CNN: Chicago gang members seek new lives through writing, reading memoirs

Chicago CRED (Creating Real Economic Destiny) teaches former gang members and at-risk men in their 20s who are trying to escape gang life job skills, provides intensive life and trauma coaching, and tutoring toward their high school diploma or GED. About a dozen men also are part of CRED’s voluntary rehabilitation program that helps them write and read their own memoirs, as featured in this CNN story.

Dressed in a black suit, crisp shirt and neatly fitting tie, Lonnie Williams read from his memoirs, “New Steps and New Moves,” which described what it was like being raised by an aunt.

“Until this day I can’t decide what made me lose respect for my aunt. But between watching her snort coke and being locked in the basement the majority of my childhood, who could blame me? So I left.”

Williams later moved in with his sister and struggled to get by. In his memoir, which he read to an audience that included family and friends, as well as strangers, he said, “My brother was selling crack, so I chose that as a means to survive.”

After watching his uncle get sentenced to a long prison term, and having a son of his own, Williams is now part of the CRED program in hopes of finding an “honest life.”

“I think about the 35 years my uncle just got,” he read, pausing occasionally to look up at the audience. “Or that my son asks me, ‘Dad, why you keep leaving me?’ or ‘Why don’t you love me?’ I would be speechless. Although my moves are to protect his future, I also have to remember that I’m a big part of his present. He is getting older and so am I. And to be part of the solution, I have to stop being part of the problem.”

This is a post related to the Street Outreach and Violence Interruption strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.