Antwon Cloird used to go by the name "29 seconds."
Now he needs a quick minute to collect his thoughts before delivering one of his trademark performances.
"It's not nerves, it's just that I got to clear my head," Cloird said, slapping hands with a man who shuffles by.
He's in a gray hallway outside a noisy Narcotics Anonymous meeting at 400 Broadway in Oakland. Minutes earlier, he was grinding gears and shifting lanes heading south on San Pablo Avenue in his '88 Honda Prelude.
His black-and-white business suit is crumpled from the hot car ride. He gulps shallow breaths.
Cloird is in mode. He's "29 seconds," the street-hustling crack addict persona that once defined him, coined for his
His audience, about 60 people crammed into a room with metal chairs, pushes him on with "oh, years" and foot-stomping laughs. Cloird sweats and rips streetwise jokes, staccato barks about how he used to "do whatever" to feed his crack cocaine addiction.
"I didn't respect myself back then," Cloird said, swabbing his bald head with a napkin. "I didn't know what respect was ... but now I am part of the solution, and you can be too."
Cloird breaks it off. Men and women in various stages of sobriety mob him with thanks. The pitch is complete.
Get the message out
These days, Cloird devotes himself to the nonprofit organization
As the founder and director of Men and Women of Purpose, a Richmond-based nonprofit that offers programs aimed at reducing violence, recidivism, homelessness, drug abuse and chronic unemployment, he keeps a breathless schedule.
Men and Women of Purpose isn't the first effort by a group of locals to address Richmond's persistent troubles with crime, poverty and recidivism. Another group, Men and Women of Valor, is in a similar stage of development today.
But Cloird said his group is uniquely positioned to make a difference and fit neatly with the array of anti-violence coalitions that have emerged in the city. Comprising more than a dozen members with a mix of expertise in fields like personal finance, drug addiction, employment and conflict resolution, MWP represents an effort to get at the root causes of crime and poverty.
"We can reach people at their lowest points and build something positive," Cloird said. "It's about reaching out and helping up. I learned that in my own development."
That mission, Cloird said, would work well in collaboration with the Office of Neighborhood Safety, a city crime intervention agency, and the Richmond Ceasefire/Lifelines to Healing, a law enforcement and community collaborative aimed at reducing gun violence.
"ONS and Ceasefire are making contacts every day," he said. "We would be a perfect referral for many of the people they contact. We are the next level."
Cloird's group helps people like Ebony James, a 36-year-old mother of one who has battled methamphetamine addiction for most of her adult life.
James and Cloird crossed paths in April, when Cloird swept into one of her Narcotics Anonymous meetings and enthralled her with his story and the description of his new program.
"He showed himself first," James recalled. "He was a role model, someone who had survived addiction and come out to help others."
James said she enrolled in MWP's rehabilitation program days later and has attended Tuesday and Thursday evening sessions since. The curriculum consists of writing exercises and lengthy discussions focused on short-term goals and long-term plans.
"I have something I can't remember having before," James said. "I have hope. I think I'm close to being ready to getting a job, and I'd also like to take some college courses at night."
Raised in Richmond
Cloird's days start at 6 a.m., when he goes to a 7-Eleven on Macdonald Avenue for coffee and some street corner gab with the regulars. Hours before he is to speak at 400 Broadway, Cloird is standing outside the Richmond store's double doors in the gray June light, his suit as crisp as the new day.
"I've got to stay busy," Cloird says. "If I'm not working on recovery, I'm working on relapse."
Cloird's own story begins in 1965, when his mother drove her six children to California from Arkansas, in search of a fresh start.
Cloird grew up the same way he does everything -- fast. He spent most of his youth in two of the city's toughest apartment complexes, St. John's and the since-demolished Easter Hill. By the seventh grade, he had a man's stature -- and grown-up habits to match.
"Bad grades, fighting and smoking dope," Cloird said, chuckling. It's about 9 a.m., and he's seated in MWP's new offices, located in the Neighborhood House building on 23rd Street. "I was a big, hyper kid in the hood. ... I was trouble."
After graduating from Gompers High in 1981, Cloird sunk deeper into addiction and street life.
Cloird careened through the next two decades -- drug-related jail stints, rehabs and street drama, including surviving gunshot and stab wounds.
In 2006, already in recovery, Cloird honed his anti-violence messages as a participant in Tent City, a peace demonstration led by the Rev. Andre Shumake in response to a spate of gang killings that summer.
"Antwon in many ways represents the best of Richmond," Shumake said. "He is rooted in the community and has endured the community's struggles. He has an authenticity and an energy that is inspiring."
Cloird's list of people who inspire him reads like a directory of Richmond's respected leaders, including Shumake, former Neighborhood House director Barbara Becnel, neighborhood outreach worker Jerrold Hatchett and City Clerk Diane Holmes.
But foremost are his mother, whom he calls daily, and Alberta Jean Smith, the only schoolteacher who ever got through to him.
"I had strong women in my life, no doubt about that," Cloird said.
Today, Cloird's tireless outreach aims to get more addicts and parolees to enroll in his fledgling program. He's asked the City Council for funding several times and has a handful of grant applications in the works.
In their Neighborhood House offices, the MWP staff helps clients with everything from one-on-one addiction counseling to directing them to social service resources available, job placements and personal finance lessons.
Cloird, a longtime member of Laborers Union Local 324 in Richmond, said his contacts there provide a pipeline to employment for clients who progress in their treatment.
"It all has to culminate in jobs for those who can work," Cloird said.
Cloird said his long history in Richmond works to his group's advantage, especially as territorial lines have hardened between south, central and North Richmond neighborhoods.
"I know people everywhere in this town," he said.
After his performance at the Oakland meeting, Cloird is driving back to Richmond, dragging on a Newport cigarette and listening to his George Clinton CD.
He turns down the stereo.
"In Richmond, we've poured a lot of money into the problem of crime and addiction," Cloird said, the usual playfulness gone from his face. "It's time to invest in the solution, and (MWP) know as well as anyone how to be part of the solution, because we have lived through the problems."
NAME: Antwon Cloird
CLAIM TO FAME: Founder, Men and Women of Purpose
QUOTE: "I've always liked to help people, even when I was in the depths of my addictions."
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