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A WALK FOR LIFE
By KHALID SHAH
Published June 9, 2016
Khalid Shah

Khalid Shah

If we add the number of steps that have been taken by the number of people and then multiply them by the number of miles walked in a quest for peace over the past seven years in the Athens community, we will have more than a million reason to believe that peace and reconciliation is possible, that we can make our communities a more safe and secure environment for the youth and families that live in that neighborhood.

On July 16, 2016 the 7th annual Walk 4 Life will bring together community, faith based, political and law enforcement leaders along with hundreds of community residents, businesses and ex gang members to take another step for safety and make another commitment to change the quality of life in the Athens neighborhood of Los Angeles County.

Since 2009, People For Community Improvement or (PCI ), a non-profit community-based agency, under the leadership of Kenneth Jones a former gang member and other community leaders have publicly vowed to take a positive stand against violence and crime in that area.

His vision became clear when he traveled to Oklahoma in 1989 where he went and found something amazing. He saw bloods, crips and other gang members who fled Los Angeles and other cities, some for negative reasons, others just trying to forge new lives, living, working and raising children together, and oddly enough, integrating into the larger community without engaging in the blood shed that they had left behind because of colors or neighborhoods.

“It was a conscious decision that we made, no one forced us or paid us , we saw for the first time that it was possible to shape our own destiny and experience a relative sense of peace. “ Said Kenneth
The city and others including the faith community, rallied behind many of the gang involved youth to support their positive efforts. And while all transitions were not perfect, and gang crime in some sectors of the city were growing, it gave those who wanted to change and opportunity to do so.

Kenneth, also known as Squirrel to his homies, had become a man and decided that he wanted the same thing not only for himself, but for his community and the surrounding neighborhoods of Los Angeles where his children and family lived.

After the Athens community suffered a surge of six homicides in 2006, Kenneth took the bold step of organizing , People for Community Improvement and sat down and held the first Peace breakfast with eight different Crip gangs and five different blood gangs, together at the table and agreed to a cessation of violence within the boundaries known as Athens Park.

His decision was a risky one because of the rivalry that has existed between these two gangs for decades. According to Los Angeles county Sheriffs department statistics, there had been approximately 5,090 people killed in the city of Los Angeles between 1992 and 2009 due to gang related violence.

Old rivals had to sit at tables and have enough respect for one another and hear each other out. That coming together also meant that they had to open the circle of involvement to the larger community including law enforcement, the faith community, residents and others and that their lives would have to be transparent because of those who would never let them leave their past mistakes down.

Athens is a part of the Second Supervisorial District of Los Angeles County. It is approximately 1.33 square miles has more than 9100 residents that boarder Imperial highway on the North, El Segundo on the South, Vermont on the East and 120 near the 110 freeway on the west. It also borders the cities of, Watts, Gardena, Hawthorne, and the southern tip of south central.

Some of the violence and bloodshed from conflicts between the two gangs have also began to spill into the neighboring communities making the homicide rate even higher than reported in some areas.

It has been said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

(A Walk for Life to be continued)…

KHALID SHAH
Founder,
Executive Director
Stop the Violence Increase the Peace Foundation
Regional Violence Reduction Coalition

Categories: Op-Ed | Opinion
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