By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
MILLVILLE – Kuan Bowleg had seen it all in Millville and even while attending college at Kean University, where he admitted it got into more trouble than he should have.
But when a friend of the family died in violence, the teen father of two decided he needed a change in his life – a clean break from the problems he was seeing and getting caught up in.
Now, an Army National Guard veteran with two tours of duty in Iraq, a founder of a youth nonprofit, coach and author, those early days are part of his testimony to help other at-risk youth. Bowleg said he is ready to expand that service by running for Millville city commissioner.
“It was 2002 and I just wanted to get away,” Bowleg told Front Runner New Jersey this week. “After a friend of a family was shot and killed, that motivated me to do something different. I was a teen father. I already had two children at the time. I had a lot going on and I said I needed to stabilize myself.”
Bowleg said once he made the decision, he was gone within a month, an experience that helped him find his passion and vision.
“I needed an out,” Bowleg, a Gouldtown native, said of his time before going the National Guard. “That’s what the military provided for me, an opportunity to stabilize myself, to find that discipline and routine. I started developing those teamwork skills and being accountable.”
That drive to be accountable led him to start the Youth LOVE (Love and Optimism Vindicates Everyone) Movement when returned to Millville in 2011. From the grassroots level, Bowleg and his family started inviting youth and started to connect with them at the closest points possible.
“I felt we could focus on reducing the high rate of high school dropouts, teen pregnancy and incarceration in Cumberland County,” Bowleg said of the Youth LOVE Movement. “At our house, we started reading and comprehension program. We thought about finding creative ways for the kids to do community service.
Youth LOVE Movement
“We started planning trips. Our aim was just to assist the youth we serve to acquire the skill sets necessary to thrive in the classroom, overcome behavioral issues, build their self-esteem and connect them with positive, cultural activities,” he said.
The Youth LOVE Movement has done everything from homework programs and food pantries, along with connecting to the City of Millville.
The motivation for such an impressive personal investment was also born out of tragedy. When Bowleg returned to Millville, he quickly settled in, purchasing a home and getting married, but he still saw many of the troubling signs in Millville he saw before.
“There was a guy I knew who got murdered,” Bowleg said. “I knew what he was into so I was hesitant to connect with him but when he got murdered, I was troubled by that. I started the youth organization in 2011 from my house. After that happened two more young people I knew got murdered in a fight. I felt I needed to get out here and do something.”
Ending ‘Cycle of Hurt’
Bowleg said he wants youth to make better decisions than he did as a youth and to become positive, well-rounded youth adults.
“Information-wise, we want to encourage kids to do something different. We tell them it’s their job and responsibility do things differently. My father died when I was six. I know what poverty feels like. I’ve seen drug addiction, murder and gun violence. We want to minimize this cycle of hurt.”
Finding kids to connect with have not been a problem for Bowleg, who gets an assist from his eight children – four boys and four girls.
“Yes, I have a huge family,” Bowleg said with a laugh. “I come from a big family. My grandparents had eight children. I also connect with kids through sports and coaching. Whatever sports my sons play, I coach. We try to help with single mothers who take on the task of raising their sons. We try to assist any way we can.”
Along with coaching and running his nonprofit with wife Christina, Bowleg owns his own online t-shirt company, Draped In the Word, and has just released his first children’s book. “Wisdom’s 6 Principles for Little Bow”. The book encourages young readers to keep God first in their lives, excel academically, make an honest living, own property, honor marriage and value parenthood.
“These are the principles I teach in my home,” Bowleg said. “Growing up, I did a lot of stuff out of order. I didn’t have stable work or a place to stay. I went to college that that caused a lot of challenges. I teach my kids to do things in the right order.”
Bowleg recently helped start the Millville Black Leadership Group and was selected by the Cumberland County Board of County Commissioners to serve as a member of the Youth Services Advisory Council.
He had worked at the Woodbine Developmental Center the last 13 years as a behavior support technician and a rehabilitation plan coordinator serving individuals with intellectual disabilities.
Bowleg said it was friend and local business owner Wade Loatman who encouraged him to run for city commissioner.
“I’ve been doing a lot of things in the community with my nonprofit and coaching (in Holly City Youth Football League). Based on that, Wade Loatman suggested that I take on the challenge and responsibility of serving on next municipal level, being able to affect change.
To be honest, this [campaign] is all new for me. I’m used to connecting with the people, finding their needs and serving the community.”
Bowleg can find a whole new avenue of service if elected in November.
Note from AC JosepH Media: If you like this story and others posted on Front Runner New Jersey.com., lend us a hand so we can keep producing articles like these for New Jersey and the world to see. Click on SUPPORT FRNJ and make a contribution that will do directly in making more stories like this available. Thank you for reading.