Life The Griot was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He came to Atlanta as a teenager and then to Macon, GA, where he graduated from Southwest High School. He attended Gordon State College in Barnesville, GA, then the University of Georgia, where he earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Social Work. A poet and lover of chess, Life ran programs at schools and in the juvenile justice system that sought to help young people through both. Combining his love of chess and his passion to inspire young people, Life formed Chess and Community, which he turned into a nonprofit in 2012. Currently, Life is the Executive Director of Chess and Community and teaches at UGA in the School of Social Work. He is a radio host on 92.7 WXAG and the author of Tree of Life: The Human Ascension and Hidden Ripples: Life’s Unspoken Language. Life lives on the West Side of Athens with his wife, Britney LaRoche, and their sons L.J. (7) and Legend (5), and they have another child on the way (due in February).
What is your favorite part of your career?
My favorite part of my career is the ability to inspire younger folks. I am responsible for another generation. I’m passionate about training another generation to do better, to be better, to look deeper and think deeper about the issues around us. So, my favorite part is being in a position to actually develop community youth and future social workers. I am able to teach them about micro and macro systems, and challenge them with new ways to look and think about the world. I’m able to plant seeds in another generation. I would say to my students, “be a farmer and a fireman.” My work is to be a fireman and a farmer. A social worker is a fireman in that we are constantly trying to put out fires, but we are also planting seeds so another generation can know how to not repeat the same mistakes and to find the holes that we need to patch up. So, that is my favorite part. I am literally in the position to create the world that I want to see, to create the youth that I want to see, to create the world, a city, a town that I want to see, that my children will be inheriting. To create that, to have that, that is beauty and that is my favorite part of what I am doing.
When you have free time, what is your favorite thing to do in Athens?
In Athens, I like to go and eat, and have great conversations. We have some really nice diverse spots to eat here. I don’t get to do this as much as I did in the past, but I like going to The Globe, the poetry night that they had. I enjoy poetry. I enjoy writing and reciting poetry and just getting together with friends to play chess. Sometimes I teach, learn, give chess whippings and receive chess whippings. I enjoy our big chess tournament. We are going on our eighth year of the conference, and we have attracted anywhere from two hundred, and the biggest crowd I think we had was like five hundred, at our conferences every year. We put a thousand dollar prize money on a table. We have kids come as far as Atlanta, Washington D.C. and other places to Athens to compete.
If you could see any band anywhere, dead or alive, who would you see and where?
I would have loved to see Bob Marley perform in Zimbabwe. I love Reggae and Zimbabwe is one of my favorite places to visit. I would also like to see and participate in a show or open up a show with Lauryn Hill. I’d pay to see her perform in Ethiopia.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
There are so many areas to address. From a financial advice, I would advise myself to invest in Amazon or Apple! But, from a motivational space, I would tell my young self to travel more. I started traveling late because I did not have the money. I started listening to international music and other things later in my life and I think I would tell my young self to get into it a little earlier. Travel a little bit more. Also, don’t worry about what other people think. Sometimes, we are young and what other people say and think holds so much weight. I’d tell myself to not worry about that. Be you. Be young. Be inspired. Finish what you start.
Do you have a favorite book or a book you find yourself rereading, referencing or gifting most often?
I have two favorite books. There is The Prophet and The Alchemist. I am actually reading The Alchemist to my children right now. I must have bought that book twenty times but always forget who I give it to. I realized that books are meant to be read and given away and not sit on shelves to collect dust. Someone gave me that book (The Alchemist) at a very tough time in my life, when I was in South Africa. An Indian woman gifted it to me. I read it in three days and since then I have been buying and giving it to others. I still have my father’s copy of The Prophet. He got me into that book. In fact, I just gifted the mayor with that book when I ran into him in the bookstore. Those are two books that deeply inspired me. It is my deepest inspiration, and those are the things that I want for my children and I have bought them copies already.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
Well, I want to go back to Ethiopia. That was one of the places I really wanted to go, and I got to go. There are so many places in the world to choose from! Ghana is one! I would love to visit Egypt, Ghana and Tanzania.
Do you have a favorite movie or remember the first movie you saw in a theatre?
I don’t know the first movie I saw in a movie theatre, but one of my favorite movies is called Red Cliff. It is a very deep movie with so many lessons. It is a Chinese film, and it encompasses war and poetry. It is one of my favorites. The Big Lebowski is another favorite.
What is something interesting about you that most people don’t know?
I speak Arabic fluently. I spoke Arabic as a child. Arabic was one of the first languages I learned because in the Sixties my parents went to Islam, so I got a chance to have teachers from Morocco and Sudan when I was young. I remember going to school and learning English for the first time. Arabic reads and writes from right to left whereas English writes from left to right. It took lots of adjustments. So, English was not my first language. Also, that I’m really a silly person. Because of chess and the work I do, people always think I’m serious. I’m a dry humor kind of guy. I love a good laugh.
If you could put one thing on a billboard, what would it be?
Something to tell the whole world is: Remember Who You Are. We are so much more than what we have been programmed to believe and how we are being isolated into all of these small boxes. Remember who you are, remember who we are. Remember.
What three words or phrases, come to mind when you think of the word “home”?
I think of family. I think of love and being spiritually grounded. It is hard because there are three places that I have been to in the world where I felt at home, where my spirit was comfortable and felt home: Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Israel. When I went to these places, I felt home spiritually. I felt connected to everything. So, my idea of home is vast. When I think of home, I think of family, I think of love and I think of spirit.