Kiki Adebola has everything that comprises the classical American dream, except “a dog named Bingo and a cat named Fluffy.”
But that wasn’t always the case. Back in his native Nigeria, he would hustle American G.I.’s and show them “where to get the weed and get the girls.” “These G.I.’s, you know, they got style to them. And the ones from New York–they were slick,” he said. He made it his personal goal to get to the US. He did so in the mid-1980s, landing in New York to begin his own personal search for that elusively alluring “American Dream.”
He started taking college classes in Brooklyn, but things soon devolved as he became a recreational drug user. Drugs and the entire New York clubbing scene was engrossing, new, and exciting to him. As he became more and more a slave to the chemicals, he ended up homeless, spending between 7 and 8 years on the street. However, having overstayed his visa, he couldn’t get the services he needed to help him quit without risking deportation.
Kiki’s lowest moment occured while he was committing petty thievery up on Madison Avenue. He robbedg a group of French tourists, smacking one of his victims with the base of his gun in the process. The blood curdling scream was unforgettable.
Change came on January 23, 1993, when James Macklin of the Bowery Mission offered Kiki the help he needed despite his precarious situation via the Mission’s Discipleship Institute, a six-month residential recovery program.
Now, 16 years later, the student has become the teacher. Kiki now leads the Discipleship program in the facility that helped him get clean. His height, shining shaven head, and bulky build belie a generous sense of humor and an easygoing manner that brings to mind cliched images of a relaxed Bob Marley (hey, it’s cliched but true!).
He’s the only former junkie I’ve ever met who is able to toss a few jokes about how he used to be. But he also illustrates the loyalty I found among the graduates of the Bowery Mission programs. The Mission’s halls are filled with former residents working, cleaning, cooking food, teaching. Once you go through the Mission, you are forever tied to this one way of life and this one building–227 Bowery.