Antrez Dye is a 22-year-old college graduate, husband and father.
He lives in Jacksonville, works at Enterprise in Gadsden and attends at Bright Lillie Church in Birmingham, his wife’s hometown.
None of that might seem remarkable until you know his back story, which he shared last month as the guest speaker at an Anniston Noon Rotary Club meeting. I thought it was worth sharing with you today.
Antrez grew up in the west Anniston neighborhood of Constantine — a part of town that has been known in the past as a hub for crime and drugs, even called “Constant Crime” by some.
Anthony Cook is the executive editor for Consolidated Publishing. Reach him at email@example.com or 256-235-3540.
“For me, growing up in Constantine was like a war zone,” Antrez said in a phone interview Thursday. “Easy access to all the wrong things — drugs, alcohol and other activities that I didn’t need to see. My mom tried to make a better situation for us but couldn’t, being a single mom with seven children.”
He gave an example of what it was like growing up in Constantine. When he was 13, he woke up one night, and went to get something to drink. He heard a gunshot, looked outside and saw a guy limping. He’d been shot.
“I slammed the door, and went back to sleep like it never happened,” he said. “The next morning, his blood and guts were on the pavement in front of our door at apartment 13C. It stayed there for a month until the rain washed it away.”
Experiences like that dampened Antrez’s hope for his own future.
“I never saw me graduating college, or even going to college in my life at all,” he said. “I didn’t know anyone who went to college. I didn’t think I’d be a success or come anywhere near being successful. I thought I’d end up at a manufacturing job or in fast food.”
During his high school years, Antrez got into trouble repeatedly.
“It was me being a bad kid,” he said. “No role models. No father figure. All of my cousins are in prison. Most of my immediate family is unsuccessful. I got in trouble each year in high school until I had to go to alternative school.”
There he met two men who were instructors at the alternative school: Greg Green, an Anniston football coach; and Frederick Franklin, who had spent 20 years in the military.
“Mr. Franklin was very smart. He challenged me to actually use my mind and resources and make the best of it, and not make excuses because of the school I was in or the neighborhood I came from.”
Green, he said, introduced him to Christ.
“He helped me to grow my relationship with God,” Antrez said. “We talked every day about God, and that made me want to come back every day, disregard my struggles at home. I want to be him. I want to be humble and do the same thing he was doing for me, help others.”
Coach Green had played for JSU and talked about his experience there, which instilled in Antrez a desire to go to college, but he couldn’t afford it.
During that time, Green went to the YMCA to swim every day before work. That’s where he met Bill Wakefield, president and CEO of Wakefield’s Inc. in Anniston. Green and Wakefield connected over conversations about God, and one day Wakefield said to Green: “If you have a kid who wants to go to college, I’ll pay for it.”
“Coach offered that opportunity to me,” Antrez said. “I feel like God heard me. That entire year, I prayed to God and tried to help others as much as I could. My family was going through hardship and I asked God to help and he did.”
Antrez graduated from Anniston High in spring 2015, and that summer, with Wakefield’s help, he enrolled at JSU. He graduated this past spring with a degree in psychology and a minor in criminal justice. He and his wife, Kimberly, have a 2-year-old son, Aaron.
Breaking the cycle
Antrez says his father was a well-known gang member who was shot and killed when Antrez was around 8 years old.
“I’m blessed to say I didn’t turn out like him,” he said. “It hurts because I would have loved to have a relationship with him, but shortly after he got out of prison, he was murdered. That’s another reason I keep going, another reason I love my son to death. I’ve broken that cycle. Aaron is never, ever going to deal with the things I dealt with.”
After getting kicked out of school in the seventh grade, Antrez’s mom never went back. She also joined a gang. Today she has eight children.
“Growing up, I didn’t have a strong relationship with my mom. I gave my mom a hard time,” he said. “Now we have an awesome relationship. We text and talk every day.”
She got married in 2016, which, Antrez says, changed her a lot.
“Her husband is awesome. He’s a hard worker,” he said. “Before, she couldn’t support me financially or emotionally. Now she’s a believer, and my stepdad played a huge role in that.”
Looking forward, giving back
What should we say to the next Antrez Dye, any kid out there who’s experiencing a childhood like Antrez’s?
“Keep your head up. I’m here for you,” he said. “Consistently communicate with that person. If I’d had a mentor earlier, I would have worked harder. Those people need inspiration. They need someone to teach them how to be teachable.”
Antrez is thankful for his journey and wants to pay it forward.
He joined Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity in 2017 and became the community service coordinator. He started the Cyrus Lewis Foundation in the name of a kid with an intellectual disability, and he partners with St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Jacksonville to give out rice and beans one weekend every month.
Last week he joined the Anniston Noon Rotary Club.
“I can’t believe I could be inducted into Rotary,” he said. “I know great things are going to happen. I truly believe I’m going to be able to propose community service projects and hopefully see them come to pass.”
Antrez cautions those who’d write off anyone because they’re from a certain part of town or attend a certain school.
“Good can come from anywhere,” he said. “I don’t believe people should perceive certain places a certain way based on statistics. I believe people can succeed from anywhere as long as you believe and work hard. Good things and good people do come out of Constantine.”
Anthony Cook is the executive editor for Consolidated Publishing. firstname.lastname@example.org.