would not have a second chance and fear of what would happen to his family. That fear brought him back to life, he added.

While recovering for six months Garrett spent a lot of time thinking and instead of letting that anger back into his heart decided to forgive, he said. He thought God had kept him on earth to forgive the man who shot him, forgive those in his life who pushed him down the wrong path and, most importantly, to forgive himself.

“Forgiveness is power,” Garrett said. “Learn how to forgive yourself so you can forgive others and you’ll be a good person for it.

“Think,” he added. “Think about what you do. Just think. Use your brain. Put good stuff in your body and don’t get involved with drugs or alcohol. Stay away from weapons – it only takes one second to make a poor decision and weapons will not protect you.”

CAU’s TOP program assists at-risk youth in the community by providing a variety of residential support services through a continuum of care for ages 13-21. Youth living in any county of New Jersey are able to enter the program through the Division of Child Protection & Permanency and Value Option referral.

“CAU strives to deliver independent living training and transitional living support services until youth achieve the life skills they need to live independently,” Pavia said. “Above all, we strive to empower and inspire our community’s youth to be good people and do amazing things. Mr. Garrett firmly believes in the same message that we communicate to our youth members, as he told them, ‘We are all great, we are all phenomenal human beings.”

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