Street Success: Leonard Cannady
“People. Places. Things.”
That’s Brother LC’s mantra. It’s how he explains both his journey into the streets and his journey out of them.
LC is very gregarious but also very serious about his work-rap. It has been the key to his successful battle with addiction and homelessness, to the point where he now has a budding career rapping on social issues and just recently moved to Hawaii with his fiancée.
Born Leonard Cannady in a Baltimore suburb, LC, as he is now known, had what he describes as a normal childhood.
“I had everything I wanted,” he said. “Never went without, got my butt whipped when I did bad.”
But when his parents divorced and LC, then age 9, moved to the projects with his father, things started to go downhill. “Living in the ghetto, I just got caught up with a lot of ignorance,” he said.
Shortly after age 15 – when he had first tasted life behind bars – LC, left the ghetto to return to the suburbs. But racial and political strife only intensified in his new environment, and he found himself drinking to deal with what he saw around himself and on television.
In 1985, however, when rap music first came on the scene, LC grabbed onto it. The genre seemed to offer an outlet for him. “When I heard Run DMC’s Rock Box, that’s when my whole outlook changed. That’s what I wanted to do. Speak to people in that way.”
But LC began to get more involved with drugs, alcohol and the street life, and his passion for music began to slip. He lost his apartment. The patience of friends and family began to run out. And soon he found himself in a 10-year stretch of living part-time on the streets and part-time behind bars.
In 2002, he moved to Washington to protest the treatment he had received in Maryland state prisons but got nowhere. Then, when his sister was murdered while selling drugs, LC’s life collapsed completely.
“That’s what made me start to really, really, think. In the drug game, nobody cares about you,” he said.
A short time later, LC himself was stabbed at the Gales Shelter in Northwest Washington. It was then that he finally decided it was time for a change. He checked into Clean and Sober, and he got a job with Street Sense.
“You know, it’s hard to find jobs out there,” LC said. “Street Sense Made a way for me.”
As an industrious Street Sense vendor and writer, LC made $60 to $80 a day, which enabled him to rent a room and get his life on track. But the real value of his work, he said, came in the confidence and motivation it provided him, as well as in the people he met and in the connections he made.
While LC was helping to introduce Street Sense to parishioners at All Soul’s Unitarian Church, someone took an interest in one of his CD tracks and passed it on to colleagues at Georgetown University. LC’s musical message on the difficulties of living with addiction was a good match with Georgetown’s health education program, and soon he was commissioned to write and perform a rap on the negative effects of smoking.
Armed with these experiences, his talent, and a Street Sense article written about his first CD, LC in January 2004 answered an ad for a recruiter specialist at Howard University’s Cancer Center.
“I told the lady where I come from, about mistakes I made, what I’m trying to do now, and how I want to be in health awareness,” LC said. “Lot of people dying out there-committing suicide-and they don’t even know it.”
At Howard, LC was introduced to Black Voices for Peace, through which he met representatives of the African-American Network for Prevention. That group later sent him to Chicago for a number of youth seminars. LC now has performed in 11 states at various events, including the second annual Father’s Day rally at Washington’s Freedom Plaza.
“But it’s all tied to Street Sense,” he said. “First you meet one person, and he reads your story, and then another and another, and it goes on.”
As for working on addiction problems with young people across the country LC said: “you think a lot of stuff’s only happening in the black community, but when you get out there in the world you see it’s really happening to everybody. I see a lot of people out there that I was. I’m trying to get in contact with the truth.”
As for his advice to people on the street, LC invoked his refrain-people, places, things-and said that finding those with positive influences is key.
“For me, I kept going around with the wrong people and I let myself stay down,” he said. “But I found out that if you encouraged me and gave me advice and suggestions, I listened.
“So that’s what I started doing-going around to people I wanted to be like, with good character traits,” he concluded. “If you hang around the right people and the right places and do the right things, your life will go better. It will go the way you want it to go, and that’s how mine is going.”