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Born and raised on the tough streets of Detroit, Johnnie Curry (Lil’ man) and his twin brother Leo (Big man) rose to the heights of the drug game during the late ’70s and ’80s. By all accounts, Johnnie was the more reserved and cerebral of the twins, while Leo was a flashy extrovert.

One of eleven siblings born to Samuel Mack and Fannie Ruth Curry, southerners who had migrated from Birmingham, Alabama in the '50s, Johnnie was a fearless, natural-born leader in a close-knit family on the Eastside of the Motor City. His father was a factory worker who worked for Sears & Roebuck in the mornings and General Motors in the evening for thirty years. His mother was a churchgoing, stay-at-home mom, to whom Johnnie was especially close. A large lawsuit settlement awarded to Fannie Ruth allowed the family to buy a farm in Port Huron, Michigan where the children learned the value of hard work and offered an escape from the mean streets of Detroit.


Soon those streets would be calling the young Curry brothers and the same principles that strengthened a close-knit farm family could be used to make ties with impressionable youth with little or no family structure. As teenagers, the Curry Brothers developed one of the most notorious gangs Detroit had ever seen---the BK’s (Black Killers) with more than 500 members at its height. The gang was so notorious that an incident between them and a rival gang at a rock concert at Detroit’s Cobo Hall made it all the way to The New York Times on August 18, 1976. 

But the constant harassment and arrests by the Detroit Police STRESS Anti-Gang Unit forced young Johnnie to consider a new career path. The death of his mother, who suffered a brain aneurysm as Johnnie was entering high school, set his life on a new trajectory. After his mom’s passing, a lot of things didn’t matter anymore, like school, so he dropped out, and soon after, was kicked out of the family home by his father. Living in an abandoned house with the clothes on his back and a coat he found in the yard, Johnnie begin selling Faygo pop in the street until he raised enough money to approach his older brother Charles and begin selling marijuana in the late 1970s. Charles had been running a successful marijuana business for years with product being supplied by Detroit Rock legend Bob Seger. After the Curry brothers become high-volume dealers, they moved on to heroin, cocaine, and eventually crack in the 1980s.

….. to see what happens next you have to wait for the movie.

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