Rapper Sonny Spoon’s star was on the rise when a Macon traffic stop in October 2003 led to federal prison on drug and gun charges.
As Spoon, whose real name is James E. Maxwell, sat behind bars, he had 72 months to plan his next move. Now 36 years old, he’s hitting the streets of his hometown to encourage kids to shun violence and gang warfare.
The same man who made the “Dirty Bird” theme of the Atlanta Falcons famous now has a simple message for gang members: “I know blood has been spilled on both sides. And you’re going to let this go on for the next mother to grieve, or can we deal with it now and put and end to the cycle.”
Maxwell is working with Macon Regional CrimeStoppers through a grant from Project Safe Neighborhoods to use rap music to sooth the savage beast of crime.
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The summer’s “Stop the Violence” tour kicks off tonight at Memorial Park on Second Street with a job, education and health fair from 5-8 p.m. A peace rally featuring food and live music is planned at the park Saturday from 4-8 p.m.
“This will help young people get involved in the community and raise awareness about gun violence and drugs,” said Warren Selby, chairman of the local CrimeStoppers board. “Sonny’s been out there promoting it.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office secured “hard time for gun crime” after Maxwell was caught with marijuana, Ecstasy, cocaine and a weapon in his 1985 Chevrolet Suburban. The same staff is now singing his praises for trying to turn lives around.
“It’s his vision, but we’re just helping him make it come true,” said Pam Lightsey, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office who is helping coordinate this summer’s eight events.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Solis pushed for a reduction in Maxwell’s 13-year sentence, Maxwell said. Maxwell was released in November after six years.
Now Maxwell’s star power is expected to lure about 500 people this weekend. Similar events are planned at six other sites every weekend until the end of July. Maxwell is helping with every detail, including site visits to each location to map out logistics.
Thursday afternoon, he ran into his old Boys & Girls Clubs mentor, Harold Hatcher, at the Carl D. Thomas Center in Macon’s Village Green neighborhood.
“He’s been part of my heart for many years, and I’m happy about what he’s doing,” said Hatcher, who credits Maxwell with teaching him “Chopsticks” on the piano.
Hatcher takes credit for launching the rapper’s career with a $1,000 scholarship to the Art Institute of Atlanta.
At each event, CrimeStoppers will be offering a break to other talented folks who submit their own rap songs to add to the “Rhyme against Crime” recording campaign, Selby said.
Factions from all seven neighborhoods where the events will be held will gather Aug. 7 for a citywide peace rally at Luther Williams Field.
Maxwell has just recorded a new single entitled “ATL” at T.I.’s Grand Hustle Records in Atlanta. He’s cleared his calendar for the rallies.
Maxwell’s manager, Victor Burke of Macon, said he first recognized his talent when the young rapper was just 17. Burke maintained his friendship throughout the prison sentence.
“His mind was so free when he was incarcerated and so positive and making plans when he got out,” Burke said. “He’s living up to everything he said.”
Burke stood by when Maxwell’s wife died of cancer last year in the final months his client was in a halfway house.
Now the recording artist is devoting his time to preserving the lives of his five children and others on the streets.
“Before my wife had gotten sick, I already made a commitment,” Maxwell said. “I actually have a stake in this community. I have children, nieces and nephews.”
To contact writer Liz Fabian call 744-4303