Girl vs. Gang: My Lifelong Fight Against Gang Culture Takes Flame With the GLS
I grew up around violence.
The funny thing about gang culture is that it absorbs you without your knowledge. It is like a dark cloud slowly squeezing out the light. You are living in total darkness, but you have no idea because you don’t know what the light looks like. You grow up with a skewed view of power and human interaction to the point where you don’t understand any other way to live.
The neighborhood might be going downhill, but it sure was not going to take me with it.
This is how I spent most of my adolescence. I grew up in a place where the person with the biggest weapon won. Safety was never guaranteed and often my friends and I found ourselves bullied and bruised.
I found Jesus at an early age and He immediately started to grow a restless longing in my heart to improve my surroundings. Something about the environment I was in was not right—and I was prompted to do something about it.
This was not the culture I was going to be stuck in.
At the age of seven, I decided that this was not a culture I was going to be stuck in. The neighborhood might be going downhill, but it sure was not going to take me with it. I was tired of the violence, the guns and the fights. It was time to take the neighborhood back.
With that irrevocable passion inside me, I built my own gang. But not an ordinary gang. We fought to protect those who were innocently swept into gang life. We started staking out drug houses and mapping drug delivery routes. While most little girls were playing with tea sets and dolls, I was camped in a bush outside a drug den, taking pictures of cocaine hand-offs with my disposable Kodak camera. Slowly but surely, we sniffed out the major ‘establishments’ in our town and turned the information over to the police.
Our plan to take back our neighborhood was a success, or so I thought.
I learned that the absence of drugs does not diminish the need for gangs; the root of gang presence goes much deeper than profitability. As children, my peers had such a desire to leave the life we found ourselves surrounded by that we worked tirelessly to try and remove gangs from our streets. As teenagers, however, I watched my friends, slowly but surely, dive into the sort of life they once resented.
What would the world look like if everyone felt like they were valuable, they belonged and they had a purpose?
We grew up in broken homes and in the absence of love, gangs provided a sense of belonging. There was no example of family in the home. There was no one to lead us into better choices. So those human desires for affection and acceptance were met though gang initiation.
Teenagers who were ignored by their parents suddenly encountered a group of people who found them to be valuable. My friends found purpose and connection through gang life; the dark cloud slowly enveloped them. And once you’re in, it is hard to get out.
This is where my passion for reaching those in prison was born.
So often we characterize inmates as bad people who make bad choices. But what if they weren’t inherently bad; they were just never taught to be good?
In the story I just told you, how different would the ending have been if there were strong leaders in the home and the community? A crime isn’t always just an illegal action. Sometimes there is a story of pain and injustice at the root of someone’s decision.
What if they heard they were important?
I believe in The Global Leadership Summit’s ability to reach into prisons to spread purpose and change. The number one comment I hear from prisoners after attending the Summit is the phrase: “I didn’t know my life mattered.” What if 20 years earlier, that same person had heard the words, “you’re important”? How different would their life be now? What would the world look like if everyone felt like they were valuable, they belonged and they had a purpose?
The GLS in prisons gives us the opportunity to radically change gang culture.
Broadcasting the Summit into prisons gives us the opportunity to tell people they matter…
We can provide teaching that shows these future leaders how to use their gifts and skill sets in a way that is productive for themselves and society. It is a fact that 95% of inmates are released after serving their time. When they leave, they often go back into neighborhoods similar to the one I grew up in. They can then take this new-found sense of value and bring it to a demographic that desperately needs hope.
Broadcasting the Summit into prisons gives us the opportunity to tell people they matter when it might be something they’ve never heard before. Think of the difference it would make if leadership training could turn around a cultural normal that has been thriving, and unchallenged for years. Hundreds of leaders could rise out of that all-consuming, black cloud and the generational habit of gang involvement could be broken.