CHICAGO — Pete Keller was in a gang, sold drugs and had several stints in prison, but in 2005 after a nearly fatal encounter, the Chicago activist said he turned his life around and now spends his days helping others do the same.
Keller is one of Chicago’s Very Own.
Keller lives with a bullet lodged in his head. He said that was his wakeup call. He wanted to change. But change wasn’t that easy.
Keller has led a tough life. In 2005, he was in a gang and living in Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing project. By 2011, he’d already had four stints in prison for drug related crimes. And one day it clicked, he had to run away from that life and become a positive role model to others.
“I had been part of the problem for so long, poisoning the community with drugs that now it’s time to give back,” he said. “And I literally had to change everything about myself.”
In 2015 he made it official. He founded the United Legion One Nation or ULON organization — a mentoring program designed to cut the recidivism rate and help men and women reacclimate to society.
“Once you become a part of ULON you drop your association with the gang and you become part of the family and we get you employment and we show you family love, different values,” he said.
The program isn’t limited to helping ex-felons. Lateshia Parker recently left an abusive relationship and needed help to get back on her feet. She learned about ULON from a friend.
“They have Queens — ULON Queens and I’ve talked to those women been through stuff. So ULON is really helping me right now,” she said.
Keller estimates ULON has helped hundreds of people throughout the years. The organization also puts an emphasis on prevention.
A couple of years ago, he teamed up with other activists to bring awareness to the city’s increasing gun violence by shutting down Lake Shore Drive.
This summer he released a book called “Cabrini Green, The Pete Keller Chronicles.” It’s an up close and personal take on what his life was like in the housing project and how to survive tragic beginnings.
“The book is definitely, it will take you on a journey with what I went through and what I am now,” Keller said.
Keller hopes his story will resonate to others who may find themselves in the same situation he was in years ago.
“If I could touch just one life, then I’ve done my job,” he said.
Keller said he hopes to move the ULON organization out of his home and into a storefront space in the near future, making it more accessible to Chicago area youth.
For more information you can visit ULON’s website or call them at 312-834-8020.