Ex-gang members talk about life

Published 10:05 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2011

CoFormer gang member Malik Aziz talks to CHAT Academy students about the dangers of joining a gang. Aziz and a number of former gang members spoke to the students about the importance of making the right decisions. -- Rick Couch

In an effort to educate the younger generation on the consequences of bad decisions, the Formerly Incarcerated People Movement arrived in Selma Tuesday.

The group visited schools throughout the city and spoke to students about choosing the right path.

Selma Police Department officer Evelyn Ghant said programs like this are invaluable to the department because the speakers bring experience.

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“It’s very important to have people come out like this and give them a real look at gang life,” she said. “We want to educate them and make these schools a safe place to be. We want them to know they have someone to come to if there are problems and if they need to talk.”

Each speaker gave the students a heartfelt look at how gang life had set them back. One of he speakers, Maria Sanchez, said she realized she could use her negative experiences to help others keep from making the same mistakes.

“I realized that I wanted to spend the rest of my life trying to make sure that people don’t end up in detention centers,” she said. “We’re organizing and trying to change the way young women are treated in our schools.”

Another speaker from Philadelphia, who first became involved in gangs in the 1960s, said members of a gang are just a dollar figure to those they serve.

“Gang life isn’t where it’s at,” former member Malik Aziz said. “When you go to jail the people who you think are your friends, aren’t your friends. If you think your gang is your friend, they’ll kill you over money. They’ll drop you.”

A conviction is always a life sentence, Azia said, because it impacts a person’s ability to vote, get a job and several other aspects people don’t always think about.

The best plan for young people, he said, is to take advantage of the time they have in the classroom and overachieve.

“The best thing you’ve got going now is school,” he said. “Don’t miss any days and come here to learn, not for nothing else. The more you learn the more you earn.”

Some of the members of the movement expressed their excitement about being in Selma and its significance. Speaker Manuel LaFontaine said it was an honor to travel to Dallas County.

“Selma to me has held a very historical place,” he said. “For me and many of us coming here is like going to Disneyland. It’s like going to a place that means everything to us because of its significance in history.”

Having the speakers come to town with help from Selmont Baptist Church Pastor David Perry, will help bridge the generational gap, Ghant said.

“The best thing we can do is build that trust with them,” she said. “We have to get our young people and adults on the same page and programs like this can help us do that.”