*Once considered one of the country’s top drug kingpins, Ricky Donnell Ross, better known as “Freeway” Rick Ross, has transformed his life and launched the Freeway Literacy Foundation (www.freewayliteracy.org).
Now, instead of building a massive multimillion dollar drug empire, that once earned him $3 million-dollars-per-day, this drug kingpin-turned-philanthropist has turned his life completely around, and he is busy spreading messages of literacy, anti-drug and anti-violence across the United States.
Adamant about schooling students about the real danger of drugs and gangs, and how they can quickly destroy their life and their community, Ross (the real Rick Ross — not the rapper) is on a mission to rebuild and unite communities that he possibly contributed to destroying decades earlier.
“At one point in my life, I thought I was supposed to be the biggest drug dealer in the world,” Ross says. “Books really peeled my eyes open and allowed me to expand myself and be a person I never thought I could be,” he says. Ross has lectured at a law school class at the University of Southern California; to a storefront church in Ontario, Canada; to rehab centers; to halfway houses and prisons; to high schools, colleges, community centers and street corners across the U.S.
Although, he once had a topsy-turvy lifestyle, Ross believes in the power of literacy because of the profound impact it proved to have on his own life. His foundation’s mission is to work in partnership with schools, community organizations, entertainers, and teachers to ensure everyone across the country has an opportunity to learn and pursue the true power of literacy.
“We believe through literacy, that entrepreneurship, personal development and leadership skills can grow for themselves and their community,” says Ross.
“The most disenfranchised and hard to reach are most often forgotten. Those that don’t speak up about their inability to read or write shut down or act in response. Too often, these same people turn to criminality in response to their lacking ability, hurting themselves and those around them in the process. From classrooms to prisons, we see the signs and often ignore them because we lack a true answer to reach this group, and provide real possible solutions. Freeway Literacy Foundation in-partnership with schools, teachers, community organizations and entertainer’s goals is to provide a solution.” says Ross.
Crack cocaine had made its way to the United States in the early 80s and a global recession was going on by 1986. The Black community especially was facing hard times. Growing up in South Central, Los Angeles, and trying to obtain employment and break out of the ghetto was a day-to-day fight for Ross and other young Black men in his community. Moreover, it did not help that Ross was illiterate. Indecent proposals were taking place behind the scenes, and Black neighborhoods across the country were hit the hardest with the alleged influx of Nicaraguan cocaine significantly fueling the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic. Unbeknownst to Ross, he possibly ended up a pawn in a U.S. government conspiracy to trade drugs for guns, during the Iran-Contra affair. Ross’ documentary, “Freeway: Crack in the System”, scheduled to hit the big screen, October 17, will address their findings.
Over the years, politicians and journalists argued that the drugs that infiltrated the streets of California pointed back to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and contras that were said to be seeking funds to support their civil war in Nicaragua. According to The Kerry Committee Report, an investigation by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding charges of Contra involvement in cocaine and marijuana trafficking lasted two and a half years, the Subcommittee released their final report on April 13, 1989. The report states, “It is clear that individuals who provided support for the Contras were involved in drug trafficking … and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers.”
Ross says he woke up one day and realized he wanted to change and become a better man, but it was too late, and he had to pay for all his illegal activity that had already infiltrated several states.
“With age comes wisdom. I stop selling drugs about a year and a half before I went to prison. My values changed. A lot of things that I thought were important, weren’t important anymore,” he says. “I’m a lot older and a lot wiser. I believe life is a growing process and as you grow you have to work on bettering yourself every day,” says Ross. “Good is the killer of great,” he says.
At 28-years-old, Ross landed in prison, but eventually, Ross literally read himself to freedom… Although, he was illiterate, he was meticulous when it came to running his businesses. He had built a multimillion-dollar drug empire and trained others to make huge amounts of money, too. He entered prison illiterate, but came out educated. While incarcerated, he taught himself how to read, write, and research his case, which led him to work on getting his life sentence conviction overturned. Ross discovered that his life sentence was handed down under the wrong circumstances, so he ended up spending 20 years versus a life sentence. During his stint in a Texas prison, he read over 300 books, and he says he returned to society, a changed man.
“I took prison and made it work for me. A lot of people go to prison and let prison do them, but I went there and I turned my prison sentence to college and studied.” Ross says.
According to the Department of Justice, 60 percent of America’s prison inmates are functionally illiterate, and 85 percent of all juvenile offenders have reading problems. In fact, several sources make claims that prisons are built based on Black boys reading scores from the second or third grade level. Since 1983, more than 10 million Americans reached the 12th grade without having learned to read at a basic level. In the same period, more than 6 million Americans dropped out of high school altogether. (A Nation Still at Risk, U.S. Department of Education). More than 20 percent of adults read at or below a fifth-grade level – far below the level needed to earn a living wage (National Institute for Literacy, Fast Facts on Literacy). The educational careers of 25 to 40 percent of American children are imperiled because they do not read well enough, quickly enough, or easily enough. (Committee on Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children of the National Research Council, 1998). The studies speak for themselves.
An entrepreneur-at-heart, Ross is staying away from drugs and taking the passion and energy that helped him build the massive $900 million dollar drug empire in the early to mid 1980s and put it to use for good. Ross has been free for five years and lives in California, where he runs his literacy foundation, record label, t-shirt and hair weave business.
His autobiography, “Freeway Rick Ross: The Untold Story”, was released in June 2014, and his documentary, “Freeway: Crack in the System” is set to be released in theatres across the country on October 17. The documentary will premiere in Los Angeles and New York.
Grateful for another chance to turn his life around for the better, the drug kingpin-turned- philanthropist, and his Freeway Literacy Foundation, is ready to take on the world, one city at a time.
“I believe not being able to read and write limits you to what you can do in life. And, fighting literacy is literally fighting crime,” he explains.