BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Thirteen years ago today, Birmingham cab driver Eldridge Knighton was shot twice in the head and left for dead in a robbery on a dark street near the remote Tarrant landfill.
Instantly blinded in one eye, Knighton pulled himself out of the ditch where he had collapsed, staggered a block to the first house he could find and banged on the front door pleading for help.
Knighton, then 27, was determined to live — for his children. And not just live, but live better.
Now he has a message for the other young men and women, especially those who live in Birmingham’s public housing communities. “Man up,” he said. “If I can do it, so can you.”
Knighton, now 40 and the resident council president of Birmingham’s Morton Simpson public housing community, is speaking out because he was given a second chance that night 13 years ago. Since then, he rose to become a leader and role model among participants in the 2015 Fatherhood Initiative sponsored by the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District and wants others to know a second chance for them is also there for the taking.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” he said. “God says you have not because you ask not.”
In 2004, Knighton worked for Yellow Cab as a driver. He picked up a young man, who was to be his last fare of the night before he went to pick up his 3-year-old son and 6-month-old daughter who were at a friend’s house while he worked.
That young man, in the passenger’s seat, listened while Knighton finished his phone call. “I told my son, ‘Give Daddy 15, 20 minutes,’ I’m on my way to pick you up,” he recalled. Moments after hanging up, he got a bad feeling.
“I said, ‘Lord, please don’t let this be what I think this is,'” he said. “When I looked over at the young man, he had the gun in my face.”
The gunman ordered Knighton out of the cab, and then demanded his money. “I told him it was only $70 and he said, ‘Give me all your money,'” he said. The first bullet entered Knighton’s head above his right eye. The second bullet pushed the first bullet out through the top of his head. After trying to run, he collapsed, and rolled into a ditch. “I knew this was it for me,” he said. “I laid there for a few minutes. But I could feel something up under my back, lift me up to give me the strength to crawl out. I crawled up out this ditch. I didn’t know which way, because I can’t see, but I’m running on the grace of God.”
He ran about a block, uphill, before he saw a house. He crawled up the stairs of their front porch and banged on the front door and collapsed again.
The shooting, along with two months in the county jail in 2006, awakened Knighton to the true victim of his circumstance — his children, he has previously said. “I told myself I can go back to the streets, I can sell drugs, grab a gun – which is the easiest thing to do – and attempt to rob somebody, but what’s the point of that? Right in the middle of the drugs and the gun are my children sitting right… I stepped away from all of it.”
Knighton two years ago joined HABD’s Fatherhood Initiative. It is a six-week program which includes group sessions and peer support group of 20 men. The Family Guidance Center of Alabama facilitates the weekly meetings, and the program is designed to strengthen the bonds between fathers and their children. Knighton started a community movie night for families, and a school crossing for the kids of Morton Simpson.
That’s why he says if he can do it, others can as well. And he’s more than willing to deliver a strong message to anyone who will listen. And even if they won’t. “I had to man up after I got shot. You call yourself a man? Put your guns down and take responsibility,” he said. “Your children need you out here. You can’t take care of your children behind bars. You can’t take care of your children from no grave site. Man up. You want to claim your hood? Clean up your hood.”
The young man who shot Knighton was never identified or arrested. Several years ago, he learned to forgive him. Still, he would like to meet him face to face.
“All I want to do is see you in person to let you know that what you tried to do to me — you tried to take me from my children, you tried to end my life over $70,” he said. “But you see, God had a greater plan for me. What you tried to do, God did better.”