“Yeah, my friends know I have my own personal motto,” 23-year-old art student Antony Sable said as he sat in the cafeteria of West New York’s Town Hall last month, black canvas portfolio in hand, a few doors down from where his drawing of Mayor Felix Roque hangs in the mayor’s office. His motto is, “It’s time for change.”
A mere four months ago, Sable was a different man.
After 10 years of drug use, fights, failing grades, and a brief time at a lockdown facility in Jamesburg, N.J., Sable saw his father lose his battle with brain cancer in August. Immediately, young Sable gave up drinking, smoking, and using drugs. He left West New York for two months to remove himself from an environment that had nearly cost him his life.
“Everybody can change. It’s hard. It’s really hard, but it’s really that simple.” – Antony Sable
A rocky start
Sable was born in the Dominican Republic and his father brought him to West New York when he was 5 years old. He taught himself to draw, and he thrived in school despite the dramatic cultural change. Things went pretty smoothly, he said, until his parents divorced when he was in eighth grade.
“It was hard on me, and I diverted into the streets,” Sable said. He started using and selling drugs – primarily cocaine. He was closely involved with a “bad crowd,” he said. So when he tried to stop, he was always pulled back in.
“I always told myself, ‘This is not me, I’m meant to do great things,’ ” Sable said. But his addiction had him trapped. He was arrested several times. More than once, a judge sent him to Giant Steps, a special program at Hoboken University Medical Center that deals with juvenile substance abuse.
The program did not stick. “You are who you associate with,” Sable said.
When he was 16, he sold drugs for a group of people whose house was then robbed. They thought he was somehow involved. Sable had just left his home after a two-week cocaine bender when one of those people suggested – more than gently – that they go for a drive.
“I knew something was up when the ride got too long,” he said.
Sable was beaten severely and both of his hands were broken. It took six months for him to be able to use them again.
A large dislocated bone juts awkwardly through the skin of his right hand – his drawing hand – because he refused proper treatment at the time of the injury.
After that, Sable said, “I lost faith in myself.” He stopped drawing, stopped going to school, stopped seeing anything beyond his addiction.
The repercussions from the drugs did not end with two broken hands. Shortly after, a young man Sable considered his best friend told the police Sable had been involved in the robbery. He was sent to the New Jersey Training School in Jamesburg.
“Not only did my best friend betray me,” Sable said, “but he accused me of doing something I had nothing to do with.”
One positive outcome from doing time was that Sable was able to get his high school equivalency (GED) while he was interred. But he remained “hard-headed,” he said, and went back to his old ways upon release.
Time for change
When Sable’s father died, Antony experienced a rebirth of sorts. Not only did he take up art again, but he decided he had spent too much time taking from the community rather than giving.
When he took his two-month hiatus from life in West New York, he spent time volunteering at the Hoboken homeless shelter and met his mentor.
“He’s my ‘Neck’,” Sable joked, referencing “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”
“The Neck,” who asked to remain anonymous, spoke highly of Sable. “He changed his life in such a short time and completely embraced his new situation,” he said.
Sable started taking classes in September. He was able to acquire student loans and financial aid, and moved back in with his mother in West New York. Because he doesn’t have a car, he often takes the light rail to Hoboken then walks nearly five miles to the Jersey City campus of HCCC.
One of his college assignments was to write a motivational speech. He decided to test-drive it at the Hoboken Shelter in front of a crowd of 80 people. His message was as much to himself as to his audience.
“Everybody can change,” Sable said. “It’s really hard, but it’s really that simple.”
The speech was well-received. Days later, he recalled, some of those in the audience approached him and told him his words helped to motivate them to move on with their lives.
Sable had found himself a new mission.
He approached relatively new West New York Mayor Felix Roque with a drawing bearing his campaign slogan, “Together We Can.” The campaign happened to align nicely with his own personal campaign of sorts. He told the mayor he wanted to continue talking to groups of kids in the hopes that he could inspire them to change as well.
“With my knowledge of the streets, I can help people even more,” Sable said. “I can speak from experience. It’s time for change.”
Roque was so impressed by Sable’s herculean efforts to turn his life around in such a short time, he hung the young artist’s portrait in his office in Town Hall, and is working with him so that he can help others through motivational speaking.
“He is a phenomenal young man,” Roque said. “I know he could have a tremendous impact on the lives of our children, and we are working to make that happen.”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org