Rev. Conrad B. Tillard, Sr. is Senior Minister of Flatbush Tompkins Congregational Church Brooklyn, NY.
My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause: Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse: My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood. Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird. And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives.”—Proverbs 1:10-18. KJV
I wish this message would be drilled into the heads of young Black boys in Harlem, Newark, Bedford Stuyvesant, East Orange, and other cities in the tri-state area and throughout the nation. Our youth are getting a different message in shows like Power and BMF (Black Mafia Family).
I got to know former Harlem drug kingpin Albert “Alpo” Martinez and I ministered to him. His death recently caused me to recall my interactions with him. I did not know Alpo well, but I had several meetings with him in the past year and we talked. My message to him was simple: “You’ve served your time, your debt to society; but the community needs to see contrition, humility, and a transformed man, demonstrably different and truly remorseful for the pain, hurt, and misery your past actions have caused.” He always listened respectfully, but I consistently got the sense that he saw it differently. He had done what he had to do in his life and he had to stand firmly on the belief that for him, he was still Alpo, and still a man.
I wish he could have internalized the messages of Proverbs in his childhood or even as a middle-aged man After 25 years in prison, he took responsibility for fourteen murders, including the murder of his closest friend and associate, Richard Porter. He turned state’s evidence against his associate and trigger-man, Wayne “Silk” Perry, who sits in a supermax prison serving a life sentence without any possibility of parole, based on Martinez’ testimony. Some say Perry has become a changed man—spiritual and known as “Brother Nkosi.”
One night having dinner in Harlem, a friend of Alpo’s approached me and asked if he could bring Alpo over to meet me and take a picture with him. I was conflicted at the very least. I was reluctant and uncomfortable. He had a reputation of murder and treachery. I knew his associate, Wayne “Silk” Perry. We both attended Woodrow Wilson Senior HS in Washington, DC in the early 80s. I know many of Perry’s friends and family from Washington, DC and others who did business with him in the late 80s and early 90s. Alpo and I talked about those ironic connections in our initial, awkward introduction and interaction.
I realized that in that moment, I had a duty to this brother, Alpo, not to negate his humanity—not to see him as a drug dealer, murderer, or snitch, but a child of God who was entitled to hear the Good News. The Gospel is a powerful bulwark, and it is for everyone. Jesus, nailed to the cross at Calvary, ministered to two murders, even as he shared their fate. One asked for forgiveness and He reassured the man he would be in glory with Him that same day. I’m not sure what was in Alpo Martinez’s heart. He did acknowledge faith and his upbringing in the Catholic Church. Perhaps he repented and truly accepted the Lord as his Savior and friend. Let’s pray he did.
I never suffered at the hands of Alpo Martinez, so I can’t judge Richard Porter’s sister, Pat Porter, for reportedly celebrating Alpo’s demise. I also get the anger of those he betrayed, and obviously, the killers had no compassion in their hearts for him, but ministers must minister to those who have lost their way.
Finally, that’s why every Black boy should learn and memorize Proverbs 1:10–18 by rote as a cautionary tale: the fruits of wrong-doing will lead to the fate of Mr. Martinez and too many others; the Bible says it plainly.
Alpo, did say to me, that at only 25 years old and a drug kingpin on the streets of Harlem and Chocolate City when he was arrested in 1991, he “never thought 30 years later the community would lionize and celebrate” his exploits. Perhaps his ignominious death can have a greater impact upon the psyche of Black people in our community—especially young, Black men—to turn us away from sinful and criminal lives, than the celebrated exploits of his ultimately tragic life did.