Former gang members become street ambassadors with a hope to end gun violence

Local street ambassadors meet with Midlands law enforcement to discuss the growth gun violence
Local street ambassadors meet with Midlands law enforcement to discuss the growth gun violence(Sophie Keyes Hoge)
Published: Jun. 4, 2022 at 5:58 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A group of former gang members in the Midlands are now using their voices to rebuild the community and are urging young people to put guns down.

At the Word of God Church in Columbia, a group of men who now call themselves “Street Ambassadors” met with law enforcement officials, and brainstormed ways to create peaceful change after a string of gun violence in the community.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, Solicitor Byron Gipson, and Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook sat down with former gang members to start a dialogue hoping to end gun violence.

G.A.N.G.S. In Peace, which stands for Getting A New Generation Started (in peace), was started by these men who say they were formerly on the streets, as they aim to “change the streets.”

The Word of God Church’s Bishop Eric Davis brought these men together six weeks ago to combat gun violence in the Midlands.

He is passionate about this organization and believes these men can reach the younger generations.

“When they go in there, they know exactly what buttons to push, exactly what to say and who to go to,” Bishop Davis said.

Bishop Davis says members of this organization are now “street ambassadors,” and will work independently from law enforcement.

The group’s focus is to work directly with youth in their area to show them positive paths to take in life.

“You can’t arrest away this problem. You aren’t going to prosecute away this problem. You aren’t going to pray it away. There has got to be work that is put into this thing,” Solicitor Byron Gipson said.

With these men impacting the lives of younger generations in the Midlands, they say this kind of open dialogue with law enforcement officials is crucial to end the deaths of young people.

“Sit your differences to the side, and just do the right thing because we have big stuff coming our way. Rally behind me. We need your support,” Street Ambassador Jack said.

Chief Holbrook told the group of men he has seen a decline in crime over the past two weeks and acknowledged the influence they have had.

“We always have work to do when it comes to trust and follow through, so I think this is a great opportunity to move forward and change something that has just been a historic problem in our city and our county. Historic problem,” Chief Holbrook said.

On the table during the meeting, there were four bandanas tied together. One was red, one blue, one black, and one white, which all represented the gang backgrounds of the men aiming to change the community. The white represented peace.

Sheriff Leon Lott said he had never seen anything like it in his career and commended the group for coming together.

The street ambassadors say this is just the beginning.

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