College Changes the Life of a Comic Book Artist
At 13-years-old, Memphis, Tennessee-born Ashshahid Muhammad was tried as an adult for committing robbery.
He was then sentenced to eight years in a juvenile facility.
Muhammad referred to himself as a “rebellious child” and said his mother tried her best but, “the streets had me.” He was selling drugs, stealing cars, and breaking into houses.
As the years went by in the facility, he said, “I did not know what it felt like to be free no more.”
It was there, however, that he started passing the time by drawing cartoons. This was his escape, as there was a lot of violence in the facility between gangs.
At 19 years old, he was released early.
“I was lost in time. Everything had changed,” he said. “My friends was not riding bikes no more. They was driving cars. They was not living with their parents no more. They had their own apartments. My family was like strangers to me.”
Although this was an opportunity for Muhammad to change his life for the better, he was back to selling drugs and stealing cars.
“After doing all that time, everyone thought I would for sure go on the right path, I did not,” he said. “It felt like I never was there.”
After some time, there was high gang violence activity and drive-by shootings became the norm during the day and night.
“I never really wanted to shoot or kill my own people,” he said. “But selling dope and living in the streets… that comes with it.”
On May 25, 1997, Muhammad and his friend Robert McCraney were shot multiple times.
Muhammad was left with gun fragments in his head, arm, and chest and became blind in his right eye. His friend’s gunshot wounds left him paralyzed on his whole right side.
At the age of 21, Muhammad didn’t realize that he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. Without this knowledge, he started medicating himself with alcohol and hardcore drugs.
“Things had gotten so bad I wanted to just die,” he said. “ People that knew me was devastated.”
After attempting to get clean in rehab, the struggle of losing his eye became too much. Muhammad then decided to travel because he felt the need to get away.
In 2005, he came to New York, but was homeless and turned to crime, maintaining his drug addiction.
“This time I was far from home and knew no one,” he said. “I slept in every borough. Staten Island was where I did the most drugs and crime.”
After being in many rehabs and shelters, Muhammad was losing hope. After traveling to Miami and repeating the same vicious cycle, he landed back home in Tennessee.
In 2013, he entered rehab there, only to get out of the cold, not knowing this was where his life would finally change for the better.
Muhammad went back to school to get his GED. He failed twice and was once again losing hope, but with the help of his teacher, Kenjila Hammonds, he passed two weeks later. Muhammad was so amazed because he was so accustomed to failure, that he was in tears.
In 2014, Muhammad enrolled in the Nossi College of Art, where he became inspired and was given hope by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s story, that was very similar to his own.
“There, art was not just art,” he said. “It was art that said something to the world.”
While in college, Muhammad entered a mentoring program where he would go to schools and share his story. It was there that he decided to create comics about his life and the people he knew.
“No one cared about homeless people. I wanted to speak for them through my art,” he said. “No matter if drugs and alcohol had defeated them.”
Muhammad wrote, designed, and published his own comic books. Five are published and are based on true stories.
“Through my books, I educate the youth about drugs, gangs, guns, bullying, and jail,” he said. “I want the youth to have a guide that can help them see through other people’s experience.”
Muhammad moved to New York two years ago and is currently living on Staten Island. He took up digital art at Bronx Community College and has a goal of producing animated films based on his books.
“Creating art for me is where I find peace. It’s my outlet for every emotion that I deal with,” he said.
Muhammad’s comics are available now at the LuLu Publishing Company, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. He is also currently working on new comics that will be out later this year.
“I’m not struggling with drugs no more. I go to Narcotics Anonymous meetings and hang with drug-free people,” he said.
“I thank God I am no longer a slave to drugs.”