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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
BRANDON -- A few weeks ago, the rapper Black Reign, a heavy-set man who wears a do-rag and a tilted ball cap, was on stage at the nightclub Fluid, about to break into a song called Party Outside.
He is best known for his song Gun Shine State, which the alternative newspaper Creative Loafing named the 2007 Best Song To Play For Prospective Transplants.
The song begins like this:
Welcome to Trigger City (Bang!) Welcome to Trigger City (Bang!) Welcome to Trigger City (Bang!) Gun Shine State!
But when somebody pulled a gun and fired it inside the club that night, the rapper didn't recognize the sound.
"I've never heard gunshots before," he said. "I didn't know what it was."
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Black Reign's real name is Anthony Blocker Jr. He's 24. He lives in the suburbs and works in collections at Asset Acceptance Capital Corp. He grew up in Tampa Heights and earned his nickname rapping at lunchtime in high school.
He performs regularly in Ybor City and at this club at the eastern end of the Crosstown Expressway, amid cookie-cutter communities, near a Borders bookstore and a Golden Corral.
He thought at first a speaker had blown or that the DJ had dislodged something that landed on the dance floor with a crack. Then he saw the panic.
Those closest to the shooting were the first to run. Then everyone else.
Face to face with violence, Black Reign fled to the first place he could find -- the women's restroom.
He tried to assess whether he could squeeze through a bathroom window to escape. He could not. He hid with others among the stalls. He heard crying, screaming.
Outside, the shooter ran, leaving on the floor a 36-year-old mother named Karen Williams, whose friend had persuaded her to go clubbing that night. In the cold parlance of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, the victim died at the scene.
When it seemed safe, Black Reign came out of hiding to look for his sister. He found her in the dark and left the building, passing a sign that said NO HATS, NO DURAGS, NO LONG T-SHIRTS.
The experience has prompted him to re-evaluate his career: the venues he chooses, the songs he pens. He defends Gun Shine State, saying it is not meant to suggest he endorses gun violence -- or even that he's familiar with it. "It's more of an anthem," he said, "or a welcome song."
From county to county Y'all know what it is We rep that Gun Shine State Down here we're doin' biz
"I'm against anybody getting hurt," he said. "It should have never happened."
A few days after the shooting, he said he was struggling to write about the experience. How do you approach something Bang! can't quite capture?
Have a story? Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes they will play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes they may be part of the news. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, contact editor Mike Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2924.