The Gangfighters Network is an organization designed to bridge the gap between academia and the criminal justice professions. For more information, visit and The focus is on gangs, initially adult gangs as it appears they have been ignored or absorbed into the mainstream society. There's a special focus on gang members in the military.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Former gang member appeals to youth to 'Refuse to Die Like That'

James Jamison grew up in the projects of Stamford, Conn., a hard-core area affectionately termed the "Cage" by local police.

"They thought we were all animals and they treated us like animals," he explained.

Gangs and drugs were a way of life and by the time he was 17, five of his eight closest friends had died at the hands of violence.

His escape was to join the Air Force. And even though he has gone on to acquire several degrees and become successful in other arenas, he still wrestles with the fact that he is a high school dropout.

"Every time I'm around my peers, I always feel a little bit less than them," he says. "We have spaces in our lives that we're supposed to achieve certain things. You can never go back and graduate from middle school when you should have, or high school when you should have. You missed it."

Jamison now lives in Wilmington, where he is senior pastor of Hope Baptist Church.

He was in Goldsboro this weekend, speaking on Friday to seventh- and eighth-graders at Dillard Middle School, and as keynote speaker at the Youth Gospel Fest at Goldsboro High School Saturday evening.

His experiences as a former gang member before turning his life around are the basis of a book he is currently writing entitled "Refuse to Die Like That." His stop in Wayne County was to make an appeal to the next generation to follow suit.

At 13, 14, and 15 years old, "your lives are just beginning," he said. And while the routes to escape may appear glamorous, young men and women need to be selective before choosing the wrong path.

Many become involved in gangs to fill a void in their lives, Jamison said. 

"A lot of people spend their lives trying to fit in, to feel necessary," he said. "I spent a lot of time trying to find out who I was."

Now 54, he realizes just how much time he was lost.

"Time flies and you don't have as long as you think you have to get your act together and we need to start working on that now," he said.

In the beginning, he admitted he thought gangs were cool. He moved up the ranks as a warlord, making decisions as a leader. Today, he realizes the opposite is true.

"Most people in gangs are losers, searching for something he's not sure of, afraid because he's afraid to stand alone," he said.

Encouraging the teens to take a stand, make a difference and rise above their situations, he said it's time they become an example to others.

Jamison asked the students how many had known someone who was killed in the last two or three years, how many were concerned about their own lives. Nearly everyone raised their hands in response.

He then shared how many friends he has encountered over the years and realized he was not happy to see them because of their accomplishments or jobs, but because they were still alive.

"Tragic," he said. "When we're excited about a kid that's alive at 21, there's a problem."

Being in a gang is nothing to be proud of, Jamison said.

"If you're proud to be in gangs, you're telling me that you're proud of everything that's destroying the black man today," he said. "You're proud of everything making our sisters not have a husband when they grow up that can provide for them and their children ....

"We have to stop killing each other like it doesn't matter."

Jamison then challenged the middle school students to take action.

"I want 10 people right now that are fed up with the violence and the neighborhood, that would be willing to sign a pledge," he said.

He said the promise entailed "that for 90 days I will not hurt, disrespect, injure, kill or maim any individual, and I will not support it ... will not laugh at it, will not encourage it. If there's a fight, I will not gather around it."

Nearly two dozen rose from their seats and joined him at the edge of the stage. They signed the pledge sheet and were given a sticker that bore the words, "I made a promise."

Darryl Woodard, director of Smart Choices for Youth, which sponsored Jamison's appearance, said there will be follow-up steps taken to ensure those who took the pledge and others concerned about gangs and violence will have support. He said the school's principal was being given information to distribute to families on how to guard against the problem, especially during the summer months when many students are more idle.

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 3, 2007 02:01 AM

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