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Antonio Dowdy uses his experiences to save lives and reduce gun violence.

Antonio Dowdy learned all the hard lessons guns can teach a young man in Memphis. Now, he’s working to make sure others learn from his experience and take easier paths.  

Dowdy grew up in the Douglas neighborhood of North Memphis, one of the areas most disproportionately affected by gun violence. 

“There was no male figure in my home growing up,” Dowdy said. “All the men we saw were the pimps, gangbangers and the killers. We saw them out on the streets and followed them because that’s all we saw.” 

By age 9, he and his friends were being sent out by older men to break into cars and steal. They’d carry guns in their backpacks for the older men.  

“The police wouldn’t expect us to have big guns in our backpacks,” he said. “It’s similar to what’s happening now.” 

He spent time in juvenile detention as a teen. At 22, Dowdy pled guilty to 2nd degree murder after a verbal altercation between two armed men led to a shooting. He spent 13 years in prison.

“Prison will teach you how to become a better criminal or a better person,” Dowdy said. In his last years in prison, Dowdy changed his life, in part through the Rastafari religion.

For the last year, he’s been making our community safer as an outreach specialist for SWITCH – Support with Intention to Create Hope – working in Raleigh/Frayser for the Memphis Allies community violence intervention program.

At a recent staff retreat, Dowdy became the first recipient of the Memphis Allies HOPE (Helping Others Through Powerful Engagement) Award. It is given to the Memphis Allies team member who most embodies the mission of the initiative and demonstrates integrity, intensity, accountability, and makes a positive impact on the lives of others every day.

Because of their experiences, Memphis Allies life coaches and outreach specialists, like Dowdy, have “license to operate,” in the community. They can talk authentically and build relationships that begin to change mindsets.

You want someone who has been through the same things as these young people are going through, and I’m fresh out.

– Dowdy

“You want someone who has been through the same things as these young people are going through, and I’m fresh out,” said Dowdy, who completed his prison sentence only two years ago. “I know what it feels like to take a life. I know what it feels like on either side of the gun.”

The Ceasefire program, sponsored by the Memphis and Shelby County Juvenile Court and law enforcement, is designed to engage youth with pending gun charges and their parents to reduce recidivism. Although it isn’t part of his job, Dowdy has attended every meeting – introducing himself to youth, making connections, bringing appropriate youth on to his caseload.

He’s currently working with 14 individuals aged 16 to 24. He connects with them every day, helping them take the first steps towards a new life – like getting driver’s licenses, finding jobs and getting to work.

Dowdy loves his job and expects to be working with Memphis Allies for years to come. It takes compassion and persistence, he says.

He’d like some of the young men he’s helping now to follow in his footsteps.

“I think one day some of them could be working for Memphis Allies,” he said.