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Modern Parenthood

End gang violence: Changing a violent community? Start with a barber chair

Trimming levels of gang and street violence is tough, but in Virginia a group of brothers started holding gun trade-ins and Unity Walks in rough neighborhoods to give the community a new look. How do you get people to show up? Hair cuts. 

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At first I thought he meant Wiggins, but he was referring to a local gospel radio show I had been invited to appear on two months ago to speak about the inner-city chess program I run here. He was also talking about the person who I would have never, ever imagined was a reformed product of the streets and a violence headline-maker I’d once read about.

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Lisa Suhay, who has four sons at home in Norfolk, Va., is a children’s book author and founder of the Norfolk (Va.) Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) , a nonprofit organization serving at-risk youth via mentoring and teaching the game of chess for critical thinking and life strategies.

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Kimberly Adams, a mom with two little girls, was in her Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, sensible shoes, and bordering on prim, pastor’s daughter mojo when we met. I remember remarking on the purple chiffon skirt and how beautifully turned-out her kids looked. Meanwhile, my boys looked like ragamuffin fugitives from a Tide commercial.

“She ran the streets as a woman, hung with the wrong crowd before she found the Walk,” Riddick said.

So I called Ms. Adams and asked her to tell me her story, and it turned out to be one of a child growing up with little parenting. What there was, wasn’t positive.

“I was honest and loving and what I got back was not; so I got hard on the inside,” Adams, 27, biological mom of one girl, 7, and step-mom to another, age 6. “I was what you’d call gang-affiliated, but not a gang member. I shut myself off. If you did me wrong or I thought you were against me, I didn’t care about you or how much I hurt you.”

“Being loving and having a moral compass wasn’t getting me what I felt I deserved from my family and that was love and honesty,” she explained. “I was in trouble with the law. I was a fighter. But at the same time I was a defender in school. I was the one the bullies were afraid of, but then I was more like Iron Man, self-involved and destroying, than Captain America doing the right things.”

Adams had been arrested for a brutal knife attack and escaped incarceration due to lack of evidence, she said. “Instead of being afraid, I was excited, like ‘Wow this is cool,' the arrest didn’t affect me to change my ways."

It was seeing numerous Facebook posts about Riddick by others in her community that eventually led her to seek him out and learn about the Unity Walk.

“So I decided to go see what this Walk was about and, before I knew it, they threw a ‘Stop the Violence’ T-shirt on me, and I was walking with all these people who looked at me like I was a great person. They were not looking at me like I was going to do them harm.”

In that moment, Adams said, “I just suddenly saw myself as a woman. That sounds strange, right? But I was with my daughter, and they had me hold this disabled woman’s hand, and we walked together. I was a woman and a mother and not who everybody saw me as before that moment.”

At that time her biological daughter was age 4 and is now seven with a mommy who works for Norfolk State University’s Community Foundation and is helping Riddick obtain sponsors for this year’s walk.

“That walk was the highlight of my life,” Adams said. “Walking it gave me peace and a sense of pride I’d lost. I want that as a parent for my children.”

Her advice to other moms and dads currently living a life of crime and violence is simple, “It’s not about you anymore. Once you become a parent, it’s about your offspring and making things better for them than what you had.”

As a parent who has written many blogs trying to find some solution to the violence and loss of children’s lives as a result of hate, guns, and bullying, I never would have thought to reach peace with a barber’s chair and a T-shirt. However, that method is clearly building a community while deconstructing the destruction of our communities, so I say: It’s time to give violence the chair.

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