Former gang member tries to make new black history

8:10 AM, Feb 8, 2011   |    comments
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"We just kind of started the movement called the Heal the Hood movement," Roberts said. "It's our form of the Civil Rights movement."

Roberts used to be a Blood gang member. He used to deal crack cocaine. He's seen it all.

"I was gunned down in the Summer of Violence of 1993. I was shot in my back," Roberts said.

He also spent 11 years in the state penitentiary, but that's when it all changed. He started studying the works of Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Rosa Parks. Roberts realized he could stop other African-American kids from going down the path that he did.

Roberts says over the past few months, eight kids from Denver's east side have been killed, likely in gang-related violence.

"It does start with us. Nobody's gonna stop this war that we have going on with our kids, but the people who understand the war, the people who understand the kids, the people who speak the language," Roberts said.

After prison, Roberts started The Prodigal Son Initiative, an after-school program to give students a safe haven from the streets. He just wants kids to be kids without the pressures of gang life.

"That's what we reinforce more than anything in our program is we want to have fun," Roberts said.

Kids can get help with their homework. He takes them to the mountains to experience climbing and hiking.

"We've kept every single one of our kids out of gangs by giving them exposure to different kinds of people, different communities, different kinds of activities," Roberts said.

Brandon Dulin is a 13-year-old who says Roberts steered him down the right path.

"I used to be bad and not have good grades. I used to never do my homework," Brandon said. "I learned perseverance, honesty, respect and it really changed me and everyone here."

It's not enough. That's why Roberts is trying to forge the Heal the Hood movement with leaders from all around Denver.

"We want to do something that's immediate and we also want to do something that's going to be sustainable and last long-term," Roberts said. "We don't want to keep putting out fires."

Roberts want this group to be very visual in the community, to have a presence strong enough to fend off the temptations for kids of joining a gang.

"We're here in the community every day, so they see us in action, they hear us," Roberts said.

They even have their own colors, camouflage and gold, to combat the blues and the reds of the gangs.

"We're pushing the camo," Roberts said. "I'm not going to tell you to put down a red bandana or a blue bandana and I don't have nothing to replace that with."

These kinds of efforts have earned Roberts national recognition. He was just named by The Grio website run by NBC as one of the Top 100 History Makers in the Making. Last year, Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and Jay Z were awarded by The Grio.

"I was honored in a way that I can't even really express to you because it was more of an honor where I had to just thank God," Roberts said.

Roberts says he is trying to make a new black history, one kid at a time.

"It may take five or 10 years, but it's going to happen," Roberts said.

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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