Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Time as a Gang Leader

In my youth, I spent several years as the leader of a local gang. Now, before you all question my sanity, I was in elementary school and the gang was more similar to “Our Gang” of the Little Rascals than what we think of today when we hear the word gang. My gang was formed in the same fashion that most gangs develop, geographic neighborhoods. We were all middle class kids living in the same neighborhood of a very small town. We had about 5 guys that made the core of our gang, with several other guys that stayed on the fringe. We had no female members in our gang as it was before the time of women’s rights hit our small town (and more likely, no girl would hang around a bunch of stinky boys). Besides, we probably thought most girls had cooties at that age.
The gang roll call went something like this; my best friend Aaron was what we called the “muscle” of our outfit. He was the biggest of us, the best fighter and generally the enforcer of the group. It was a dubious honor since I don’t remember our group ever getting in a fight (I don’t remember coming close), but nonetheless, he was tough (we think). Chris was the brains of the outfit. His dad was a lawyer, so he earned this honor by default. Although I think we all knew that he had clearly inherited the brains in the family. We tried him out as the “muscle”, but he was the smallest guy in our group (and not much of a fighter), so we had him make a lateral move in our organization to a position that better suited his skill set.
Mike and Bill were twin brothers with big hearts. Bill was a little more introverted, but he was fast (we were never sure how to apply this skill to our gang, but he was really fast). Bill even walked fast, he usually started walking next to us after school, only to arrive home several minutes before us. Mike was more extroverted and would give you the shirt off of his back – not your typical gang skill, but he fit in our group just fine. I was considered the leader . . . why? Because I am the one writing this column and that is the way that I prefer to remember it.
Mostly we just spent our free time outside of school playing together and setting out on adventures. We had a fort in the woods, in fact, we had many forts. Like many gangs, we found our share of trouble, but trouble was more like normal boyhood adventures – stealing strawberries out of a neighbor’s garden, throwing rocks through windows of an abandoned warehouse, and staying up past our bedtime at sleepovers. But what we really did was to support one another, care for one another, and look out for one another. We were less of a gang and more like a family. As we grew older, we grew apart, but the experience of a tight knit group of positive friends left a lasting impression on my life.
Today, our youth face much greater challenges. While I had a strong support system with family and friends, many of our youth don’t have those supports. Knowing this, we must all reach out to our children and give them the protections and supports that we experienced in our youth.

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