Fighting gangs one member at a time

July 29, 2008 6:08:46 PM PDT
A Raleigh minister is taking on gangs one member at a time.

His mission is to turn around the lives of gang members. He's doing that with the help of a former gang member he's doing.

When a fight broke out at Raleigh's Triangle Town Center Saturday, Bishop Charles Johnson of The Well Church was eager to tell another story.

"There are gang members that we're working with here that are doing better," Johnson said. "They're going back to school, they're getting their lives together."

Johnson said he's seeing progress because the members have a safe haven at his store front church.

From monthly meetings to meals to job training, Johnson's staff is giving young gang members a way out.

"Most of these kids don't want to be in gangs but they're in them because of their home life," the Bishop explained.

It's a life Richard Henry knows all too well. He spent 20 years in a Raleigh gang. And while he was once the problem, now he's the solution and works with gang outreach.

"At this point, a lot of kids are in survival mode and when you're in survival mode, you can't tell me to come an do a therapy session when I don't have no food," Henry said.

Bishop Johnson said they give gang members practical, real life solutions that are relevant.

Both the Bishop and Henry say the gang issue isn't a lost cause but they worry about teens who may get caught in the shuffle.

They also say some of the youth arrested in the mall fight are not affiliated with gangs.

"There is some validity to being afraid, but at the same time, don't try to put everybody in that same place," Bishop Johnson said. "Now you're afraid of everyone in a long t-shirt and jeans."

Educating the public is part of the church's goal. The other is saving lives.

"A lot of people shut their doors and complain about the problem, but as long as you shut your doors,you're giving them the streets," Henry said.

Johnson and Henry have worked with up to 70 Raleigh gang members in recent months. They've been able to negotiate at least two peace treaties.


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