SAN LORENZO — Hey kids, know what's not cool? Getting shot.
Ask Arthur Renowitzky, he knows. The 21-year-old paraplegic told a rapt group of teens at a Boys & Girls Club in East Oakland on Tuesday that despite what some hip-hop heroes may say, there is nothing glamorous about gun violence.
"It took just one to put me here," Renowitzky said from his wheelchair. "One shot, one bullet and I'm paralyzed. A lot of people see Tupac and 50 Cent, and hear raps about how it's cool to be shot — it's not. It won't get you more girls. ... I'm lucky just to be alive."
It all went down Dec. 2, 2007. That Saturday night had turned into a wet Sunday morning, and Renowitzky was leaving a San Francisco night club in a good mood, with a "couple of numbers" from women he had met.
Turning a corner into the dark alley where he had parked, he heard a loud voice: "Give me your wallet and chain, or I will kill you."
He saw a flash, heard a bang. Felt the pain and the panic — I've been shot!
"I would have just given him my fake chain and the less than $20 in my wallet, but I never had a chance," Renowitzky said.
Then the ambulance, the doctors, the pleas.
"I kept saying, 'Please don't let me die!'" he said. "The doctors told me I wasn't going to, but I later found out I lost almost six liters of blood — that's close to dying."
His mother arrived. She gave him a kiss on the forehead, and then Arthur's lights went out.
"All that night I didn't know if he would make it or not," said Michelle Renowitzky, of San Lorenzo. "(My other son) said, 'He's going to be fine,' but the doctors didn't say that. They just said I'd better get down there. They don't say that when everything's fine."
A .45-caliber bullet had pierced both of Arthur's lungs and his diaphragm, and it lodged in his liver, where it remains today. Along the way, it shattered his spinal cord.
The next day, just before he was put into a medically induced coma, Arthur briefly opened his eyes and looked at his mother.
"My heart dropped — it was like he was born again," Michelle Renowitzky said. "His eyes were alive and alert. ... Then they put him into a coma."
The start of a plan
Arthur was always an optimistic child, his mother said: "He's always had the type of personality to make the best out of any situation."
Still, she worried about how he would react. It was two days before Christmas when he came out of the coma, and doctors were poised to give him some bad news.
"It was really surreal," Arthur Renowitzky said. "My whole family was there, and the doctor told me, 'Arthur, you were shot and you might never walk again.' He said I was paralyzed from the chest down and I might never talk again — I nearly lost my voice box.
"I was in disbelief, but at the same time I was thankful to be alive. I had a tube in my throat and IVs hanging out of me, but I was thankful."
During his 40 days of rehabilitation at the hospital, Arthur decided that things happen for a reason. Not deeply religious but Christian, Arthur believes that God has a plan for him.
And he believes that plan involves teaching youths about the damage a gun can do, and thus began the Hayward-based nonprofit Life Goes On Foundation.
"I didn't want the same thing to happen to another happy, innocent kid like me," Renowitzky said. "I didn't think things can happen just like that. I'd see them in street, you know, the guy in a wheelchair, but you never know that it can happen to you just like that."
He said he wants to change a mindset that glorifies the gun, making it seem like little more than a toy or status symbol.
"It's so easy to pick up a gun these days, and people think it's OK," he said. "They don't know the effects of gun violence. ... If they could live one day in my position and see what it's like, I think they'd change their mind."
Life Goes On
Renowitzky travels to schools, youth clubs and even Alameda County Juvenile Hall. He talks about what happened to him and fields questions.
No questions are rejected, and there is no such thing as too much information.
"They want to know about how I use the bathroom — it's not like any way you know it, or I used to know it," he said. "I had to relearn everything; it was like being a baby. Peeing on myself, not being able to dress myself. ... And they ask about my personal life, they want to know how I have relationships with women."
Reactions are strong, and applause is loud. He got a standing ovation at Juvenile Hall.
"The director said she'd never seen tears of appreciation before," Renowitzky said. "It almost brought tears to my eyes, too. I like to think it's possible that I stopped a couple of murders — that makes me feel good at night."
It was not always like that. Shortly after returning home from the hospital, Arthur suffered from a crippling depression, blocking his windows with tin foil, spending his time sleeping or crying.
"I was telling everyone to screw off," he said. "I was having some suicidal thoughts."
His family told him he had better snap out of it. They took him to the San Leandro Marina to cruise on a hand-powered tricycle.
That was an eye-opener: Life really does go on.
He got active in sports — the former Castro Valley High School athlete is now in a semipro wheelchair basketball league. And Renowitzky took a lifetime love of hip-hop music to a new level, producing his own tracks in a studio at his San Lorenzo home.
A video for his song "Don't Take My Shine" — about the shooting and its aftermath — was recently filmed in Oakland, and he performed the number at an April benefit concert for the foundation. Another concert is on tap for later this month, and Renowitzky takes great pride in combining the music with what he says is his real mission: Life Goes On.
"I always knew music would be a big part of my life," he said. "But before I was shot, I didn't have a story to tell. I was just a kid, talking about daily life — a lot of it was about girls, stuff like that. Kid stuff.
"Now I have a message."
Reach Eric Kurhi at 510-293-2473.
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