Ennis began to dabble in philanthropy around 2006, after a long and public spat with Boston Mayor Tom Menino over the STOP SNITCHIN' line. At that time he founded the rap group and charity 4Peace with former rival Edo G, and, after one of his young store employees was murdered in a quadruple homicide at a Dorchester recording studio, Ennis had started working with local anti-violence hero Cindy Diggs on her "Start Peace" campaign. But City Life showed him a kind of activism that he'd never seen.
"My first time there I sat in the back and didn't say anything," says Ennis. "I had to learn more, so I went back the next week. The week after that they asked for volunteers, and I said that if I'm going to be in this fight, then I need to do more than just sit here in a chair. From that point I went out with them, and I saw a family get evicted, babies crying, and a grandmother have a heart attack right in the driveway. I'm not scared to say that tears ran down my eyes. It was some real shit, and it was the day when I knew that I had to really get involved."
In the six months since, Ennis has occupied US Senator Scott Brown's offices in Washington, and last September he manned the bullhorn for MassUniting's massive march on Bank of America's Federal Street offices. Now an outreach leader, earlier this week he led a protest against predatory lenders in downtown Boston. With more than 100 people in tow from groups including MassUniting and Occupy Boston — plus a visiting delegation from Occupy Wall Street — he stomped down Atlantic Avenue, guiding the horde in chants against Fannie Mae and JP Morgan Chase.
Like with his old rhyme routines, Ennis helped choreograph this past Monday's action. To symbolize the millions of mortgages that are "underwater" due to predatory lending, protesters wore snorkels, while some bounced around the streets in wetsuits. Ennis guided the call-and-response number, but instead of a nautical outfit, was decked in an all–Antonio Ansaldi ensemble from his fitted hat, to his camouflage cargo pants, to his all-black parka. Like his gold fronts and charisma with the crowd, Ennis's threads are reminders that while he may no longer sling drugs or gangsta raps, he's still a badass dapper street dude who takes shit from no one.
"Coming from the image that he came from, it was a little harder for Antonio to come out of his shell than most people," says Diggs. "With that said, I always knew that he had it in him to take his hardcore skill set and do something more valuable with it."
Adds Ennis: "At first I was worried about people driving by and seeing me. But after a few times leading the pack, I said, 'Fuck it — this is bigger than me.' I don't care if anybody finds it corny — right now this is what I feel like I was put here to do. These banks are some tough motherfuckers, and I know I have a voice that this movement needs."
Chris Faraone can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @fara1.