By Anthony McCarthy,
Special to the AFRO

I was intimidated from the moment I met Israel Cason. He was tall, stocky and he towered over you like a NBA player. But that intimidation quickly became admiration the more I got to know him. He founded a no-nonsense faith-based recovery program called I Can’t We Can in Park Heights. I can’t remember when I first met him but I was working for City Council President Sheila Dixon at City Hall. My phone rang and the voice on the other end of the line spoke to me in a very familiar way. 

“I need a permit and I’m told you can make it happen,” he said. I agreed to come to the center to discuss his needs and I was a fan from the very beginning. He was very humble, gracious and made me feel right at home.  He called me Antmo when I walked in the door.  Umm, my name is Anthony McCarthy I said thinking he had mistaken my name. Ok, Antmo he said again and that became my name. I got him the permit he needed and he called me what seemed like a thousand times. He needed the trash picked up.  He needed a huge hole in his parking lot filled in. I enjoyed getting things done for him.

I asked him during one of our conversations if he had been a drug addict. He said he was still an addict. He shared his story. He was deep in heroin dependency and had lost everything. He ruined his relationships with everyone, all he cared about was getting high. He was homeless and was living in an abandoned car in a junk yard.  He said he had gotten very comfortable living in the abandoned car and he and other addicts spent their time hunting for drugs and staying high. He recalled coming down from a high and someone had gone to the bathroom in the car. It was at that moment he knew he had to take charge of his life. 

I sat there with my mouth hanging open. How did this articulate, charismatic and very spiritual person ever been addicted to drugs and was living in an abandoned car? You see Antmo, the disease of addiction can take over anyone’s life. It certainly had taken over mine he said.

Over the years I watched him talk to addicts with care and compassion. But he left no room for excuses. He had a zero tolerance policy for excuses. He was tough on addicts. He called out their inconsistencies. He exposed their lies. He was a master at catching you when you were playing games.

Israel was responsible for saving thousands of lives. 

There was a time when I was involved in a high profile scandal and I thought my political career was over. My phone rang and that familiar voice said Antmo, you looking for a job?

I spent years at his side and I learned some life transforming lessons. Be your authentic self. No lies, even when the truth felt almost impossible. But the most important thing he taught me was to love myself. Until I learned to forgive myself for past mistakes and to truly love the person I was, I couldn’t genuinely love anyone else. 

When I received the call that Israel had died, I wept uncontrollably. I was sad that I had lost my dear friend but I was also weeping for the addicts who had not met this incredible man. And I thanked the Creator that Israel Cason had been a part of my life.

Anthony McCarthy is the host of Two Way Talk on WEAA 88.9 FM

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