Clifford Ryans, who for the last seven years has made a name for himself by intervening in violence in Syracuse, lost everything he owns in a Monday night house fire. 

Scattered glass crunched underneath Ryans’ Nike Air Maxes as he walked around the back of the house he lives in at 133 Bradford St. He pointed to a window.

“The fire started in the kitchen,” he said. 

A strip of siding dangled off the house. The mirror of a GMC Yukon parked next to the house had melted.It appeared frozen mid-drip. The fire also melted a green rectangular trash bin.  In some places, the siding had burned and blackened or disappeared altogether. Where the wood was bare, it had bubbled from the fire’s heat.

Inside, the fire turned to ashes four or five original photos of Ryans’ son Duriel, the reason many know Ryans as the “OG Against Violence.” Duriel was killed in 1999, devastating Ryans and setting him on a path to try to stop the violence that took his son. The family is often also referred to by the last name “Ryan.”

The fire on Halloween night at Ryans’ house took nearly all of this clothing  – other than a tuxedo jacket he once wore on New Year’s, a handmade jacket with “Make peace not war” stitched on the back, and the clothes he’s been wearing, an all black All Money Spends sweatsuit. 

“This right here, it’s pretty devastating,” Ryans said. “It’s pretty traumatizing.” 

The fire put Ryans in a familiar place: sifting through devastation to find hope.

When Duriel died, Ryans found a way to advocate against community violence. When IBM in Endicott laid Ryans off, he came back to Syracuse and made OG’s Against Violence a nonprofit. For the last seven years, Ryans has been the hope, trying to separate teens from violence and families from grief. 

On Wednesday, he took stock of what he could salvage. He’d set aside bins for what he could save. At least some of his sneaker collection survived. Some of his OG’s Against Violence signs made it, too, including one he’s been carrying since at least 2017. 

He pulled out a waterlogged copy of a recently released OG’s Against Violence coloring book. All the copies had burned, except this one. He plopped the soggy pages on the trunk of a car parked in front of the house flipping through them. 

After all those years lifting up others, the community is returning the favor. 

A GoFundMe has raised nearly $18,000 for Ryans. 

“I went broke doing this work. When you first saw me out there, I had no money. I exhausted all my resources, all my life savings. I gave up my life savings to do this work,” Ryans said. “Now with that GoFundMe, that’s going to help out.” 

Ryans shared how he learned of the fire: He had shut his phone off and went to sleep at a friend’s house Monday after a long day at work. At 8 a.m. the next day, he woke up to a text saying his house was on fire. He ordered a $13 Uber to the house and hoped for the best. 

Ryans saw the blackened walls as soon as he opened the door, and headed straight for his room — next to the kitchen — hoping to find the photos of Duriel. By the time he got to his room, he knew they were gone. 

The fire had started when his 15-year-old granddaughter had been cooking chicken in a fryer before she left to trick-or-treat with friends, Ryans said. She forgot to turn the fryer off, he said. 

On Wednesday, Ryans picked through everything he could salvage. A stack of OG’s Against Violence signs propped against a wall. OG’s Against Violence bags filled one whole bin. 

He held the leather jacket in front of him on a hanger, recalling how he’d paid $250 for it. Ryans brought the jacket to his face to sniff it for smoke.

Ryans plan to return to work tomorrow at the Magnarelli Community Center on the North Side. He took a full-time job as a recreation leader there in 2021 as he struggled to get funding for OG’s Against Violence. He helps out seniors during the day and works with 40 to 50 kids from 3 p.m. through 8 p.m. each night. 

While he took a couple days off, and was offered to take as much time as he needs, he wants to get back. 

“I got my crying out, man. I got that out of the way as soon as I got here and I seen what it was,” Ryans said. “I said, ‘What are you going to do: Are you going to throw in the towel or are you going to pick up the pieces and push forward?’”

Chris Libonati

Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or libonati@centralcurrent.org.