Man dedicated to not let 16-year-old’s felony charge define his life

Man dedicated to not let 16-year-old’s felony charge define his life

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - What defines a person? When is someone simply a product of their circumstances and when does someone need to be held accountable?

It’s a question many people have been asking themselves since a special report was published in Charlotte Agenda last week.

It tells the story of 16-year-old Haji. He’s a 10th grader at Vance High School. He loves running track.

He also wears an ankle monitor.

Haji has been arrested twice in 2019, charged with robbery and assault.

He was charged with stealing $400 from a man who wanted to buy an iPhone from him.

He was also charged with beating and pepper spraying a man in a separate incident earlier in May.

Haji sat in jail for 30 hours because of what happened.

But, he also comes from a life many of us wouldn’t understand.

His mother is an immigrant from Liberia. She’s a single mother, making about $1,200 a month.

She has eight children to support.

Haji was born into poverty, but he’s been making bad decisions.

The Justice Department says 90 percent of people who are released from jail before their 25th birthday will go back to jail.

About half of them will be arrested again within the next year.

With that said, the odds aren't looking good for Haji to have a bright future.

Which brings us back to the initial question.

The article asks:

  • When does a teenager who was born into poverty and violence have to overcome those obstacles?
  • Where does empathy become enabling?
  • What’s the distance between circumstances and accountability?

It’s something the author - and the man trying to help Haji - have been asking themselves.

Michael Graff didn’t just profile Haji. He also profiled Greg Jackson - Haji’s court-appointed guardian.

Greg also comes from a difficult life and some bad decisions, and he's turned his focus to helping kids and families succeed.

He runs Heal Charlotte. It works with kids in tough situations - helping them with guidance and money.

“The biggest resource on this earth is another human. Nothing happens without another human attached to it. So I need you to be able to help me,” Greg said.

He pays for their rides, their rent and takes care of them, guiding them and providing them with things to do after school, like arts and crafts or basketball games.

We sat down with Greg and Michael to talk about Haji, and the purpose of this story.

“I wanted people to see that things are always more complicated than they might seem on a police report, or in a short news story, or something like that – where they say so and so has been arrested,” Michael said.

It’s a two-part series that begins Tuesday night and will go more in-depth into the problem Wednesday.

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