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June 27, 2013

Community gangs up on gang violence

By Gabriel Hart

Khalid Samad“Stephanie Tubb Jones is out here! Louis Stokes, Sojourner Truth, Dr. King, they’re all out here with us today! And they ain’t happy!” These words rang out loudly from Khalid Samad, a community activist who is the head of an organization called “Peace in the Hood,” as he addressed a crowd filled with people, families and victims of crime.

From all over the country some of Cleveland’s most prominent spiritual leaders, gang leaders and members from the most gang infested areas in the country gathered at Cleveland State University in an effort to discuss the problem of gang violence that is sweeping urban communities. Everyone from community members to White
House representatives gathered to discuss ways to reduce gang violence in inner city communities throughout the country.

The majority of the summit took place in Cleveland State’s main classroom. There were panels and breakout sessions held to discuss the issues of violence and how to control it.

Poster boards riddled with the faces of the youth who lost their lives to gang violence, coupled with newspaper clippings that told the stories of the way that they perished, sat atop tables. All of the youth were under the age of 24.

“Heartbreaking” is the way Crystal Washington a student, who came to see what kind of solution this event would present for the urban communities, described what she was seeing and hearing.

Samad spoke about the how the loss of religion and the absence of prayer has had a negative effect on urban communities. In his speech, he called on the men in the community to be the catalyst of change.

“If you’re not praying, you are not a man…If you’re not praying, you are not a man!” he passionately reiterated.”

“Fratricide” the word he coined to describe what is happening in the urban communities. Its’ definition—“when people kill people, black on black crime, our communities are becoming overwhelmed with it” said Samad.

The mother of Shakira Johnson was in attendance. Shakira was an 11-year-old girl who was reported missing in 2003 and was found weeks later decapitated in a field not far from her home. She cried from the moment she stepped on the stage until the moment she stepped off, all she could muster up the strength to say was “My daughter would be 24 now, keep em close… keep your kids close.”

In the midst of all the families and victims there were two previous
gang members from Los Angeles, California. Donna Graham was one of the first members of a gang called the Crips. Lamar Graham a member of the gang the Bloods.
Donna and Lamar fell in love. However, gangs have rules that no 2 separate gangs may interact with each other.

Donna and Lamar defied the rules and decided that their love for
each other was greater than any gang. 2 gang members who married each other despite the fact that one was a Blood and the other a Crip.

Forbidden to date, or interact with each other, they told the story of how love almost cost them their lives but how it very well may be what saved their lives at the same time. “If it wasn’t for her I would still be in a gang or dead” Lamar said. Donna nodded her head in agreement.

Lamar said that when these gangs were first created it wasn’t like it is today. “We made these gangs to protect the elderly people in our communities, we had bad guys coming through robbing old people and all sorts of stuff, and so we formulated these gangs in the hoods to stop that” Lamar explained.

The origin of gangs wasn’t to cause senseless violence, but it seems that’s what it has involved into. Both agree that getting out and meeting each other was the best thing they could’ve done. Donna said “There’s usually only one way out-- you die”.

They said that other gang members didn’t like their relationship, but they saw the love between them and they left them alone. In the midst of all the sadness, this couple spoke of hope.

The event didn’t receive very much media attention and a lot of the youth attended. “Our target audience isn’t even here, they’re over there on the basketball court” Minister Roland Mohammed of the nation of Islam shouted out as he pointed to the basketball court directly behind the park, where you could see young men playing basketball instead of attending the summit.

Zach Reed spoke on why this event is important and why even though there was not a large amount of youth it still may have affected some.

Reed, who has been extremely active in the community, tackling the issues of inner city violence, believe that this summit is a reminder to the community that these are problems that need to be solved. “This is informative, and it keeps the issue of violence before us, because if we don’t it starts to become normal.”

Cleveland mayor, Frank Jackson made a statement, “When you believe that you can change the world all at once you’re usually fooling yourself, it’s one at a time”.

In the final hours of the summit a prayer was held and all of the families affected by violence stood next to a cage that held doves inside of it. This was a symbol of letting go and releasing spirits to heaven.

Though this summit may not have completely solved the problems lying in the urban communities, it gave families hope, it gave them people to talk to and relate to who understood what they’re going through. It showed that there are still people in these communities who are willing to fight for the youth, and never give up on the hope of peace in the hood.