//Halim Ali. Photo provided by Ali.
In the current social climate, many people are struggling with feelings of distress. Denver native Halim Ali is using it as a reason to create.
A former gang member on the streets of Denver, Ali experienced different forms of trauma, including being shot in the chest during a fight. This life-threatening incident didn’t deter him from a path of violence but pushed him further into it. Only later was he able to recognize the domino effect that occurs when the pain one has felt goes ignored.
“Once I analyzed my own experiences and reflected on them, I recognized what has served as the downfall for many other young men,” Ali said. “We’re taught to ‘be a man’ rather than acknowledging the traumas around us.”
That’s why Ali founded From the Heart Enterprises, a local organization that focuses on addressing problems within the Black community. In the midst of a global pandemic, the organization has launched a new campaign as a direct response to COVID-19, as well as police brutality, racism and mental health for Black men.
Ali has credited the founding of his organization to his childhood spent in the church.
“I would see a church full of Black people but the saviors on the paintings and stained glass windows were white. I remember asking my mother who the white man on the art was, and she said, ‘That’s Jesus Christ, your lord and savior,’” he said.
In Ali’s heart, the words of his mother, his highest authority figure, didn’t sit right. His time in the church introduced him to his first experience with self-hate due to the constant reminders that a man who looked nothing like him was his supposed savior.
As Ali grew, he continued to struggle with feeling looked down upon and often faced consequences from his inability to accept the status quo. In the 12th grade, Ali attended Aurora Central High School. At the time, the hip hop group N.W.A. was popular. His school administration said in a newspaper article that, “Ni**as With Attitude clothing should be banned from Aurora Central Schools.” The rap group was criticized not only for their name but also for their explicit lyrics that some viewed as misogynist and glorifying drugs and crime.
“They actually said, ‘Ni**as,’ and I took offense to that. My schoolmates came to me with the article, the person they knew would do something about it,” Ali said.
He marched to the office with his classmates where he confronted the principal and the journalist who wrote the article about their use of the N-word. His “harsh” words toward their actions led to his expulsion, making an example out of him so other Black students wouldn’t stand up.
Ali went on to attend Denver Public Schools, but by then he was ditching school, drinking alcohol during lunch and doing what he says were “all the wrong things.” He still managed to graduate but he also graduated into a life of crime, which included gang-banging, jail, violence, drug use and dealing.
During this chapter of transgression, Ali’s interest in music led him to start a record label where he promoted gang violence and what he calls “Black-on-Black” crime, even though in his heart, he knew it was compromising his spirituality.
“The people around me were edifying me and praising me so I sought the praise more than I did the truth. I knew it was wrong but it was what was popular with the people around me,” Ali said.
It wasn’t until 2015 that Ali truly felt rushed with emotion when confronted by his past. A former friend that ran the streets with him opened his eyes to the long-term effects he had on his community.
“He showed me that we had ruined neighborhoods, we ruined communities. The crack-babies running around our streets were from the mothers we provided drugs for, and we needed to take accountability for that,” Ali said.
This conversation hit Ali like a ton of bricks. He recognized that while he had paid his debt to the judicial system, it wasn’t the system he truly owed.
“My hands contributed to the downfall of Black communities,” Ali said.
This revelation led Ali to take action. He created a program called The Mile High Chess Club, focusing on helping young Black men and women develop their own sense of identity. As someone who struggled with his role in society, Ali recognized the power defining a sense of self can have.
“I looked at images on the TV and in video games and used those as a standard of what manhood means,” Ali said. “My struggle with my own self-worth was the catalyst to the decisions I made.”
Along with helping young men identify their own sense of self, Ali has found a passion for addressing the mental health crisis in the Black community. He believes many lack an understanding of what they are experiencing and instead hide their emotions out of fear of being labeled as “crazy.”
“Mental illness and society’s acceptance of it is rooted so deeply in how we behave today. We look at each other with hate because we look in the mirror and hate ourselves,” Ali said. “When we talk about gang violence—this is mental illness because we don’t see gang members stepping up to defend our Black women and children whom we continue to lose. But they will kill each other over turf they don’t even own.”
As Ali continued to explore mental health, he never guessed a global pandemic would be the catalyst for his creativity. Surrounded by what felt like hopelessness and despair, he used the obvious need in his community as a driving force.
At the beginning of July, From The Heart started a campaign called #HeartWork Campaign. Within their campaign, they offer five-protective-factor trainings around strengthening families: the importance of parental resilience, social connection, support in times of need, parenting and child development, and social and emotional competence in children. Ali has since taught 18 virtual training sessions and has certified over 300 people.
The organization has also developed several other offerings, including programs for new fathers, services for women who can no longer attend Sunday church and a weekly run club where the relationship between physical and mental health come together.
“In the midst of hopelessness, we want people to know they can be resilient,” Ali said. “You have to understand these things are not for the sake of money. Most of these programs aren’t even funded but they came from a direct outcry.”
So what’s next for this growing organization that is shaping the lives of many? Ali has his heart set on opening the first-ever 24-hour male victim crisis center in Denver. His team is working to find a facility that will allow them to offer regular programming, a food pantry, hygiene items and STD testing. Women are not the only ones who suffer from abuse. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 4 men has experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. Therefore, the need for a safe haven where men can access guidance is critical and at the top of Ali’s mind.
“We’re going to go at the root of these problems to alleviate the cause.”