Sunday, March 1, 2009

In Praise of Gangs

There's been talk in the news lately about money in the government budget to fight gangs. Gangs are seen as the source of much crime including the proliferation of drugs, financial crime with money laundering, and violent crimes against each other, where innocents can get caught in the crossfire.

I'm all about reducing crimes, but I'm "pro gang". I don't think we can get rid of gangs. We all have a built in desire to belong, to have people who consider us their "homey", to go where you are accepted, respected, and cared for. I realize that gangs are dangerous places...but they can also be safe places--they endeavor to take care of their own--we are created to want to belong.

My kids are involved in gangs. The gang leaders encourage them to shoot, to drive hard, and to not give up in the pursuit of their goals. They are told to hit, and are given techniques to do so. They learn defensive strategies to protect their territory. The gang leader yells at them to go harder, push more. Their fellow gang members egg 'em on--encourage 'em, and go nuts when they get a good steal, or block somebody.

I love it, and I love the lessons they are being taught.

Their gang leaders, you see, are coaches. And their "gang" is centered around basketball or volleyball (depending on the season).

I was sitting behind a coach yesterday. Overheard:
Coach: Sit down guys. It's respectful to let others see. You don't sit now, you don't play later. I mean it.
Coach: Hey, boy. Gonna offer me some of your chips?
Boy who is eating potato chips: Ummm...yeah. Sure. You want some?
Coach: No, I don't. But I appreciate being asked.
Boy (vaguely confused): You sure you don't want some chips?
Coach: Nope. Really--offering is consideration and respect--part of being a team. How's school goin'?
Boy: OK
Coach: Good. How's your grades?
Boy: They're OK too. Science is hard, man. The teacher--I just don't get it sometimes when he talks.
Coach: You gotta work for it, man. Hey...Billy gonna try out for the team next year?
Boy: Think so. He wants to play.
Coach: Hope so. Hope he wants it bad. He's gonna have to work hard y'know. We don't let no lazy guys make the team.
...and on they go.

This is a gang any parent would be proud of to have their child belong.

Not every kid is a sports kid. Bands can be gangs. So can dance classes, youth groups, chess clubs, photography group, drop in centres and so on. Families can be gangs--a place where it's hip to belong; where a kid feels safe and accepted and welcomed; where a kid knows that someone's got his back.

My kids are gang members...and they are turning from good young men into better young men for it.