Former ‘Crack Baby’ Shawn Blanchard Defies Odds
Sex, money, cars, girls and clothes used to be all that motivated Shawn Blanchard, a Detroit city official and author of the new book, How ‘Bout that for a Crack Baby: Keys to Mentorship and Success.
The title of Blanchard’s memoir says a lot, but there’s more than meets the eye for this modern-day Renaissance man, who once sought out to become a drug lord.
A Detroit native, Blanchard was born with crack cocaine in his system. The 33-year-old says his mother was a “professional shoplifter.” His father? Hardly in the picture. As a result, Blanchard lived with his grandmother, who instilled in him the value of education. But when his grandmother died, Blanchard had to raise himself and his younger brother at the tender age of 12.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Blanchard says. “Going through situations of loss at such a young age can make you become numb to the pain.”
Almost immediately following his grandmother’s death, Blanchard started selling drugs. But the harsh reality of street life soon set in when his older brother was murdered in a drug transaction.
“I didn’t have anyone I cared to look up to,” Blanchard says. “I looked to the black market because it was more of a tangible measure of success. It was appealing at the time.”
After receiving some sound advice from a school counselor, Blanchard started taking a more serious approach to his education. He maintained an impressive 3.7 GPA throughout most of high school and graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in economical mathematics. He also earned a master’s in secondary math education from the City College of New York.
These days, Blanchard dedicates his time to mentoring young Black men and women, reaching them in ways many others cannot because he’s walked in their shoes—and then some. He currently serves as the liaison between the White House and Detroit Mayor’s Office for the My Brother’s Keeper initiative.
More now than ever, Blanchard says today’s Black youth need mentors and more importantly, they need to know how to leverage those mentors.
“My story is their story,” Blanchard says. “Young people need to know that adults, teachers and mentors care and understand them. When you’re a mirror reflection of them, they tend to believe they can aspire to be more.”
In How ‘Bout that for a Crack Baby, Blanchard is candid about his “daunting past” and sugarcoats nothing.
By age 11, for instance, Blanchard was a co-conspirator during his mother’s infamous shoplifting trips, but chapter four highlights one trip in particular. While waiting outside the dressing room as his mother was “doing her thing,” Blanchard’s then 6-year-old brother, Doug, mysteriously disappeared in a nearby dress rack for several minutes. Long story short: Doug used the bathroom in the rack, which caused a commotion in the store. Blanchard writes, “Doug plays right into it. Looking confused, he asks ‘What happened over there?’” Clearly, Doug knew way more than he let on and it was not his first time going on one of mom’s operations.
“Every single person who’s read the book—even people who’ve known me my whole life—has come back to me saying, ‘Man, I had no clue,’” Blanchard says. “People are going to be able to grow from this book because they’ll have a testimony that they can see themselves in, which helps them tell their own story.”
With a long, growing list of accomplishments that include teaching at the University of Michigan, many of Blanchard’s achievements are less about him and more about others. For instance, as chair of the math department at Holcombe L. Rucker High School in the Bronx, NY, Blanchard led his students to the top five percent in the state with the goal of closing the achievement gap. Furthermore, Blanchard helped create around 5,600 jobs for Black youth as Director of Youth Services for the City of Detroit.
In 2016, Blanchard is living a life similar to those he thought only existed on television shows, such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. So, why give back?
“There’s not a time in my life where the success of Black youth hasn’t mattered,” Blanchard says.
Growing up, Blanchard may not have received the guidance he needed, but he doesn’t dwell on it, nor does he play the victim. Instead, he’s on a mission to help young Black people overcome the same obstacles he conquered by being a positive role model who believes in them.
“There’s something great in everybody,” Blanchard says. “When you absorb all those great qualities, while recognizing your own, you can become as great as you want to be.”
Princess Gabbara is a Michigan-based journalist whose work has been published in several national publications, including Ebony.com, Essence.com, BET.com, Huffington Post Women, and Sesi Magazine. Visit her site or follow her @PrincessGabbara.