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Maurice Hicks Jr., better known as “Uncle Reece,” saw his high school classmates as $20.
“I used to sell everything,” Reece told Wade-O Radio’s David Daniels.
Everything included candy, marijuana and bootleg CDs and video games. Reece grew up in the church, but his parents stopped forcing him to go when he became a teenager, and he and stopped attending.
Reece struggled to develop a relationship with God on his own, which is when the line between selling legally and illegally became blurred. By his junior year of high school, Reece had made enough money to buy a car, a 1996 Pontiac Sunfire.
Then he stopped regularly attending school.
“I probably shouldn’t have had that car,” said Reece.
He missed over 100 days of school his junior and senior years. Driving wherever he wanted appealed to him more than attending class.
Where Reece drove he often found trouble. Trouble often came in the form of fighting, which is how he finished arguments and responded to disrespect.
“Getting jumped was an everyday thing,” said Reece. “It’s just what happened. If I see you and I got nine people with me, you’re just having a bad day. And vice versa.”
One night at a house party in Palatka, Fla., an 18-year-old Reece (whose hometown is Jacksonville) and a friend from Duval County fought the host because he insulted Duval. Reece didn’t know that the person he picked a fight with had invited all 40 people at the party.
All 40 jumped the Duval duo. Reece landed in the hospital with a mild concussion and an eye injury. He still sees double when he looks up and to the left.
Reece also got temporarily thrown out of his home in high school for fighting his father. But it was another conflict that got Reece praying again.
“I [was] a high school gangster,” said Reece. “I met a real gangster.”
Terrified from finding more trouble than he had ever planned on getting into, Reece again prayed to the God he had stopped worshipping as a teenager.
“You know what God? I really don’t want to die,” he said. “I don’t want anything to happen to my family. I know we don’t talk a lot, but help me out with this one.”
As Reece drove around Duval praying, he spotted a church parking lot filled with cars. Looking for help, he stopped in, despite smoking marijuana earlier that day and smelling like it. As he entered the church, a women questioned him about his clothing—he wore shorts.
“My Bible says come as you are,” Reece said.
But the women continued to badger him. He left.
“I was submitted and ready to receive the gospel,” said Reece. “I was scared and needed help. I’m not saying I would’ve received the gospel right there, but they didn’t even take that chance … I could’ve died that night and went to Hell.”
Still searching for help, Reece instead visited a Christian bookstore.
“I was in there looking for some music to buy,” he said, “but couldn’t find any rap that didn’t suck.”
As he dug for quality music, a man approached him and tried to sell Reece a CD. Reece listened to it in the man’s car, but he didn’t like it either. Instead, the man handed Reece a mixtape with some artists Reece had never heard before—Cross Movement and Canton Jones.
The man ultimately became Reece’s first Christian friend (not necessarily because he gave Reece the mixtape). Reece then met other Christians through him. These were people who didn’t argue or disrespect Reece—they loved him.
And Reece used them.
“I had never met people that would let you use them,” said Reece.
He borrowed money from them and never needed to pay it back. Anywhere he needed picked up, they’d drive to him and never ask for gas money. After a while, Reece began to feel guilty about using his friends.
“It caused me to look at myself,” he said. “I saw what I really was.”
Reece didn’t like what he saw. He soon surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.
Also instrumental in his conversion was his fiance’ Kerri Alexander. Reece met her before he tried to turn his life around. And she wouldn’t be used.
“She wouldn’t have anything to do with me,” said Reece. “I couldn’t even get her number. I used to have to call her friend, and her friend would three-way her.”
Reece attended a Bible study just to see Alexander. He also started reading Romans on his own every day to have something to talk about with her.
After he became a Christian, Alexander gave him a chance. His life quickly began to turn around. With her influence, he started making straight A’s at Florida Community College of Jacksonville and volunteering in the city. His community service made such an impact that Florida Governor Charlie Christ gave Reece a full scholarship.
Alexander also suggested he return to his high school, Edward H. White, and apologize for the trouble he caused there. Reece did. And the principle and teachers, shocked and thrilled, hooked up Reece with enough speaking engagements to share his story of redemption that he made his own motivational speaking company, Urban Motivation.
His high school wasn’t the only place he made a return visit to speak at. Without knowing it, the church that two years prior had turned Reece away in his time of need asked him to speak there. And he let them know about it.
“I think it shocked them for about two weeks and then they went back to normal,” said Reece. “I just told them the truth: ‘It’s funny how you’ll receive someone when they have accolades, but you turned me away with no job, I was living from house to house and I looked like a punk because I was. But now, I was just on news with governor, so you would want me here.’”
When the money began to pour in from as many as five different speaking engagements a week, his scholarship began to look less appealing.
“Why would I go to college?” Reece thought. “I got a company called Urban Motivation. I’m good. I make $1,250 a week.”
Not wanting to apply anywhere, a friend of his filled out an application for him to Florida State University, and Reece got accepted. He remained hesitant until he saw how many students he could sell to at orientation.
“These guys wear flip flops and T-shirts,” Reece thought as he analyzed Florida State’s student body. “I don’t know how to sell flip flops, but I can sell a T-shirt.”
Reece still loved being a salesman. But unlike in high school where money was his motivation, Reece now approached selling with a different agenda—as a tool to share the gospel.
One day at school, a T-shirt worn by a fellow student reading, “F— you. I’m an atheist,” caught Reece’s eye. He knew he needed a phrase with just as much shock value.
After becoming a Christian, Reece had often used the phrase “without Jesus I suck” to explain why he needed a savior. He gave the phrase a test run.
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