PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Fatherless, in fear, and hungry is how Anthony Owens remembers life in Brooklyn, New York back in the 1970s. Reared by a single mother, Owens, and his brother prepared meals that reflected their place in poverty. “Bread and mustard, bread and ketchup, bread and syrup, and bread and mayonnaise.

In school, few were spared from gang violence.

“It was so bad that they would actually rob the teachers as they were leaving school. Someone hit me; I rolled down concrete stairs and I woke up in an ambulance,” says Owens who said for years he was traumatized by gangs and the associated violence.

He faced dysfunction in school and at home.

“There were no men in my family I could talk to because all of the men were abusive and showed a lack of respect for themselves and others,” said Ownens who was an adult when he finally met his father.

In 1981 The United States Navy offered a path forward for the boy from Brooklyn. “Everyone needs to feel like they are important, they have input and they matter. So that’s what the Navy gave me,” said Owens. The Navy also gave him expert training in the field of Information Technology.

Two decades later, Owens, an IT specialist for the federal government, is taking back the community with his book, Syrup Sandwiches Choose Not to Give Up! He’s calling on the bullied to not give up on themselves and for society, to not give up on the bullies.

“If we can talk to them and have dialogue find out what’s on their minds find out what makes them tick if you will what makes them happy what are they upset about right and show some kind of concern if we show some level of concern, i think we can start reaching.

“If we want to connect with them and bring them back and bring us all together as a united they have to be included,” said Owens.

Owens is reaching out to today’s youth via social media which has already memed the syrup sandwich. His book just won an Indie Book Award, under the category of Black, Indigenous and/or Persons of Color.