Getting A New Generation Started “G.A.N.G.S.” in peace logo. (Provided by G.A.N.G.S. organization)
A peace-center organization run by former gang members received $29,000 from the city of Columbia for a three-month trial program, but members say that isn’t enough to do the needed work.
City Council voted Tuesday to give the money to Getting A New Genteration Started in Peace, an organization formed shortly after a shooting at Columbiana Mall inn April. Former gang members are working to help “inner-city kids” escape trouble and violent situations by teaching about conflict resolution.
City Council will monitor the group for three months. If it decides the group is successful and impactful, the council will vote to give the organization a total budget of $270,000.
The mall shooting wasn’t the only impetus for the group’s founding, members say. Numerous shootings throughout the Columbia area also made members think they could have an impact. But the listed seed money means the group can’t do everything it wants right away.
“We now have to go back, prioritize the need and figure out what is the best thing to use the money for,” said Eric Davis, leader of the group. “But again, it’s 10 percent of the whole, and that’s a difficult decision to make. And then you’d have to consider all the scrutiny that is on us for that money.”
As for the future, there is a full plan.
“If we get a full budget, we can crank the car up and run because then one thing leads to the next thing to the next,” Davis said.
The members have expressed how important this group is for them and their goal of finding peace in the community.
“We came out, came together, and pushed for peace,” said Levar Baker, a “street ambassador” for the organization. “That hit me a lot. Coming from where I’m coming from, just to be a part of a change. And the movement is so strong that we have.”
G.A.N.G.S in Peace already has launched a midnight basketball program from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. that allows kids to get off the street and have something to do. The organization also makes frequent visits to middle and high schools to talk about their organization and the importance of staying safe.
“Who better than people who’ve been in the game to deter kids from making wrong decisions?” Davis asked.
Other initiatives waiting in the wings include back-to-school programs. The program also is ready with conflict resolution and character development camps during the holidays. Providing transportation to events is key, members said.
The group has been part of a change within the Columbia community in the months it has been active. Crime and shootings have gone down, according to the organization, and it has gotten a lot of good feedback so far. But what Baker and Davis emphasize is that they could do much more with their full budget.
“We’re talking about saving lives,” Davis said.
Another important thing for Baker is teaching people to be compassionate for people in at-risk communities.
“So as you read this, and you’re driving by and look, think about the fact that somebody else is in there that doesn’t have your opportunity, and (whether) there’s anything you can do to give them that opportunity.”