As part of his campaign to spread peace and unity in South L.A., Pastor Shep Crawford invited former and current rival gang members to break bread together and the result was more successful than ever imagined.
More than 120 people gathered on June 14, for the United We Stand Up Peace Mediation Lunch. In addition to the individuals affiliated with rival gangs, the participants included local clergy, peace activists and public figures dedicated to improving battle-weary neighborhoods in South L.A.
Another purpose of the event, which was held at the Youth Justice Coalition Building on 76th St. and Central Ave., was to stem the rise in shootings and murders by promoting understanding and unity, said Crawford, the co-pastor of Experience Christian Ministries (ECM) with his wife, Dr. Shalondra Crawford.
“I serve as president of United We Stand Up, an alliance of members from rival neighborhoods on the eastside of Los Angeles, striving for peace in our community. During COVID-19 we have seen a major uptick in shootings and killings,” Crawford explained.
“United We Stand Up members believe that there is a need for forgiveness and healing in our communities. This event will be the start of a weekly dialog that will help these members to unify and make necessary changes.”
Among the program speakers were L.A. Councilman Curren Price Jr., Minister Abdul Malik Muhammad (also known as Minister Tony Muhammad) and broadcaster Dominique DiPrima, who all stressed their commitment to the peace movement. Price and Crawford were acknowledged for contributing to a reduced crime rate in South L.A. Also, the band, Rare Breed, and ECM’s drama troupe performed and Jeweled Creations catered the event.
In addition, members of the group, Mothers of Slain Sons, delivered a poignant plea to “end the senseless killings of our children” and representatives of various sects of the Bloods and Crips organizations gave remarks as well.
One former gang member recounted how he received a life sentence at the age of 12 while being held in a juvenile correctional facility. Referring to himself as an “OG” or original gangster, the young man said his life could have been over, however, he changed his attitude and “turning a positive into a negative.” Today, he works in a trusted position at that same facility and even “holds the actual keys to the building.”
Declaring that he wants to “humanize gang members in the eyes of the community,” Crawford noted that he has worked with Bloods and Crips for years and assisted “their efforts to end at least three major wars in South Central L.A.” In recent years, there have been no reported shootings or fatalities between those groups.
“We now have Bloods, Crips, Muslims and Christians working together to refocus the effort of what is known as ‘gang families’ to be advocates of peace for their communities, ending the wars that were started mainly because of systematic oppression against people of color,” he insisted.
Inviting others to unite with the peace movement, he said, “There are a group of peacemakers in every ‘hood. There are also churches on many corners in those same ‘hoods. My mission is to get the church, the Black church particularly, into the neighborhoods that their buildings sit in. I believe that if we, as pastors, can unite with the community in supporting the peace efforts of these OG’s, then we can affect our immediate areas, which can change this city, and eventually the entire culture.”
Experience Christian Ministries (ECM) located at 326 E. 47th Place in Los Angeles. To learn more, visit TheECM.org.
Reid Johnson contributed to this article.