I Wanted to Find Love
This was the answer given by a young woman named Doua when asked at a Youth Violence Forum sponsored by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in June, 2008, why she had joined a gang. Speaking at the Forum, Dr. James Fox, Lipman Family Professor and Professor of Law, Policy and Society at Northwestern University, noted that kids join gangs because they provide them with the basic elements that they are looking for in life: a sense of belonging and respect. (The New York Times calls Fox, "among the nation's best-known criminologists, sometimes called the dean of death. The author of 16 books, he was an adviser to former President Bill Clinton and has been a frequent couch mate to Oprah Winfrey.")
In a Boys and Girls Clubs of America video called, "Stop the Violence," several young women talk about their gang experiences, why they chose to join gangs, and how they made the decisions to ultimately leave the gangs. In each case, it was the Boys and Girls Clubs that gave them the way out. According to the BGCA website, "In every community, boys and girls are left to find their own recreation and companionship in the streets. An increasing number of children are at home with no adult care or supervision. Young people need to know that someone cares about them. Boys & Girls Clubs offer that and more. Club programs and services promote and enhance the development of boys and girls by instilling a sense of competence, usefulness, belonging and influence. Boys & Girls Clubs are a safe place to learn and grow - all while having fun. They are truly The Positive Place For Kids."
In fact, in a survey conducted by BGCA, 57% of the youth surveyed credited the Boys and Girls Clubs with having saved their lives. As Dr. Fox states in the video, "In the absence of traditional ways that kids find engagement," they will turn to gangs to get what they need. With Boys and Girls Clubs Clubs serving "some 4.8 million boys and girls, with more than 4,000 Clubs at locations in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands -- and on domestic and international U.S. military bases," it is good to know there is a safe place for kids in many communities. If we all believe that today's youth are tomorrow's leaders, we need to make sure these safe places and positive programs remain viable alternatives to gangs.