Curtis Toler

Champion of peace, sharing his extraordinary story of resilience and redemption

Watch Curtis on The Daily Show here.

The story of Curtis Toler, a 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 Barack 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, Arne 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 human behavior, crisis intervention and community outreach, and a gifted storyteller, Curtis shares proven strategies for how to properly deescalate conflict--and grow stronger as a person and an organization as a result. The conflict resolution tools he uses daily on the Southside of Chicago can be used by businesses, communities, educational institutions, and faith-based organizations to get to the root of conflict, establish healthier rules of engagement and build new cultures that promote peace, dignity and understanding.

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

The Power of Transformation

Curtis tells the vivid, unforgettable story of his evolution from a misguided juvenile turned gang leader into a peacemaker and a prolific voice of reason on Chicago’s Southside. It's a story that is by turns funny, harrowing and profoundly moving, a story only Curtis can tell.

At a time when it can feel like change comes too slowly, if at all, Curtis reveals what is possible. He shares the three conditions that are required for transformation--based on his own life as well as over a decade spent working with young men and women in the most violent neighborhoods of Chicago. These are stories of hope and redemption, of what is possible when people have the opportunity to reinvent their lives and serve their neighbors with grace and humility.

America’s Criminal Justice System

Curtis shares what he learned from his past as a formerly incarcerated person, a violence interrupter and a gang historian. He addresses the trials and tribulations of one’s mental state under these circumstances and describes the three reforms that would help more violent offenders become productive, peaceful fathers, neighbors and employees in America. Through his own story, the stories of hundreds of other men and women as well as the latest research into rehabilitation and recidivism, Curtis makes a powerful argument for the virtues of second chance employment, community involvement, and combating the facets of society that led them astray in the first place.

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