By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Nick Boler saw the look on the face of a young boy that was all-too familiar. It was anger. Boler knew if someone didn’t get to him soon, the boy would be doomed.
“I could see that boy was going through the same thing we [my brothers and I] went through: had a grandmother that was raising him, had two siblings and he had this look of anger… his grandmother looked defeated.”
That story is the opening of Boler’s first book, Footsteps: Growing Up in Gate City, which was published in 2016.
Boler, 43, went on to counsel the boy, but in the process, became inspired himself. The experience led him to write his story. “I start from the beginning and go through 14 years, growing up in Gate City,” he said.
The book is part of a trilogy. The second book, Footsteps: Coming out of Gate City, published earlier this year, chronicles his life from 14 years old until early adulthood.
“It’s not physically coming out of Gate City,” he said. “It’s the strongholds, coming out of the poverty mentality. We used it to navigate and survive the ills of our environment.”
Boler tells a story of obstacles and hurdles.
“My brothers and I never told anybody about going to bed hungry, lights getting turned off, going to school just so we could eat, and then playing hooky, gas getting turned off, walking home from school and watching our stuff get thrown out of the house at 10 years old, having to run from social workers so they wouldn’t separate all of us,” he said during a recent interview.
In his books, Boler, a juvenile probation officer for family court in Jefferson County — (which he finds ironic because he and his four other brothers grew up having probation officers) — talks about the foundation of why out of five children, three are either locked up, in prison or dead.
His saving grace was sports which he began participation at age 12, Boler said.
“I got exposed to men and coaches,” he recalled. “The coaches were married and had children. Some of the guys on my team had their mom and their dad. I saw the connection, and that was something I was missing, but something I aspired to be.”
Basketball and football were not only his favorites, but also an escape, he said.
“My mom and grandma might have only come to one game during my entire sports career,” he said. “I didn’t care if they came or not; that wasn’t a big deal … they were dealing with issues with my brothers. Sports was my world, my time, my getaway; and they knew that. And I was fine with that.”
Once his first book was published, Boler said he learned that many people faced the same obstacles he did.
“They would say, ‘man the same thing happened to us, we just weren’t saying anything because of shame, humiliation, embarrassment,’” he said. “Who wants to come to school after the Christmas holidays and say you didn’t get anything? You lie and say you got something, because you didn’t want to be embarrassed or cracked on. But the people you were in class with were experiencing the same thing. We were all living the same double lives.”
Boler is currently working on the third book of the trilogy, which will focus on his life as an adult.
The books have been in the making since 1999 and have been a family effort, he said.
“My wife (Lashunta) and I used to write short stories and poetry, and I would try to express my feelings – social and political – through those stories.”
Boler began writing his first book in his notes in his phone. His wife then bought him a computer so he could better write his story, but after letting a friend read what he had written so far, his friend bought him a better computer.
“My friend saw the computer I had, and said ‘That computer’s not going to do you justice,’” he said. “So we took it back and he bought me a Lenovo computer. He bought me a $600 computer and said, ‘don’t worry about that, you need to write this.’”
In July 2015, Boler completed his story and his wife edited it.
“If she wasn’t there, it would just be black and white, but she gave the story color and brought it to life,” he said.
Boler, who has been a juvenile probation officer for 10 years, said many of the children have come back to thank him.
“They’re in college, or working and taking care of their family, they’re in the military, they’ve been charged to go back to their community and start coaching,” he said. “They say I didn’t judge them, and they could tell me everything.”
One of the kids he helped asked him to be at the hospital when he had his first child.
“I said wherever you are, I’ll be there. He’s not on probation now, and doing well, but he said his dad always tried to be his friend and not his father.”
He is the father of six children: Jeremy, 30, Nyla, 14, Nicholas, 13, November, 11, Nigel, 9, and Nevai, 6. He and his wife have been married for 20 years.
Boler said he learned to be a father by patterning his life after the coaches and other positive men in his life.
“I treat my children like princes and princesses, because they are,” he said. “I get to allow my children to imagine and be the superheroes and royalty, because I had to grow up too fast. I want them to know what a childhood is and to enjoy theirs.”
Boler’s books can be purchased at Magic City Closeouts, 8315 First Avenue North, 35206 or The Shop, 5812 First Avenue North, 35212. He can also be reached via FB @ Nick Boler or firstname.lastname@example.org.