In 1979 Patrice Gibbs was kicked out of Mount Pleasant High School for fighting to protect a white friend during his emotionally charged first year of school desegregation. He quickly earned his GED, then enlisted in the Air Force for four years. He won’t give details of his final year, other than to say he was a “trouble shooter” (meaning, he shot people who were causing trouble).
He was later treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. During therapy, he came to the troubling realization that he had killed 37 people in Africa and the Middle East. He didn’t deal well with life after that. He did a brief stint at DuPont, then became a drifter on the streets of Wilmington.
“I was a gambler, a bookie, a loan shark, a professional thief,” he says.
But in 1995, when his father was on his deathbed, Gibbs promised to give up gambling. He decided to give up loansharking, too. And he has found his way, writing for publications targeted at the African-American community, and working at printing businesses. Most recently, he became a researcher for University of Delaware Professor Yasser Payne’s PAR project, a study of crime and poverty in Wilmington’s Southbridge and East Side communities.
“I wish I hadn’t gotten into street life so heavily,” Gibbs says. “I should have put more attention on my education … I feel like I should be teaching history.”
He takes the time to mentor young men in Wilmington now. His message: “Realize you are resilient and deserve success. Believe in your talent. You can always do better.”
If you knew you had only one year left, what would you do?
“I would travel to Egypt, study ancient Egyptian history, and tell people what I have learned.”