Preparing to speak to young people at a Meridian church, William Perry McClendon says over the years his life has changed.
"There were things that I did in my life while in the organization that I was not proud of. So, that's why I chose to turn from that organization to a different organization which is Christ Jesus’ organization, ha, ha, ha!"
As in the song, McClendon says it was Amazing Grace that made the difference in his life. Released from prison in December, McClendon is the former head of the 'Gangsta Disciples' in Meridian.
Although he joined the group at age nine, now at age 32 McClendon is no longer a member. Instead these days he says he's older and wiser.
"I've learned that if you tell a person he's crazy then, therefore he will conduct and act crazy! That’s life! Really there are no bad people in the world; just the situations they face because you take the situation I faced and they said I was terrible. We have to wakeup and realize that violence is not the key. If we stop ruling things with the iron fist and instead with the iron mind, we'll accomplish everything we need to accomplish."
More than anything McClendon says he wants to leave this message with others who are in gangs.
"That life can lead you to two places, jail or hell! The choice is YOURS!"
- The family and the community are essential to the development of the child's social, emotional, and physical needs. If the family is the source of love, guidance, and protection that youths seek, they are not forced to search for these basic needs from a gang. The family and community share responsibility for teaching children the risk of drugs.
- Strong education and training are directly related to a youth's positive development. Young people who successfully participate in and complete education have greater opportunities to develop into reasonable adults.
- Graffiti removal reduces the chance that crimes will be committed. Since gangs use graffiti to mark their turf, advertise themselves, and claim credit for a crime, quick removal is essential.
- Conflict resolution programs teach gangs how to deal better with conflicts and help eliminate gang intimidation tactics.
- Recreational programs such as sports, music, drama, and community activities help build a sense of self-worth and self-respect in young people. Youths involved in such activities are less likely to seek membership in a gang.
Know the Risk Factors
- Racism - When young people encounter both personal and institutional racism (i.e., systematic denial of privileges), the risks are increased. When groups of people are denied access to power, privileges, and resources, they will often form their own anti-establishment group.
- Poverty - A sense of hopelessness can result from being unable to purchase wanted goods and services. Young people living in poverty may find it difficult to meet basic physical and psychological needs, which can lead to a lack of self-worth and pride. One way to earn cash is to join a gang involved in the drug trade.
- Lack of a support network - Gang members often come from homes where they feel alienated or neglected They may turn to gangs when their needs for love are not being met at home. Risks increase when the community fails to provide sufficient youth programs or alternatives to violence.
- Media influences - Television, movies, radio, and music all have profound effects on youth development. Before youth have established their own value systems and are able to make moral judgments, the media promotes drugs, sex, and violence as an acceptable lifestyle.
Source: http://www.cahe.wsu.edu/~sherfey/issue4c.htm contributed to this report.