One recent afternoon, at the urging of some former gang members, three members of the "Reconciled Church" movement took a walk though the uptown Transit Center, stopping along the way to interact. (Photo: Glenn H. Burkins)


Tonya Rivens
Tonya Rivens

Former CMPD homicide detective Gary McFadden and former members of the He Men and G-Men gangs are working to address street crime in Charlotte. The former gang members say they are disheartened by the recent spike in violent crime in the Queen City. (Back in the 1980s, the He Men and G-Men were considered a menace.)

Recently, some of the former gang members attended a “Reconciled Church” meeting at Nations Ford Community Church, where they challenged ministries to “take it to da streets.” And so we did, and the experience was eye opening.

On a crisp, fall afternoon, I joined three other Believers and four former gang members at the CATS Transportation Center on Trade Street.  Former gang member “KC” suggested the Transportation Center because he believes a lot of the city’s crime starts there.

While we were there, “KC” said he witnessed several drug transactions, identified five different gangs, observed several pimps with working ladies and noticed other crimes

We split into groups of two before we approached the Center. We observed a small crowd of young people standing on a corner on Trade Street. Former gang leader “Stan” immediately turned to us and asked that we stand back. He sensed that a fight was about to erupt. “Stan” quickly stepped to one of the two young men and asked if he could speak with him. I heard the guy say things like, “That punk-a– n-word says he is going to hit me with a brick. Come by my house and do something.” The young man also said that he was 32 years old and didn’t know the kid who was threatening him. While “Stan” spoke to the 32-year-old, former gang member “KC” pulled one of the agitators to the side to speak with him across the street.

I witnessed young high school- and college-age, African American males and females, singing, dancing, just hanging out. It seemed odd that all of these kids were allowed to congregate there at 1 o’clock in the afternoon.

I noticed a more seasoned man, about 60 years or so, sitting on a stairway. His said his name was Stan, from High Point. Stan shared with me that he came to Charlotte to look for work. He said the current scene was troubling, and he blamed integration. Stan said African Americans were better off as a village.

I spoke to a group of four ladies and commented on one of their nose rings. She commented on my hair, and we shared small talk about wigs and weave. One female was a student at Queens University.

I quickly notice the most popular guy in the crowd, speaking to everyone and dancing down the sidewalk. Once we begin to talk, it became obvious why everyone liked him.

I ask Mr. Popularity about “loving to dance.” He said, “that it is not dancing; it’s jugging.” He then invites me to join him, but warned that I would have to keep up. He was a well-spoken, charming and handsome man in his late 20s, with sagging pants. His journey to Charlotte, he said, included stops in Connecticut, Georgia, then South Carolina. He described Charlotte as a rough city and said he loves hanging out with the homies. KC joined us and quickly identified Mr. Popularity as the “weed man.”

Although I am comfortable around all types of people, including my brothers and sisters who love the streets, I am clueless when it comes to translating street gestures and street dialogue. I understand “keeping it 100” and “throwing shade,” but I don’t understand phrases like “I need 12” or “do you have some yea?”

What is it that draws young people to the streets? Why isn’t security approaching these young people? And why aren’t more local ministries “takin’ it to da streets?”

Former gang leader “Lee” said he’s the product of a single-parent home. He said a church was on the corner in his neighborhood and that the pastor knew his mom was struggling with two small sons. According to “Lee,” no one from the ministry ever checked on his family.

Believers, we have more work to do.

Tonya Rivens writes a faith column for Her career in gospel radio in the Charlotte market include stints as music director, program director, community affairs director and on-air host...