September 22, 2016
By Charlene Muhammad
United Hood Nation, a coalition of clergy, gang members, gang interventionists, activists, families of murdered victims, and community-based organizations held a town hall meeting on solutions to gun violence in their community.
The Sep. 15 gathering at Holman United Methodist Church in South L.A. culminated two months of weekly strategizing sessions. Student Minister Tony Muhammad, The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan’s and Nation of Islam’s Western Region Representative, Danny Bakewell, Sr., Executive Publisher of the Sentinel, and Khalid Shah, founder of Stop the Violence Increase the Peace, convened the meeting.
It was a follow-up to the mid-July gang peace meeting with Crips and Bloods, called by Muhammad.
“Many of you who have been giving your life, all banging gotta stop,” Muhammad admonished.
“If you’re in gang intervention, stop talking against another gang interventionist. If you’re a mother who’s lost your children, don’t talk against another mother who may get a lot of press. All of us are suffering because you suffer,” Muhammad said.
“Political banging gotta stop. Business banging gotta stop. DJ banging gotta stop … Activists banging gotta stop. Black on Brown gotta stop … It’s gotta all stop,” he said.
“The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said to me to tell you we have produced the best generation ever. We have produced the Joshua generation. They ain’t scared of nothing,” Muhammad continued.
He added, “They may not look like much to you with the condition that they’re in, but with right guidance, those soldiers that you see killing themselves today, Jesus said these words: How would they know except they have a teacher, and how would they have a teacher unless someone is sent to them.”
Real job opportunities, safe housing, and education were among the solutions the group developed to begin to curb the violence. The group applauded James Mitchell, who holds free weekly classes on how to study and get into the trades and construction.
Bakewell encouraged unity to end violence. He fights everyday for the honor and dignity of Black people, he said.
“If we unite with each other, there is nothing we can’t do … We’ve always had businesses to service our community, until somebody came in and told us that we needed to integrate with somebody else,” he said.
“All that’s fine, but we know we’ve got to have our own. For those of us who learned the lessons from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, we know that we have to have our own,” Bakewell said.
He said the community could not honor and affirm enough the families who’s loved ones were murdered. He also applauded gang interventionists who put their lives on their line to forge peace.
His father was shot by some gang members, trying to do right, Bakewell shared. “We have to recognize that sometimes, we’re our own worst enemy … It does not matter who killed. The person is dead. But it does hurt just a little more to know that you were killed by your own people,” he continued.
Before facilitator Dr. Shari Randolph opened panel talks, Shah recognized former gang members consistently working to end bloodshed in the streets.
Vicky Lindsey, founder of Project Cry No More, which supports victims’ mothers and families, called them to stand and represent. The audience gave a standing ovation as they held photos of their loved ones, and announced each’s name, when they died, and how.
One mourner’s stepson, grandson and nephew were killed in the last three years, he said.
“We need more than that. We need you guys to understand us, because this hurts ya’ll. This hurts,” said Ms. Lindsey, also a member of the Southern California Cease Fire Committee. Her son Lionel was killed more than 20 years ago.
“We together can make this happen. We’re going to stop it right now. It ends on this day,” Lindsey stated.
Marcus “Big Ship” Bell, former gang member-turned-interventionist, expressed sincere respect for previous speakers, and critiqued the structure of the town hall meeting itself.
He noted many gang members that were in attendance, left the venue. Former gang members should speak earlier next time to keep their attention, because they didn’t want to here the same old thing, he chided. The audience nodded in agreement.
“Everybody up in here done lost … I don’t know if y'all recognize, it was a diverse group up in here earlier. It was Crips and Bloods up in here earlier,” he said.
He said some gang bang still and some don’t. “It always takes, and I’m not dissing nobody. Don’t get me wrong. I just gotta keep it real,” Bell began.
“When y'all have us come up here, and talk about the work that we do … the next time there’s some town hall meetings, whatever this is, a get together for change, you gotta make sure that the brothers get up here and start speaking before everybody get up outta here,” he advised.
“See, you had gang members up in here … and they wanted to hear something. I’m not knocking, and it’s a process for everything, but when you have ‘em in here like that y’all, you gotta let us come in here and say something immediately because they get bored,” Bell explained.
He said it takes a lot to stop gang banging, and people are looking for peace, but they haven’t gotten to a healing process yet.
Every time things start looking a little bit better, someone is murdered, and lingering pain from 20-30 years ago, people still want revenge, Bell said.
But the pain can stop with people like him who have turned their lives around. People need to see that if he could do it, they could do it, Bell went on.
He said he began his own introspection after the 1992 Rodney King Rebellion. He changed his reality when he interacted with productive people. He grew tired of hurting his mother and family, Bell reflected.
“So the next time we have this thing, when y'all see them gang members and former gang members mobbing up in here, they doing it for a reason. They wanna hear something. They wanna see who up in here. They wanna see who’s doing the work, if a person’s legitimate out here,” Bell said.
He added, “I used to be on the same level, stuck on stupid, but we were conditioned to do that … and the conditions don’t happen overnight. It took time to get the mentality that we had, just like it’s going to take time to change that mentality.”
Shah saluted Reverend Kelvin Sauls for opening Holman United Methodist Church for the meeting. He also saluted Min. Tony for his over two decades of working to bring peace to L.A.
“If you can’t bleed for me, you can’t lead me, and this man has bled for us,” he stated.
Shah added, “I’m putting you on notice: Our Muslim brothers, our Muslim community has come together. Our Christian community, brothers from the street, brothers from the penitentiary, we’ve all come together! We didn’t invite no politicians here tonight. This is about us. Us! Us! That’s it!”
(Lola Muhammad contributed to this report.)