It’s Time To Out-Love The Gangsters

Others, Addictions , Relationships

Contributed by: Youth Unlimited (Greater Vancouver)

Written by: Jason Hradaway

Fifteen‐year‐old Max stood in the corner of the alley and took a long drag from his cigarette. As I walked towards him, I noticed his new accessory. In addition to his matching black athletic pants and hoodie, he sported a bright red bandana around his neck. It was his only article of clothing that reflected the moonlight back to me. I drew closer and we started to catch up about how our weeks have been and shared stories about our lives. He told me about how he hadn’t been to school the past few weeks and was looking forward to getting drunk with some friends later that night. There was a hundred and one topics I could have asked about, but instead I focused on his new bandana.

I cut to the point, “Who are you reppin’?”

“Redd Alert… Who else?”

“Have you been with them for a while?”

“About a month.”

That night, Max didn’t wanna talk about his new crew anymore, but this was my first of many gang-related conversations yet to come. Max is the youngest of six youth I know who are being screened by local gang members. I’ve known Max for about two years now, and I’ve earned a special place of trust in his life. He’s searching for belonging and reaching at anything that comes his way. He’s grown up without a father, and coming from a family who struggles with their own addictions, he’s often let to figure things out on his own. Unfortunately, I’ve painfully watched Max’s life decline as he’s made one poor decision after another: petty crime, violence, trafficking drugs, and constant intoxication. These are now the markers of his life. Wanting to join a gang is a cry for help. It’s a cry of loneliness. Running with a gang satisfies our desire for community, significance, purpose, and belonging. It fills our need to be loved, valued, and cared for by other individuals in a distorted way.

For the past few weeks I’ve had numerous conversations with Vancouver Police and other service providers about the growing trend of gang recruitment across East Vancouver. It’s an increasing concern in the community, but the solution to it is quite simple. Out‐love the gangsters. When we provide youth with a sense of belonging, build meaningful relationships with them, and journey with them through the ups and downs of adolescence, they won’t feel a need to join a gang. The road ahead with Max is the same: to be consistent; to be present; to spend time together and earn his trust more and more; to challenge his decisions and provide alternatives; to love him as the Father loves him.

My friends at Vancouver Police are ready and waiting to help Max get out of the gang, it’s just a matter of journeying with Max long enough for him to own that decision for himself. Until then, my team and I will continue to take Max out for pizza, go bowling together, and have many more conversations about life in the dimly lit alleys of East Vancouver. Max is not the only youth we are building relationship with. Five other boys known to us are trapped in similar situations. My team and I walk through these valleys of death with youth like Max. Instead of turning a blind eye towards the situation, let’s make this city a safe space for all these lost boys by spreading love and care for the struggling kids in our neighborhoods.