I have been to New York doing book signings, I have been to Houston, to Philly, and have have come in contact with different people. But Chicago was a different experience.
In Chicago the gang culture is a way of life. Whether you are in one or not, you live surrounded by it. And not only that. On the streets it is life or death everyday. You can live on the same block and not be able to go to the park across the street because that is a different territory and someone who knows you live on the other side may shoot you. I have always known that Chicago was a pretty wild city and that gang life up there is pretty tough. I had plenty home boys who were from there and told me about it. But what I didn't know was how close the gangs were to each other. I was astonished to see the heaviness that you see in the eyes of the people, especially the youth. Those who live in the rough areas have seen a lot. I know every city has it's problems. But I'm not talking about every city right now, I'm talking about Chicago Illinois.
Anyway, when I went to the schools there, I must admit I was a little nervous that they would not want to hear what I had to say, even though I was in a gang before, because I wasn't in a gang from Chicago. And as well, I remembered my experience in Philly, how it took about 5-10mins to calm the students down and get them to listen, because they were so rowdy. So I figured if Philly was so bad, how will Chicago be? By the way, in Philly the biggest crown I spoke to was 300 students at once. in Chicago, the first crowd I spoke to was over 500, and the second school (one of the worst in the whole city) had a crowd of 750 students, but get this, ONLY BOYS. Imagine, a crowd or 750 boys, with more than half of them gang bangers, in a school that they have to have a police station inside of. This was a little overwhelming.
But I quickly remembered what I was there for... To help them.
So I figured I had to "go hard, or go home". So I went straight at them with the truth. With the facts.
And to my surprise, these students got quiet and listened from the moment I opened my mouth. They were not like the students in Philly who only laughed and talked for 5 to 10 minutes before finally hearing something that was strong enough to quiet them down. These students listened. And you could see the pain in their eyes. At one school in the middle of the assembly a student stood up and shouted that just two weeks ago his cousin got murdered and his father got deported back to Mexico for being a gang banger. Imagine, cousin murdered and father A GANG BANGER TOO. This is wild.
So what I learned is that sometimes it's the ones who are the "roughest" who will listen to most. It is the ones who society has written off, who are thirsty for someone to take the time to listen to them or try to get threw to them. I am not an idiot to think that all of them will leave and be reformed young men and women. But I am absolutely sure someone listened, someone heard, and someone will THINK about where they are going with their life. And if just one gets it, then it was worth the trip.
My perception of Chicago, was a city that is hurting. The youth are living in a war zone and need help. I am so happy to have had a chance to see it for myself.
I may write a part two to this blog to express more of my experience there. Keep an eye on the website and YPG page for pictures of this great event. We reached out to nearly 2000 students in two days. This is a big step forward for the youth group here.