Antonio Robles, 26, is an aspiring rap singer. He spends his days dealing with drugs - but not in the way he used to.
He has spent the past three years working at Hartford Hospital by day and attending college by night. He's also president, producer and songwriter at a record company called AFGM, for A Few Good Men.
But you wouldn't have recognized Antonio just a few years ago. He was seemingly nothing more than a statistic in Hartford.
A Troubled Past
“I was running wild. I was trouble. Doing drugs,” he said.
Antonio was in a cycle he couldn’t seem to pull himself out of. He moved to Hartford, hoping for a new start, having gotten mixed up with the wrong crowds in both Arizona and California.
“I was involved with gangs over there,” he said. “I came here and decided to change my stuff around. But I just couldn’t pull out.”
He pins that on the system that was supposed to be supporting him.
“The Hartford school system at the time was under turmoil with the accreditation,” he said. “I would have Bs and Cs and they'd find some way to take my credits. After my fifth year, they told me I needed another one. I told them I was all set with that.”
He was told he was a quitter and worse – that he was like his father, the man who Antonio said let down his family.
"I've always been told you're not going to do it, you're going to fail, or you're going to end up like your father," he said.
After dropping out of school, he found a way to make ends meet – go back to his old ways.
“I found I could get high and make money on the side also and not have to pay for it,” Antonio said. “It was what I had to do to get by.”
Notes of Change
Antonio said he always had a supportive family, especially his mother and grandmother. He said they understood.
But there was something else that had also always been there -- music.
"To me, music listens, it doesn't speak back. I don't have to worry about the emotional thing like with human beings," Antonio said. "When I was at my lowest point, my producer that I deal with, he was there."
Antonio had always dreamed of becoming a rap artist, but it was a dream that seemed like it was nearly out of reach.
That’s when something snapped.
A Saving Grace
"One day, I was looking out the window and saw kids I was going to school with walking up the street to go to school. And that's when a light bulb went off in me." he said.
Antonio decided he wasn’t going to become another statistic. That morning, he walked to the Urban League in Hartford before they even opened. He knew making a change wouldn’t be easy.
"It's like anything, man. You look at something (dealing drugs), you see money's coming in hand-over-fist. Then they ask you to give it up and start from square one. It's a tough pill to swallow," he said.
His life went into fast-forward as soon as they welcomed him in.
"I went in there and they offered me a GED program. When I did that, I finished it. I got pretty high scores. Then I was wondering what my next move was going to be," he said.
After the Urban League saw Antonio’s straight As, they began to realize the potential he had.
"Afterward, they asked me if I wanted to do a pharmacy-tech program. I did that and was working at CVS for three years, then I moved to Hartford Hospital," he said. "At the same time, I was also working on a liberal arts degree and working on pursuing my music degree.
Pursuing A Dream
“We go through ups and downs in life. It's not how many times you fall, it's how many times you pick yourself up,” Antonio said.
He’s a young man who has picked himself up time and time again. Now in a job he loves, he’s able to support the pursuit of his dream to sing.
But Antonio said he wouldn’t trade his past or the lessons they brought him.
"It's like anything. I wouldn't take anything back because I wouldn't be the person that I am today. What I know now, I'd apply then," he said.
For those who are on the streets, Antonio said, he knows how difficult it is. But he said there’s hope, there are resources, and there’s a reason to keep going.
"You've got to take it day to day. You can't give up. You've just got to keep fighting. The weak are the ones who don't survive. You've just got to take things one day at a time."