WELCOME TO AKIL'S WORLD
As an 8-year-old in South Central Los Angeles, Akil Muhammad found himself caught up in the gang lifestyle. So, how did he manage to walk away from that life? What led him to dedicate himself to protecting his community as a fugitive-recovery agent? And how has he attracted the support and friendship of the actor Wood Harris, hip-hop artist Ty Dolla $ign, and acclaimed animator Carl Jones?
All good superheroes have an origin story, and Akil is no different.
Akil says that while his childhood was challenging at times, it made him the man he is today. "It was an experience I would never take back," he says. "Along the way I had some great people who reached out to me, like my football coach."
Akil's coach often picked him up on weekends to get him away from the influence of neighborhood gangs. "I remember he told me one day—and this is what changed my life, period—he said, 'If you don't stop, you will end up on Prairie between Florence and Manchester.' And I thought for the whole day, what is that place?" Without the benefit of a driver's license or the internet, it took Akil a little time to figure it out: "It's a cemetery."
His coach's warning was made all too real when Akil lost one of his friends to gang violence. The shock convinced Akil he needed to make his own way.
Akil accomplished this in part by becoming a star athlete at Crenshaw High School, which he credits for starting him on the path to becoming a fugitive hunter. "Football was a vehicle that kept me out of trouble," he says. "It was the catalyst for obtaining my criminal-justice degree through a football scholarship and taught me many of the physical and mental skills I use in fugitive hunting [or what's more commonly called bounty hunting] today. Studying criminal justice sparked a desire to be an asset to my community rather than a statistic."
After his friend's death, Akil vowed to do everything in his power to protect his neighborhood. Now, Akil is one of the most successful bounty hunters in California. But what, exactly, does that job entail?
"I own two companies which are totally separate," explains Akil. One is a fugitive-recovery agency, which the show is based around; the other is a bail-bond company.
"As a fugitive-recovery agent I am contracted by bail bondsmen across the country to hunt fugitives with open criminal cases who have failed to appear in court,” says Akil. "Due to my track record in the fugitive-recovery world as someone who knows the streets and won't stop until the job is done, I am usually sought after to pursue the more high-risk criminals."
Through his bail-bonds company, which isn't featured on the show, he helps individuals get released from jail on bond while they have ongoing criminal cases. "Bail is one of the most important constitutional rights under the 8th amendment," he says. "Unfortunately, along with that right comes a few nefarious individuals who fail to appear in court. When this happens, I have to go get them too."
Akil isn't alone in his quest to keep his community safe. He has assembled a team of professionals.
"Suni was practically raised in the bail industry," Akil explains. "His father was a bail bondsman in the '80s and his brother is one of the most successful bail bondsmen today. Eight years ago, Suni approached me about working in fugitive recovery. With his extensive background, I relished the opportunity to have his expertise on my team. He has been with me ever since."
"Ryan is smart and also Suni's best friend," says Akil. "Ryan has a degree in engineering and has worked in Afghanistan as an independent contractor. His education and athleticism make him an integral part of our strategy team."
"Justin is a street hustler. He knows the ins and outs of L.A. and is a master of social media," Akil says. "He started out as an intern, but has evolved into a recovery agent whom we rely on for digital profiling and public-information farming."
Wood Harris has been friends with Akil for over a decade. Serving as co-creator, executive producer and narrator for the show, Wood feels strongly about the story they have to tell. So, where did the idea to create a show come from?
"Wood has actually been to jails with me," Akil explains. "We've been hanging out and I get a call and I have to go to a jail, so he's seen me actually work firsthand. It was just a natural evolution when it came to thinking about getting a show going."
Wood feels it's important for young people to have a role model they can relate to. "That should be inspiring to people who are challenged, the way we were as young men," he says. "Many young men and women may find some inspiration in it. 'Oh, he's from where I'm from? And he's on television? These stories [may] prevent me from going down a certain path?' And if it doesn't prevent [them] then at least it's there as a guide. You can't say you weren't told—and demonstrated—by somebody who had walked in the same shoes."
Grammy-nominated superstar Ty Dolla $ign is another old friend of Akil's. The two grew up in the same neighborhood together, and both found their own way to rise above the violence around them. In addition to being an executive producer on the show, Ty contributes the show's opening track: "Redemption Song."
"[Jingle Jared] came with the title for the hook, and I thought it was dope," Ty says—even though he admits he was a little uncertain about the name at first. "Bob Marley has a 'Redemption Song,' so it's kind of like, do you really want to go against that? But it's not going against that. This is for this, and that is for that!"
Ty isn't just participating in the show because he's a friend, he's also a fan.
"Akil is a real-life superhero because coming up in L.A. in South Central, we don't call the police," he explains. "Instead of waiting for somebody else to come fix the problem he's gonna hop out there on the front line and fix it himself."
Animation director Carl Jones brings the full weight of his experience as executive producer and head writer of Black Dynamite: The Animated Series and co-executive producer of The Boondocks to the creation of the animated vignettes that punctuate each episode of Akil the Fugitive Hunter. Carl was drawn to the idea of a superhero who protects his own community, and his previous work prepared him well for this new challenge.
"The work that I've done in the past has been, I guess, 'controversial' or 'racially charged,' and I do think that this falls in a very similar universe in that it's really just a very honest show," Carl explains. "I think the point of view is very similar in that we try to find ways to tell stories that are very honest to what's actually happening right now—especially in our communities—because there's really a lack of voice when it comes to learning about what's happening in our community, good or bad."
He likes that "the gloves are off" in this show and viewers get to see what's really happening in the streets through the lens of someone who is actually from the streets: "[It] resonates with people the same way it would with Black Dynamite or Boondocks because it has that same type of honesty, and that same type of rawness, and that same type of edginess."
Akil often says that "decisions are the only thing that separates people" because he knows that, if not for the choices he made when he was young, he could easily have become just like the fugitives he hunts. "I know I could be those people," he says, "and I don't take for granted that I'm not those people. I'm basically a decision away from being them, and they could be a decision away from being the person they want to be."
Akil also has a special message for young people struggling to find their way in communities like the one he grew up in:
"Dream and follow whatever it is you want to accomplish. Be persistent. Being a human being is an incredible thing."