By Mike Kinney
Growing up in Richmond, LeJon Reese dreamed about becoming a professional baseball or football player. That dream ground to a halt as a teenager, when he learned he had a condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) Syndrome, which causes heart palpitations. The revelation prompted a downward spiral in Reese’s life.
“I allowed my grades to fail to a C average, and I took a left turn to the street life of selling weed and drugs,” Reese said.
Rather than a long career in the NFL, Reese went on to serve 31 years in prison for a 1987 murder he committed at age 17.
At the start of his prison term, Reese settled into his dark space, where any hope and dream seemed locked away forever. But he never threw away the keys. Which was fortunate, because he eventually discovered keys to life that could unlock his potential — and also the potential of others.
Today, Reese, who completed his sentence in 2018, runs “Motivated 2 Help Others,” which he founded at Folsom State Prison in 2012 during a Relay for Life Walk held there.
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., Reese holds free training sessions for community members at Lucretia Edwards Shoreline Park in Marina Bay. On Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, he holds sessions on the Vallejo waterfront.
“Motivated 2 Help Others” focuses on both physical and mental fitness. The program mentors local youth and adults alike, and is in the process of becoming a nonprofit providing guidance and resources to local community members and the formerly incarcerated.
“We do bar work, calisthenics, running, reading,” Reese said.
While in prison, Reese found refuge in his faith. He read a lot, studied what he’d read, joined self-help groups, and took to exercise and weightlifting. One day, he said, he would be released. Not just from prison. But from all that kept him from reaching his potential.
Now, Reese is using his fine-tuned skills of climbing back up from his lowest point to help others realize their potential, no matter the obstacles in their way.
“When I talk with the youth and people of the community, they are not judgmental because of my past,” he said. “Actually, they want to hear and learn from my experiences because I am someone who can tell them from first-hand knowledge, not from hearsay, and they can feel it’s coming from a genuine place in my heart.”
He added, “I just want to give back to a society that I helped mess up. This is my amends and showing people that we all can change for the better if we want to, but change starts from a thought.”
People need others for motivation. Reese is no exception. He said his movement was inspired by his late grandmother, “because of her loving and caring heart, the way she served the community and fed the homeless, just her giving spirit.” He also drew inspiration from his daughter, who was in her mother’s womb when Reese entered prison.
“I made a promise to my grandmother, myself, my daughter and my teammates that I would be a better person and use it once I was released,” Reese said.
Community advocate Rodney Alamo Brown lauded Reese’s progress and mission.
“I’m extremely proud of the 180 degrees he is making to better the lives of our youth and families in Richmond,” Brown said.
To learn more about Motivated 2 Help Others, contact Reese at (510) 242-6366 or follow the program on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. He can also be contacted via email at [email protected] and [email protected].