'Stop believing the lie' teaches about gangs
Methods and madness of "gangster" culture shared the spotlight for hundreds of students at North Augusta Middle School on Oct. 23 in the midst of presentations to show tomorrow's teenagers what they can expect if they are drawn into gang activity.
"Don't believe the lie" was a key theme, as representatives of a faith-based juvenile justice ministry shared their personal experiences in the culture of drugs and thugs, with its codes of silence and traditions of betrayal, bloodshed and substance abuse.
"They will kill your dream" was another, with emphasis on the fact that involvement in relatively petty misbehavior can open the door for an assortment of long-term nightmares.
"If you are thinking about being involved in a gang, think about where the leader is," said Full Circle Refuge speaker Yannik McKie, who pointed out that both of his parents died of AIDS while he was in his early teens.
"If the leader is in prison, if the leader is in a wheelchair, or if the leader is handicapped because he's been shot or stabbed, do you think that's something that you should be getting involved in, if that is the leader's condition?"
The answer, at least from several students, was no.
McKie continued, "What do you think's going to happen to you when you get involved?"
"The same thing," said some members of his audience. McKie, like the other two speakers, spoke largely from personal experience. Music and video were also a part of the presentation, in a mixture of humor and bloody reality.
Speaker Devon Harris presented a copy of "the dollar paper," known by various names, with its collection of mugshots from recent days in various jails.
He cited one example in particular, without any dreadlocks, facial "tats" or "baby-mamas" in sight. "This is the founder of one of the Chicago street gangs right here. There ain't no bling-bling ... and all that going on."
Harris expressed a lack of enthusiasm for "studio gangsters," enriching themselves by making recordings about criminal activities, while actually maintaining a safe distance from toxic activities in the streets.
"Stop believing the lie ... I want you to understand that most of these guys in this book, they're doing time, pushing up daisies - that means 6 feet under - or still living at the house, with Mama. They ain't got no skills at all," he said.
Speaker Leo Otero, a former gang member who served four prison sentences, recalled a time when he was struck by a car and narrowly avoided death by managing to crawl underneath another car before the would-be killer could turn around and finish the job.
"I've seen a lot of death in my life," he said, pointing out that he has various family members who are members of such groups as the Mexican Mafia, Latin Kings, Nortenos and Surenos. A family reunion is impossible, because of inherent hostility among the various gangs.
"There is no honor in this lifestyle. There is no loyalty in this lifestyle. There's no light at the end of the tunnel. There's darkness from beginning to end," he said.
Harris did some similar myth-busting and offered advice. "Ladies, do not fall in love with a thug. That player will play you."
Harris, Otero and McKie are in the middle of a campaign to reach all of Aiken County's middle schools with their message. They pointed out that gang recruitment is largely done through schools, with 11 as a typical age for the start of involvement.
Austin Howard, an eighth-grader, said it was a learning experience. Referring to his fellow students, he said, "They were kind of scared, actually, because they were always around people like that and think it's not a big deal."
He also gave the presenters a thumbs-up review. "The way they showed it and said it made it feel like we weren't in school, but were talking one-on-one with someone."