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Positive self-image and strong mentors can help teens from falling behind. They are especially crucial for youth at risk of joining gangs. We’ll talk about methods for building trust, life skills, and ways young people can combat negative stereotypes.
- Tyrone Parker Executive Director, Alliance of Concerned Men
- Diego Uriburu Deputy Executive Director, Identity
- Ron Moten Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer, Peaceoholics
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world.
MR. KOJO NNAMDILater in the broadcast, what happens when people have to go to the morgue to identify a close relative or friend and how they deal with the shock and the grief. But first, youth who join gangs in this area tend to be male, they tend to be black or brown, they tend to be juveniles. While those factors put some communities at greater risk for gang activity, there are groups working to prevent youth from joining gangs or as they're often called in D.C., crews.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThey also work to turn around the self-image of at risk youth, so how can communities reach youth at risk for joining gangs? And how do you turn around people who are already involved in gangs. Here to talk about these issues is Tyrone Parker. He is the executive director of the Alliance of Concerned Men, which does conflict resolution and intervention work with at-risk youth. Tyrone Parker, good to see you again.
MR. TYRONE PARKERGood to see you as well, Kojo. Thanks,
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio Diego Uriburu. He us is the deputy executive director of Identity, an organization which serves Latino youth and their families in Montgomery and in Prince George's County. Diego Uriburu, thank you for joining us.
MR. DIEGO URIBURUThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIIt's a conversation you can join by calling 800-433-8850. Tyrone, what is it that attracts young people to gangs or to crews in the first place?
PARKERYou know, to a large degree, Kojo, it becomes the aspect of family, having someone to demonstrate, I care about you. Showing that, you know, there's an element of concern, and to that point, a number of our kids up there feel like they have been rejected. You know, there is no commitment to them and they're not able to feel a sense of family, a sense of love, a sense of purpose. So, you know, that's when we come to find out the common denominator is being able to demonstrate to these kids that you do have the element of concern and commitment for them.
NNAMDIIs that because they sometimes do not get it in their biological families, they seek to get it in the family that's their crew or the gang?
PARKERYou know, you're absolutely correct in the sense that they find it on the streets where they didn't find it at home. And to a large degree, Kojo, our kids have been let down. This is one of the first times that ever, you know, where you can recall when all the institutions failed at the same time, where you have family that failed, you have a government that failed, you had a community that failed, you have church that failed, all falling at the same time giving these kids nothing to be able to hold on to. And nothing to actually to be able to believe in. Or nothing to demonstrate love and concern to them.
NNAMDIWhat are the characteristics among Latino youth who get involved with gangs, Diego Uriburu?
URIBURUI would say that they are the same that Tyrone just mentioned. The difference might be that you have youth that who are recently arrived to this country and youth who are in here -- who have been here for 10 or more years and youth are born the United States. And although they share similar risk factors, those risk factors show in different ways.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join this conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Did you belong to a gang or a crew as a teenager and how did that work out for you or how did you turn yourself around? Or maybe you know a young person and are concerned that that person is falling in with the wrong crowd. Call us, 800-433-8850 or send us an email to email@example.com. Both of your organizations do gang prevention as well as intervention. Can you talk about the difference between the two and how do youth respond differently? Starting with you, Diego.
URIBURUWell, we see prevention as youth who have yet to get involved in risky behaviors or yet to be involved in gangs or crews. They have risk factors that could lead to them getting involved in gangs. For example, they may have a brother, they may have a cousin, they may have friends who are involved in gangs. They might be doing very poorly at school. They might have no support from family and from friends or from the community. Those are the youth who are in need of prevention services.
URIBURUThose who are in need for intervention services are youth who are already involved in gangs, who have already part of the juvenile justice system, who have committed crimes. And so, I would call those interventions and obviously we have different ways of addressing the needs of those who needs prevention services versus those who need intervention services.
NNAMDITalk about prevention services for a second, because what you are describing are young people who would be considered, quote, unquote, "at risk." How do you deal -- what prevention services do you offer?
URIBURUPrevention services, mostly, the way we address them is by engaging them in positive relationships with adults, providing with life skills training, trying to engage them to the systems that they are still involved with. For example, the school system. That's a great indicator of youth who are in prevention versus who are in need of intervention services. If we can get them involved or engaged with the school system, then the chances of them finishing high school are much higher, and the risk of them getting involved in gangs or crews are much lower. That's one of the ways in which we do it. So we work very closely with the school system for that.
NNAMDITyrone, talk about the services that the Alliance of Concerned Men offers.
PARKERThe services that we offer are really hands-on services, to be able to primarily begin to rebuild the kids and the families and the communities that we are primarily working with. We have life skills. We have leadership training. We have job readiness, substance abuse, underage drinking program to be able to meet their particular needs. But one of the greatest keys that we feel is so important, Kojo, is to be able to show these kids that we legitimately care to prevent them from actually walking into the transitions or the many challenges that they are confronted with.
PARKERPrevention is important, intervention is important, but mediation is also important to test them in between that particular area where we can begin to work them backwards from being involved with this challenges that they are confronted with.
NNAMDIHow does mediation work on the ground? How do you know when there's something going on and when there is a need to intervene?
PARKERWell, Kojo, that's pretty simple in the sense that the community itself understands when it's under house arrest. The community itself understands where there's a certain spirit that is allowing for it to become a community. This is when you have real organizations that are really on the front line able to begin the work, the foundation of circumventing the potential, a real balance to the point that is just come into the point that the community is not functioning. This is where we think that mediation is the real key to circumvent something from becoming worse than it ordinarily would.
NNAMDIDiego, you mentioned the subgroups of at-risk Latino youth, recent immigrants, acculturated immigrants who have old country values and those who grew up here and may identify with gangs just traditionally associated with other groups already here, like African-Americans. Do you have to have different strategies dealing with each of those groups?
URIBURUYes, you do. For example, the youth who are recent immigrant associate more with gangs, such MS 13, 18th Street, Vatos Locos, those are gangs predominantly from Latin America that are rooted in the United States. Their values are very different. The value systems are the value systems of their home countries. The language obviously is different. We speak with them in Spanish.
URIBURUAnd usually, those youth in that particular segment of the gang population that come to our centers, gang intervention centers wants to get out of the gangs. They want out. They want a better future for themselves. That's a big difference. Those who are born here in the United States can associate more with basically African-American gangs. They have -- they reject the values of the families.
URIBURUThey reject the values of their culture of origin and they have adopted the value, the street values. And for many of them, there's no sense of future. They do not dream about the future. They live the present and they are very, very -- they have lost hope about a positive for themselves. So the strategies need to be different for them, particularly the way in which we engage with them.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones now. We will start with Matt in Washington, D.C. Matt, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MATTYeah. I just wanted to make a comment, you know, we're talking about gangs and you guys were discussing gangs. But it's not gangs that are an issue, I feel. You know, I live downtown Washington, D.C., but it's the criminal activity that they conduct. I mean, you know, so just little petty crimes such as tagging and spray-painting on fences, which are just annoyance crimes to, you know, going down to Chinatown Metro and being intimidated or, you know, having gang fight break out at Metro stops.
MATTI don't, you know, gang is just the Boy Scouts of America without a national leadership program. So, I'd really like to address the criminal activity of it not just the organization of it.
NNAMDIYou know, Tyrone Parker, he makes at least one good point. As you said earlier, they're looking for a kind of family. They're looking for people they can hang with. And that family begins to indulge in criminal activity, that's where you come in.
PARKERAbsolutely. As the gentleman mentioned of, a number of times their behavior become to the point that is not acceptable. When they're out in public and they begin to curse and disrespect each other and, as he say, tag different situations, this is one of the things that we do. We begin to work with these kids and we go through life skills, their behavior, their integrity in certain respects. A number of these kids do not know how to act.
PARKERA number of these kids have not with have not been worked with. A number of these kids have not been given the support systems that they need to be given in order for their behavior to become acceptable. This is when we begin to really, really, really care about them, where there's no period, there's always a comma. Always understanding the circumstances of what they did not get at their house or what they did not get in their home or what their community has not offered.
PARKERThis is why it's so very important that each individual that have the opportunity to reach out to these particular kids and begin to reach out and build a bond to help to circumvent that type of behavior. You'd be surprised on what an individual could accomplish by reaching out to an individual.
NNAMDIPlease go ahead, Diego.
URIBURUIf I may. I agree with Tyrone 100 percent. The reason why the youth join gangs is in order to seek that sense of family. They don't join the gangs in order to commit crimes. But once they're inside the gang, sometimes they're coerced by others in order to commit those crimes. So, we need to distinguish between the reasons why they join and then the acts that they commit. And that's the way in which we intervene, by focusing on individual and what he really wants and why he got in and what he's not getting from that pseudo-family and what we can provide for them.
NNAMDIMatt, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Daniel in Germantown, Md. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELHey, Kojo. Just want to let you know I'm a big fan of your show, first off.
DANIELI grew up as a foster child since I was 10 years old. And from the time that I was 10 to the time that I was 15, I was bounced from home to home. So like you guys are saying, we didn't have that family structure. So I ended up joining up with a bunch of Skinheads that I found at my local high school here. And it wasn't until the family that I'm with now adopted me that (unintelligible) .
NNAMDIYou're breaking up on the phone, Daniel. But for those of you who can hear Daniel, he was saying, it wasn't until the family that adopted him now got involved. And Daniel, if you can still hear me and if we can still hear you, what was it that that family did for you that turned you around?
DANIELThey -- well, first off, my mom put me in therapy, and then my dad worked with me. You know, he taught me how to work on cars and how to work with wood and other tools so I had something to do with my time.
NNAMDII'm glad you pointed out, that he mentioned that because, Diego and Tyrone, I'd like to talk about what's the importance of work and opportunity? What Daniel is talking about is his father, his adopted father albeit helping him to gain a skill, to do something with his time that could become useful in the long run. By the way, Daniel, how did that work out for you?
DANIELOh, it worked out great. I mean, I'm working at this really nice car garage down in Reston right now.
NNAMDIThere you go.
DANIELAnd it's just -- it's amazing. I mean, I cannot believe some of the things that I used to do and some of the things that I used to think, now that I have a family.
NNAMDIWhat is the importance, Diego and Tyrone, of work and opportunity? The chance to imagine that actually live a life other than the one they know?
PARKERYou know what?
URIBURUThat's the most important thing that we can offer to them. I'm assuming that Tyrone and we use the same model. It's called the positive use development model. That basically sees youth as assets that need to be nourished and not a problem that need to be fixed. So you concentrate on the positive skills that they have and you engage them via those positive trades that they have. Be it work, engage them in work, engage them in doing positive things for their community.
URIBURUEngage them in mentoring others, either at that level...
PARKER...it was so surprising. Not even surprising. People are in need of the same needs regardless whoever they be, black, red, orange or green. To have individuals that will show a legitimacy of caring and concern. We went up into Bena Terrace, which was considered to be the most dangerous place in the District of Columbia, fifth most dangerous in the country, where, basically, these kids was on primary killing and destroying each other for little or no reason.
PARKERBut when we went there, we went there with the element of concern and caring. And we were able to create programs that primarily gave them a transformation and who they were. We gave them life skills, we gave them job readiness, they built their own communities up. They began to transition their own self, pertaining to having support systems in place. However, even while giving them the real basic necessities of transformation and being there with them for a period of time, you've got to continue maintenance.
PARKERYou cannot lead these kids with something and expect for their lives to make a total transition after five or six or seven years. You've got to stay there to work with them because if you do not stay there to work with them, they'd have no other support systems on the continuous basis. They will relapse.
NNAMDIYou know, Diego, image can have a strong impact on the way you're perceived. In some cases that includes tattoos, style of dress and unfortunately the color of one's skin. Do the young people you work with feel stereotyped? One of the reasons we're doing this was because we saw that the Montgomery County Police Gang Unit had been encouraging officers to use their imaginations when identifying members of gangs.
NNAMDIAnd what resulted in that is that a lot of kids got picked up because they simply had tattoos or because somebody thought that the signs they were throwing were gang signs. How do kids feel about that?
URIBURUOne of the main reasons why youth join gangs is because they -- the system has failed them as Tyrone mentioned. And we have not provided them with positive alternatives. Their ability to dream -- also because they perceive that society does not want them or like them. And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And it does happen a lot with police officers. There are great police officers that engage with youth and who are part of the solution.
URIBURUUnfortunately, they're others who are great contributors to youth becoming more and more isolated and falling prey to gangs. So the reality is, that many police officers identify youth incorrectly as gang members just by the way they dress and by the color of their skin or because they have a tattoo that has nothing to do with anything.
URIBURUIf -- but if you follow those guidelines, 50 percent of Montgomery County and D.C. should be classified -- or the youth should be classified as gang members. That has terrible consequences because what that leads to is lack of trust with police officers and with government authorities. And what we find out, through research, is that many of these youth feel that they're completely alone in making decisions.
URIBURUAnd sometimes they feel that they need to protect themselves because they don't trust those officers that ought to be there to protect them. And that's how violence gets started many times.
NNAMDILet's go to Shawn in Washington, D.C. Shawn, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SHAWNYeah, I've done a lot of work in Congress Park, Benning Park, Barry Farms and what these communities need most are coaches. And, you know, you walk -- drive around Bethesda, Potomac, Chevy Chase, you see fields littered with kids and leagues on the weekends. Well, there's none of that really going on on the weekends in these areas because there's no fathers, there's no volunteer coaches.
SHAWNAnd, I think, we need to grow coaching from within the inside higher to 18 to 25 year olds, to coach, pay them a stipend and really give these kids, you know, a chance to learn from someone who can direct and then really train these coaches. And, you know, we can even use on-duty cops to start coaching. But basically, a kid needs a coach in their life and until we figure that out, these neighborhoods are going to continue to unravel the way they are.
SHAWNI know, coaching -- and it doesn't have to be basketball or football, it can be all types of sports. It can be the arts. But it's got to be consistent and it's got to be run from within, not coming from without.
NNAMDITyrone Parker, what do you say to that?
PARKERI say, he's absolutely correct. And the contents of develop and the resources that are in these communities, they primarily have the ability to work with these kids to give them the sense of hope and spirit in which they can grab onto. You know, I think this is one of the failures that's recurrent in regards to having programs that have been successful and kin work. And after a period of time, you discontinue the program by not funding or you begin to look at budget issues.
PARKERAnd said that this is not a priority to be able to give the necessary resources to communities that are in need of what the young man primarily was saying. But at the end of the day, we have to have these -- we have to have programs and individuals in the communities that legitimately care enough to say that, I will be there. I will make a difference, and that these kids can see and demonstrate and be from around.
NNAMDIWhat kind of budget issues are you facing right now at Alliance of Concerned Men?
PARKERUnimaginable. We've been around for the last 20 years. And have primarily been successful in regards to youth and gang intervention. In regards to the budget, we have been almost completely wiped out. We are functioning on a skeleton staff. We primarily have almost from a staff of 35 individuals down to eight individuals. We're having to -- we're having to primarily maximize everything that we have.
PARKERThe shape that the Alliance is in, at this particular point, is unimaginable in the senses of the time, the commitment and the success that we have had, in regards to working with this population.
NNAMDIHow are these budget cuts affecting your organization, Diego?
URIBURUWe have had budget cuts at a local level and at a federal level. However, we praise Montgomery County for recognizing the need for prevention and intervention services. Montgomery County has put its money where its mouth is. And they have funded two centers for gang intervention. One in Langley Park, the other one in Gaithersburg. And we have -- we are running those centers together with organizations who have expertise working with (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIAnything in Prince George's County?
URIBURUAnd -- in Langley Park, we're working in the border between Montgomery and Prince George's County.
NNAMDITyrone, your group occasionally hosts guests from youth outreach organizations from other countries. What have you been learning about common problems and experiences?
PARKERBasically, this is a problem confronted worldwide to a large degree. Every year we entertain almost 20 to 30 different countries from around the world. And they primarily come with the same concerns, how do you breech this gap in regards to kids that's involved in gangs, kids that's involved in the corrections facility? And the primary solution is usually similar, to be able to reach out, show a legitimate aspect of concern and have the common to continue to work with these kids regardless of what the circumstances may be.
PARKERAnd this had proven to be the silver bullet to a large degree. But we've got to keep emphasis on this, Kojo. We have got to make our kids a priority in regards to the budgets. We cannot continue to take their budgets and the dollars and not place them and then ask for results. This is not going to occur.
NNAMDIDiego, what is the key to turning around someone who might see himself as already part of gang culture?
URIBURUThe key for every type of intervention, be it prevention intervention with recently youth who've joined or it's forging positive trust for relationships with youth. That's the start because these youth have been failed over and over again by sometimes their families, by society, by -- and by many. So forge trustful, positive relationships with them. And most importantly, and this goes to something that one of the callers mentioned, this issue of coaching.
URIBURUWork with individuals who truly care, who have passion, who believe in them and who dare to ask the question, what's going on in your life? And be ready to hear the answer because asking that question is like opening Pandora's box. All the calamities of the world come out. And most importantly, be able to follow through. As Tyrone mentioned, this is not a five, six months intervention, sometimes it takes five, six, seven years.
URIBURUAnd we are going to see the -- between those seven years that the kids are going to do tremendous gains and fall. And fall because, for many of them, they're scared to succeed because they're so used to living that environment, that it's tremendously scary for them to imagine a different life for themselves and for their families, sometimes.
NNAMDIDiego Uriburu is the deputy executive director of, Identity, which serves Latino youth and their families in Montgomery and in Prince George's Counties. Thank you very much for joining us, good luck to you.
URIBURUMy pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDITyrone Parker is the executive director of the, Alliance of Concerned Men, which does conflict resolution and intervention work with at-risk youth and has been doing that for the past two decades or so. Tyrone, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us, good luck to you.
PARKERThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe're going take a short break. Later in the broadcast, the grief counseling program at the morgue for people who have to go there to identify close friends and relatives. Next up, Ronald Moten, co-founder of Peaceoholics. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about gang intervention and prevention here in the District of Columbia. Joining us now by telephone is Ronald Moten. He is the co-founder of Peaceoholics, which does conflict resolution and other youth outreach here in the District of Columbia. Ron Moten, the reason I did not have you in the first segment, is that when we have conversations on these issues and they involve Ron Moten, a lot of people want to focus only on Ron Moten and Peaceoholics.
NNAMDIAnd neither you or I, I think, wanted that. So I wanted to talk to you separately about Peaceoholics. Thank you so much for joining us.
MR. RONALD MOTENThanks for having me, brother.
NNAMDIRon, what is going on with Peaceoholics at this time? In your history, you were -- during the administration of Mayor Adrian Fenty, you were more prominently involved in city supported gang youth intervention and prevention, what's going on now?
MOTENWell, first of all, right now I'm in Tuskegee, Ala. with Amelia Boynton Robinson. She's talked -- she's 100 years old. Everybody knows about her with Bloody Sunday and she's talking to 40 court adjudicated youth that we brought down on the civil rights tour, who've been lead by two rival gang members, one from Choppa City and one from Lench Mob, telling about their experiences on the tour.
MOTENAs far as the organization, we're never going to stop the work. And there's a, you know, misperception that Adrian Fenty made the Peaceoholics. But what most people didn't know, that Anthony Williams supported us. And we got more money under his tenure at one time than under Mayor Fenty's time. But, you know, with politics come into play, a lot of things change. But we still going to work, just like Tyrone, we have gone from a staff that was 70 down to, like, 8 or 9 people.
MOTENWe're trying to do this work citywide in which we went from 41 conflicts (word?) going on in the city in the last eight months to 71 with nobody (word?) the conflicts. You see that the youth violence is gone up in the city dramatically, 100 something percent robberies, 60 percent burglaries, or vice versa, it's one or the other. And we just going to keep on trying to work hard, you know.
MOTENBefore we got city funding, we worked for nine years without getting a dime, me and my partner, Jauhar Abraham. So because we not getting the cities funding, doesn't stop us from going to work. It just means we won't be able to touch as many people. In which we got a 161 former crew members in college, you know.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, I should mention that you and Tyrone Parker have known each other for a long time and you do get along. And in many you're in the same kind of business. Which brings me to this, exactly what does conflict resolution involve on the ground? How does Peaceoholics go about squashing a beef or a situation in which members from one crew or gang are confronting one another?
MOTENWell, not one situation is alike. But the key is going to the community and empowering their leaders. Like, when I leave Condon Terrace or Benning Terrace or Woodland Terrace, I don't hear the gunshots. So when I'm out there, we had to have people there that we build up to control the environment and make great decisions to inspire people not to the crazy things that we hear and see on the news every day.
MOTENSo what we did, we formed this thing called Street Commission. Where we train guys from around the city who were the gun shooters and the power that then gave them power and then we gave them sight and through that program, which we started in 2009 right after Obama's inauguration, and we committed to reducing the homicide with Mayor Fenty.
MOTENWe identify six neighborhoods that contribute to most of the homicides in the District of Columbia. And we -- not just us, community leaders and community organizations that deal with the families, the parents and everybody came together and we targeted those six areas and four of the six the murders went down dramatically and two of them, it stayed the same.
MOTENSo those are the type of things that you have to empower people and then, like Tyrone said, like where he was at the Benning, yeah, he did a great job but then he stopped giving support. So what's going on there? Those same fractions are beefing again in Benning Terrace. So what we do, is the only time we support these -- I don't use the word gang anymore, I use neighbors and neighborhoods with need.
MOTENThe only time we support them is when they make the news. Like, on U Street, 14th and W, somebody got shot in the ankle because where it was at, it was a big issue. But weeks before that, people got shot through the window in Southeast, nobody talked about it. So, I mean, this goes on every day in our community. And until we come together and make it a priority, it's just going to keep happening. But we just going to do the best we can do.
NNAMDIAnd you say it's gone up from 41 to 71 conflicts in the city, what is leading to the rise and how do groups such as Peaceoholics work in collaboration with the metropolitan police department?
MOTENWell, the problem is, a lot of people think that there is no collaboration, but because every time there's a press conference in the city and they talk about the numbers going down, they never acknowledge community groups who really stop the violent stuff. Like, when you talk about what the shootings that were going on in broad daylight, right now on 9th Street between (unintelligible), we went down there with community organizations and stopped the shooting for a whole year.
MOTENThere were no shootings. And then when the shootings come back, everybody called the police. And I blame that somewhat on the elected officials for not acknowledging the work that happened in the city. You know, there was a lot of work that happened. Not just the police. The police are there a lot of times when these shootings happen in broad daylight. So they are not the only (word?) they've done a great job.
MOTENI commend the police department that we have now, especially Chief (word?) who's always in the community under leadership with Cathy Lanier. But the police just can't do it. I mean, we put more black men in jail than people do in South Africa. And until we start looking at ways to empower them like we doing today, they would just (unintelligible) learning their history.
MOTENAnd now these young men and women are standing up strong because they know that they have humiliated themselves by disgracing their ancestors who died for them. I mean, they aren't here with a 100 year old woman who was up all night preparing for this. You see what I’m saying?
MOTENAnd these are the people who fought and walked with Martin Luther King. And I've chosen, when any of these D.C. public schools, they don't know they history. They don't know what's going on. So we out there to empower them. We out there, letting people know who's really doing the work in the community. I'm not going to talk about the Peaceoholics because there's a lot of people doing great work.
MOTENAnd there are a lot of people whose budgets have been chopped up along with summer jobs being cut, along with social services being cut, along with homeless services being cut, along with parents who 15 years old having babies and now we look 15 years later and we expect them to be great parents and great grandparents. There are a lot of social issues that are going on in our community and that has not been addressing.
MOTENFortunately, when we were doing this work to the magnitude we were doing it, we realized, just so we address it in different ways. And so have other people in the community doing the same thing.
NNAMDIWell, my concern was that Peaceoholics would be going away as a result of losses and city funding but clearly that's not going to happen. Ronald Moten, thank you so much for joining us.
MOTENAll right, thank you.
NNAMDIRonald Moten is the co-founder of Peaceoholics which does conflict resolution and other youth outreach here in the district. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will talk about grief counseling in the morgue. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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