Curtis Toler

Ex-gang leader, turned champion of peace, sharing his extraordinary story of resilience and redemption

Watch Curtis on The Daily Show here.

The story of Curtis Toler, an ex-gang leader, turned champion of peace, is an extraordinary account of resilience and redemption. Curtis’s journey to becoming one of Chicago’s leading authorities on gang culture began as a youth growing up on Chicago’s south side. Historically known for its violence, Auburn Gresham became the training ground for Curtis’s later life as an underground boss.

Curtis’s early exposure to violence was not willingly sought-after. Finding his mother ruthlessly murdered by his stepfather led Curtis on a path in search of power and respect. While most young men his age were beginning to enjoy the care-free stage of teenage youth, Curtis would be forced into adulthood at the age of sixteen. The death of his mother ended his childhood as he knew it and changed how he interacted with the world.

In search of power, dominance, and success, Curtis eventually found himself in the company of one of Chicago’s most respected gangsters since Al Capone – the unrivaled Jeff Fort, leader of the Blackstone Rangers (also known as EL Rukns). Curtis joined the organization, and quickly rose to a position of leadership. Curtis’s history and street reputation connected him to Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabinas Catholic church. Together, they founded the Peace League, and Curtis was able to transfer his prior experience as a gang leader into negotiating ceasefires among rival gangs. Curtis skillfully executed peace treaties in the summertime when the violence always reached its peak.

As providence would have it to be, pain met purpose, and Curtis’s destiny became realized. Curtis bridged rival gangs together through basketball to create a compelling space for healing and redemption. Curtis became the spokesperson for Father Michael’s organization, and slowly, his life began to heal.

Faith, courage, and perseverance played a pivotal role in Curtis’s 180 – degree turn in life, and soon the entertainment industry took notice. His expertise around gang-mediation began to spread rapidly. Curtis’s natural ability for strategic thinking, leadership, and mediation placed him in high demand with film-makers, entertainers, politicians, and the 44th President of the United States – President Barak Obama. Curtis’s incredible resume includes a guest appearance on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, consulting work on Spike Lee’s film, Chi-raq, and advising Lena Waithe and entertainer/activist Common for the Showtime television series The Chi.

Currently, Curtis works as the Director of Outreach for Chicago Cred, a violence reduction organization led by the former Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan. Curtis is leading the charge of training a new generation of violence interrupters and outreach specialists.

Speech topics

Conflict Resolution 101

As an expert in community outreach, Curtis shares his tips and tricks on how to properly deescalate conflict and find the positive takeaways from the given situation. The conflict resolution tools he uses daily on the Southside can be used by businesses, communities, educational institutions, and more alike.

Curtis’s life and work is featured in AMANDA RIPLEY’s bestseller High Conflict. Inquire about their collaborative work.

If I Can Make the World Better, You Can Too

In this speech, Curtis shares his transformation from a misguided juvenile turned gang leader into a prolific voice of reason on Chicago’s Southside. All one truly needs to do good is a purpose and a mission to achieve it. If a rehabilitated gang member from an underserved community can devote his life to undoing the problems he once perpetuated, then you too can learn from your past to create a brighter future.

America’s Correctional System

Curtis shares what he learned from his past as a formerly incarcerated person. He addresses the trials and tribulations of one’s mental state under these circumstances. More importantly, he addresses how individuals can be productive as returning citizens including: second chance employment, community involvement, and combating the facets of society that led them astray in the first place.

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