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Though by 1992 he was not active in the daily gang violence surrounding him, Scott claims he and his friends were instigators of the riots that began at Florence and Normandie following the Rodney King verdict. “There were homies who said, ‘Let’s get some signs and have a peaceful protest,’” Scott says. “I’m not gonna lie to you, I said, ‘Let’s rip shit up, let’s show the powers that be how we feel.’”
When police withdrew and the media swooped in, Scott stepped into the limelight. His articulateness landed him numerous appearances on Nightline. Soon, other shows came calling. “I was in New York doing Donahue, and they rolled footage of my homies being arrested by [former Los Angeles Police Chief] Daryl Gates,” Scott says. “Phil Donahue was like, ‘You know these people?’” He also began lecturing in colleges and juvenile detention facilities around the country, and sitting in on call-in radio shows to counsel at-risk youth.
In the wake of the riots, while already a media darling, Scott helped negotiate a historic gang truce, which further elevated his profile as a leader and community spokesman. In 1992, Tupac Shakur’s manager saw him on Nightline and invited him to Atlanta to work with the Malcolm X Center for Self-Determination, which led to a stint on Shakur’s payroll when the rapper went on tour.
“I think Tupac’s manager wanted to pull him out of that gangster shit, and he knew ’Pac looked up to me,” Scott says. “Whenever he was in L.A., he would call me and we’d hang. There always seemed to be famous people around.”
While his brother Kody, who changed his name to Sanyika Shakur in prison while authoring the best-selling 1993 book Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member, succumbed to drug addiction and recidivism, Scott majored in history at California State University, Long Beach, worked on a memoir and concentrated on being a father. An ace student and prodigious reader, he has a photographic memory of places, dates and historical events.
“I never met ‘Li’l Monster,’” his wife, Vanessa, who started seeing her future husband in 1993, likes to say. “That person was gone by the time I met Kershaun.”
Not that Vanessa Scott, 29, had been sheltered. Her mother died when Vanessa was a newborn, after suffering a brain injury at the hands of her drug-addicted father. She was raised in foster homes, including Los Angeles’ hellish McLaren Hall, which closed last year. Vanessa had her first son, Shelton, when she was 16, and her second, Vanse, a year later. A single mother with little to fall back on except a general-equivalence degree, she worked as a telemarketer while earning her associate’s degree and became a cardiac technician.
By the time she met Scott, he had a second son, Karon, from a former relationship. Vanessa and Scott dated on and off for a couple years before having a daughter, Kathryn, in 1995. Scott helped raise Vanessa’s kids from an early age, while he paid child support to the mother of Kershaun II and Karon, at times caring for them himself.
“It’s the manly thing to do,” says Scott, whose children ask permission before watching TV and do their homework right after school. “They always see me with a book in my hand,” he says. Scott also encourages his sons to be unafraid of emotion. “I let my kids see me cry,” he says. “When my son says, ‘Dad, why are you crying?’ I tell him, ‘Because that’s the way I feel right now, son.’”
“Our kids are not your typical raised-in-Los Angeles kids,” Vanessa says with pride.
By 1996, however, the couple was experiencing marital problems due to Scott’s touring schedule and the pressures of raising children in a community in decay. In an effort to escape, and stay together, they dropped everything and moved to Ridgecrest. “I didn’t tell my agent where I went, I didn’t tell any of my friends, I didn’t even tell my own mother,” Scott says.
But the couple’s personal baggage went with them, including Scott’s criminal record, anger-management issues and the struggle to stay close with his sons, who remained in Los Angeles with their mother. He still has concerns for them. “I worry my 14-year-old is going to follow in my footsteps, like I did my brother’s,” he says.
Yet Ridgecrest became home. Newly married, Vanessa worked in a coffee shop and Scott at Blimpie’s and then Del Taco while pecking away at his memoir. On weekends he coached Little League and mingled with other parents, some of them Ridgecrest police officers. “We were like baseball dad and baseball mom,” Vanessa says.
While some Little League parents knew of his past, Scott says they accepted him. In 1998, the couple had another daughter, Kaprise, who barely survived a difficult birth. With a house full of kids and scant resources available to them, the couple had been on cash aid and food stamps since 1996. Scott kept working and failed to report his income.
Reporting it seemed unnecessary. “The cash aid was for the kids [in Ridgecrest], and my paycheck went to my kids in Los Angeles,” he says. “It was always zero when I got it.”