Courage To Walk Alone
Due to the senseless, recent death of my grandson in New York it gave me a renewed appreciation for positive-minded kids, and got me thinking a lot about all of the positive kids out there who are doing their own thing and have no desire whatsoever to join a street gang.
Over the years as a youth advocate, I’d spoken with lots of lost kids who were at the crossroads, where they’re not sure if they want to join their neighborhood gang or not. When I was in Los Angeles in 2002, I remember having a one-on-one session with this big, muscular, tat-covered 15 year-old who got really upset with me because I’d told him that it was a sign of weakness to join a gang because it means that you’re too afraid to walk alone.
I could see his face tighten as he thought that I was insulting him by calling him ‘weak’, but I went on to tell him that when you don’t need a gun or a group of others dressed in similar clothing around you to make you “feel like a man” then you’re already on a good path towards manhood. As he got up in protest to walk out the door I further told him that it takes more courage to walk alone than to join a gang. He rolled his eyes and slammed the door as he left.
About a year later in 2003, this same big, thuggish-looking kid was one of many kids along the 26-mile route, cheering me on as I ran the LA Marathon to raise money for the I Have A Dream Foundation – LA Chapter. After I’d crossed the finish line, he excitedly told me that he’d re-enrolled back into school and he’d promised his mom that he wouldn’t ever join a gang. *(Update: Today, this gentleman is now a certified auto mechanic, married with 2 kids, and a homeowner in San Diego. He keeps in touch with me and calls me ‘pops’)
If any of you have friends and family who are currently dealing with a younger family member who maybe associated with a street gang, or maybe possibly at the crossroads, please try, in your own unique way, to get the message across to him or her that joining a gang is a sign of weakness, and that true strength and true courage happens when you do your own thing and you’re not afraid to walk alone.
After building up a bit of trust, some kids will be willing to listen but most will not. As a youth advocate, I’ve learned that you can’t change the mindset of a kid, only they can do that, but what you can do though is plant positive seeds into their heads and simply show by example how you’re living your life.
If a troubled kid is willing to listen, I try to explain to them that gang leaders love to recruit school dropouts because they’re easier to control, brainwash and manipulate because their minds are somewhat empty and they can’t think for themselves. That’s why I always encourage kids in gang-infested neighborhoods to stay in school and please don’t quit. Also, I remember trying to tell another kid that joining a gang will ‘limit you’ because gangs only associate themselves with one or two colors, and they only associate themselves with a certain street or two, or possibly a small section of town. Whereby, in contrast, those who walk alone associate themselves with all colors of the rainbow and they have the whole world, not just a limited area around the block.
Walking alone isn’t easy, but at least you know that the whole world is yours. – Randolph Randy Camp