Let me give you an example. Growing up, David, as I was told, he was good for nothing. As a teenager, he became heavily involved in gangs. How did he get out and stay out?
First things first, we helped David realize that the sense of self-esteem that a gang provides you, is false. That you have to love yourself first; nobody else can do that for you. In talking groups, David and teens with similar experiences discussed how their negative actions have impacted their families, their communities and each other.
David began taking responsibility for his actions. We helped them re-enroll into high schools as they focused on their journey to graduation and then we built the social effort — community and activity. We went fishing and camping to ball parks and family fun centers.
We understand that strong families are key to violence prevention, so we invited David’s parents to our group sessions and activities. These interactions build the mutual understanding across generations.
Finally, we helped David realize the power in his own voice to make that difference again. He learned to organize youth groups and then lead the stories of justice conversations with people that have been impacted by gang violence.
David had since graduated from high school, he works as an electrician, he’s attending college and he’s a frequent guest speaker and role model for youth in our groups. These dramatic changes in David’s life were only possible because, we surrounded him with the welcoming community that was fully invested in this success.
In this way we have helped hundreds of kids get out of gangs and stay out of gangs. But we’re only one organization. As a society, we can all do better.
When we isolate people, alienate them and punish them for past mistakes, we’re just continuing the cycle and we want people to leave gangs and re-enter society, then that means we have to let them re-enter society.
And that means attending school, living down the street and having a job, would you be willing to hire a person with a criminal history? What about if that person has an MS-13 tattoo on his face?
People just want to belong, to be a part of something. We are the ones that can help them find it.