Struggle on the Streets
There is a vacant lot at the corner of Quincy St and Blue Hill Avenue in Roxbury, next door to a storefront bearing the name "Gang Peace." The ground is mostly dirt interrupted by patches of grass, but the place is pretty clean. It wasn't always that way.
Rodney Dailey, the founder and executive director of Gang Peace, says that there used to be "bags of trash" all over the lot. The trash represented the "subculture of the community," says Dailey. A subculture which helps to "breed delinquent youth."
Dailey and Gang Peace are trying to clean up.
The Gang Peace office is cramped. Just a small room with a TV and VCR for about 20-30 kids from the neighborhood who are in almost every day. AIDS education posters compete with quotes from Malcolm X on the walls. A flyer for the play "Our Young Black Men Are Dying and Nobody Seems To Care" lies on the table.
For these kids, the office is a place to hang out, a youth center of sorts.
5: 45 rolls around. The guys have beenhangin' out. Chillin'. Watching rap videos.They're waiting for the man, Rodney. Not The Man.But "de man." He's late, and his boys are startingto grumble.
Rodney is coming to lead a men's support group.But these are teenagers, not men. Teenagers whoare arguing about who is going to pay for pizzawhile waiting to talk about AIDS, drugs, andstaying alive.
"Where's Rodney?" they are asking.
"He told us 5:30," one says. They start todrift out the door, disappointed.
Another Gang Peace volunteer, Keith Meredith,31, tries to start the meeting in Rodney'sabsence. No luck.
"Why can't we start without Rodney? What wouldyou guys do without Rodney? What if he died orsomething?" he asks the group, challenging themand expecting a "We don't need Rodney"-typeresponse. But his questions lingered and remainedunanswered.
Then Rodney arrives. As soon as he gets out ofhis grey Gang Peace van, he is surrounded by theboys. He asks who wants to go with him to see aplay at the Strand Theater that weekend.
"Can we get in free? Will Gang Peace pay forour ticket?" is the common refrain.
Dailey is slightly annoyed at their attitude.He complains that they're always asking for thingsto be given to them.
Alternately scolding and cajoling, running theshow, planning activities, Dailey might well bethe father of a large family. Indeed, a surrogatefather is just what he seems to be.
Founded two years ago, Gang Peace is anorganization which resists definition. WhateverDailey and his followers think can help Bostonyouth--that's what they do. They act as advocatesfor kids in trouble, take part in community forumson police practice, mediate between gangs, conductworkshops on issues like AIDS, drugs, andviolence, sponsor concerts, help teens find jobs,encourage programs to get the teenagers to usetheir "entrepreneurial" skills to do somethingother than sell drugs. Gang Peace has also enabledseven people to take courses at Atlantic UnionCollege by computer.
The answering machine in its Cambridge officetypifies the organization's approach. "Hello,you've reached Gang Peace. And we're glad to be ofservice to you. We want to help you do anythingexcept sell drugs and shoot guns."
Their philosophy, though not unique, differsfrom that of other organizations trying to helpBoston youth. Gang Peace doesn't tell people toleave gangs. It doesn't tell them to stop sellingdrugs or carrying guns.
"We can't just tell them to get off the cornerand stop selling drugs," says Dailey. That message"doesn't make sense if there are no jobs."
Dailey says that young people need to know thatthere are "other things out there." For Dailey,showing young people alternatives to the "druggame" is the primary purpose of Gang Peace.
"Jobs, jobs, jobs," Dailey says,unintentionally echoing the nation's leader,"That's the biggest request."
But others in the community are more familiarwith other aspects of Gang Peace's work,particularly their role in mediating disputesbetween gangs.
Roger Harris, the principal at the TimiltyMiddle School in Roxbury, considers himselfheavily indebted to Dailey and Gang Peace. InSeptember 1990, his first month as principal ofthe school, a fight between two boys over abasketball game escalated to what Harris called a"potentially very dangerous situation." At the endof the school day, some kids inside the schoolcalled their older brothers and cousins in theprojects to come down and protect them from agroup from another neighborhood who were outsidethe school with guns.
Harris contacted Dailey, who came over to theschool with members of Gang Peace and spoke withthe rival groups to defuse the situation.According to Harris, Dailey was successful inpreventing violence because he comes from thecommunity.
"He talks street talk," Harris says. "The kidsknow he's talking from the heart."
Dailey does talk the language of the street.Getting up to leave the office, he tells avisitor, "I gotta jet."
Nathaniel Askia, executive director of FIRST,Inc., a non-profit drug rehabilitation programwhich serves as Gang Peace's parent organization,says that Gang Peace has been able to mediatebetween gangs by stepping into disputes andraising the question: "Is this worth dying for?"
But some youth are pessimistic that a grouplike Gang Peace can make a significant impact ongang violence in Boston.
"Nothing can do it," said a 16-year-old whoasked to be identified by his street name, Squirt."If people want to kill somebody, they'll killsomebody."
Gang Peace staff and those who know GangPeace's work say that they have builtrelationships of "trust" and "understanding" withmany youth in the city, including some hard-coregang members. Part of that trust is built on theunderstanding that Gang Peace members won't turnanyone over to the police.
"We don't exactly have a hand-in-handrelationship with the police," says Meredith.
Al Hill, a 17-year-old Dorchester resident anda member of Gang Peace, says that Gang Peace is"the only place for kids around here."
Members, who stand out with their black, hoodedGang Peace sweatshirts, may be most visible in thesummer when they organize "concerts on thecorner." Members of the group built and decorateda stage on a vacant lot across the street from theGang Peace headquarters, and the group heldseveral concerts featuring local performers.
Even when they are not sponsoring the concertthemselves, Gang Peace members are often apresence at concerts and other shows, spreadingthe word about the group and taking care ofsecurity.
One local DJ, who asked not to be identified,says that Gang Peace is an effective securityforce because they "know every gang member inBoston."
It is difficult to tell who is in charge atGang Peace. Although youth are actively involvedin recruiting new members and running workshops,one thing is clear--Dailey is the one who keepsthe group going day-to-day. No Dailey, No GangPeace.
Dailey knows that, and exercises carefulcontrol over the organization.
"This is my little baby," says Dailey. "I'vegot to protect it and say what it eats."
Dailey operates in the "midst of madness," in acommunity where he says "no one deserves to livelike we live."
He calls himself a "recovering addict, ex-gangmember and ex-drug seller" who was told by God tostart Gang Peace.
"I care about my young, black brothers who aredying," says Dailey. "And we can't sit and waitfor the city and police to change things for us."
He is very cautious about media coverage ofGang Peace, denying this reporter permission totalk to any of his staff.
Although Dailey appears to garner respect fromgang members and politicians alike, he does notfeel safe when he is "in the trenches."
"We've got the Mob and the Klan hovering aroundus," he says. "Everybody is not concerned aboutGang Peace or about my life."
Patricia Dee, executive vice-president ofWainwright Bank, which owns the building thatcontains Gang Peace headquarters, says thatDailey, though "an energy visionary type," issometimes "not practical" in his plans for GangPeace, citing a desire to rehabilitate a buildingthat is beyond repair.
She says that Dailey once "panicked" when abroker brought a potential buyer to the building.
"He had 20 kids place calls to the president ofthe bank," she says.
The group is about to embark on a fund-raisingcampaign to raise money for the building of a newheadquarters and youth center. Gang Peace will be