Johnny Bang Reilly was, in his own words, “a child born into cigarette smoke, canned food, white bread, and beatings.” His backstory began at the intersection of poverty and neglect; thrust out from a broken home to streets where survival was king and he was bound as loyal subject. But Johnny was a fighter in every sense of the word, so he hit back – self-trained, self-educated, self-preserved, and ultimately self-destructive. Armed with a body bent on destroying other bodies, Johnny daily breathed in hurt and exhaled hate. Hate for everything done to him, and everything he did to others. So to sedate the storm inside him, he gave himself over to drugs and booze, homelessness and incarceration.
For Johnny, life is a series of moments that demand a choice. Two paths. Light. And Darkness. The turning point came when, in a fit of calculated rage, Johnny decided to actually murder another man. He played it out a thousand times in his head, stalked, and stood at the very precipice of killing; and in that moment, an epiphany flooded in, that in killing this man, he was going to kill himself. So in that moment, he chose light. He chose to walk away. To start anew, even if everyone around him said it was too late. He wrote a new story.
Today, Johnny is a walking testament to the character that can be crafted out of chaos. At 52 years old, he has chiseled his body into the frame of a 20 year old. Not as a weapon for inflicting pain, but as a reflection of purity. He is a poet and activist, penning words that ascend to something bigger than himself. He is a father, replacing old wounds with fresh hope for the bloodline below him. And above all, he curates the art of light triumphed over darkness. And as Johnny would say, “we are all the art, the art that vibrates the poem of the heart of our creator and provider.