Gang members aim for right track
Chicago's Cabrini Green housing projects are a world away from the campus of Notre Dame, but a discussion Saturday tried to bring those two worlds a little closer together.
Five current and former gang members from Cabrini Green came to campus with Brother Bill Tomes and Brother Jim Fogarty to discuss their lives with a roomful of students at the Center for Social Concerns. Tomes and Fogarty minister to gang members in the projects, and have brought such groups here for the past 14 years in the hopes of dispelling myths about gang life and giving students a glimpse of that world.
The gang members, who ranged from 24 to 31 years old and were all fathers, talked about the importance of raising their children to stay out of the gang life.
"Nobody is forced to be in the gangs," said "Skin." All of the gang members went by their street names. "Kids are only going to do what they see the people on their block do."
They discussed how boys, growing up, see the people with money and power in their neighborhood and on their street and, when not in school or otherwise occupied, they start to affiliate with them, and they are introduced into the gang life. Gradually, they get more involved. Each of the five members said they joined gangs in their early teens, and all were involved by the time they turned 15. Boys start in gangs even younger now, though, they agreed.
As Fogarty pointed out, being in a gang gives a young person access to money and feelings of safety and power. These three things are often lacking otherwise, but they also enable a person to isolate himself and further enter the gang life.
"Gangs give you power," he said. "So you don't need help from other people. You don't have to listen to other people. You don't have to listen to your family. You don't have to listen to your teachers, or your boss if you have a job."
But that power has consequences, the panelists agreed.
All five had been shot at least once. All but one had been imprisoned at some point. Now, they said, they try to keep their lives in order. Most are raising children and trying to prevent those children from making the same mistakes they did.
They agreed that after-school programs and sports and keeping children busy and off the street was the best way to prevent them from joining a gang. Love is important too. If a boy is not receiving love from his parents, "Dre" said, he will turn to the streets for that love.
But ultimately, those streets are unloving, and too few learn that in time, or are lucky enough to survive it, they agreed.
"It ain't worth it," said "Doorknob," who is now out of the gangs. "Time passes just like this … and there's a whole generation of brothers I was with, they're either in jail or dead."
But, for now, these men work to keep their lives on the right track and help their families.
"I'm just living and I hope I can maintain a good job for the rest of my life," "Skin" said. "It's not just about me, it's about my kids."
Tomes and Fogarty founded Brothers and Sisters of Love, an organization dedicated to gang ministry. Their efforts to bring about peace in Cabrini Green by working with gang members, and not trying to change them, have been hailed nationwide. A movie is in the works about the pair and their work, according to Tomes.
All News Stories for Monday, February 14, 2000