In Fresno County, the Sheriff’s Department reported approximately 12,000 documented gang members (more info here). For the July Open Workshop, youth participants share how family association, peer pressure, protection and other factors contribute to a young person’s decision to get involved in gang activity.

A Sister Locked Up
My 17-year-old sister joined a gang when she was 14 years old. She joined it to feel a sense of family, to belong, to feel safety, to feel loved, and because at that time, all of my siblings got separated and were put into foster care. She was by herself. My sister was in and out of foster care for gang related issues and prostitution.

She is now locked up for about nine years because of a gang related event that changed a lot of peoples’ lives. She had to do a lot of bad things that she has to live with forever and she lost someone that she loved very much. Since she is locked up, she is missing out on seeing my baby brother grow up. He’s only going to know what we tell him. It hurts everyone to see her behind bars.
-“Marie”, 21


What About Innocence?
Gangs…a life that many don’t want to ever join. Some don’t know how to get out. Many people just live this life because they have no choice. And others choose to live the dangers that can be thrown at them. But does this mean that these people should be labeled like this for the rest of their lives, if they leave that lifestyle?

Think. Just because a person holds a gun out of fear, some consider them a gang member. But at the same time, you have to think about what happens when the wrong person gets shot, and the loved ones of the innocent bystanders have to cry themselves to sleep.
-Caprice, 17


Getting Out Of The Gang
Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? We can try and find her in every city where new gangs have formed themselves. There are also old gangs that are still active. As Carmen uncovers those gangs, she finds that each gang has its own set of beliefs, even if they seem the same, they are different. They fight for what they hold true. But people’s families are being torn apart for protection. Parents and children are being captivated by this intriguing yet dangerous lifestyle. Some people handle this situation by making matters worse.

It is hard to get out of gangs, yet some feel that if we target them the way they target us, we will make progress. If that hasn’t worked today, it won’t work tomorrow either. The majority of ex-gang members get out on their own and can and should help create a system to get others out safely.
-Jesse, 18


Why Fear?
I don’t know much about gangs but I know they are dangerous. I grew up on the west side and went to schools where there were many gangs members. I am not involved in any gang activity but just knowing they exist scares me. I grew up with peers who would bang gangs like it was cool and also there are those who really did have to bang gangs.

I feel sad for those who were born into a family of gang members. No one deserves that. I actually find it funny that gang members kill other people just because that person looks at them funny from the corner of their eyes. I remember little girls fighting over “looking at one another the wrong way” in elementary school. But here are grown people taking away lives for the little rolled eyes or side glances. I think that gangs are a bit silly and wish/hope everyone would come to their senses and stop the nonsense. Why live in fear when we can live in peace?
-Angelina, 16


Gangs Affect Everyone
Listening to the stories today about people’s personal experiences with gangs, I feel pretty lucky. I never had a relative get shot or sent to jail. My life has been distant from those kinds of people. But I have seen gangs around, the kids that walk like they own the place, like they’re above the law. And all I can think of is why they do it.

Why risk your life for a street, a block, or a person who probably wouldn’t risk theirs for yours? I feel sad for the kids who are so ready to jump into a gang lifestyle and waste all of their potential. I feel sad for people who were born into it and can’t ever seem to get out. I hate that gangs don’t just affect the people in them, they affect everyone.
-Christina, 17


Parent Actions
For me, gangs don’t really affect my life like it does some people, partly due to the fact that my parents have tried to keep my siblings and I as far away as possible from that kind of life. When we go visit the part of my family that is affiliated with that lifestyle, we don’t stay long because we don’t want to see the chaos occur.

I believe that my parents have been doing an outstanding job of keeping that kind of life away from us, but it comes with consequences, such as not being able to talk to my cousins as much as I would like. I barely get to see my cousins Raymond, Juan and Jessica, only twice a year because of conflicts. When I do see them, it’s only for a brief moment, which usually ends up in a family conflict, which then quickly involves the rival gangs of my family. Sometimes I wish that if parents thought about their actions, they would see how they are affecting their kids.
-Gracie, 16


Violence As A Form Of Survival
It makes me sad when I think about my best friend’s brother. He was recently sentenced to 22 years in prison, all because he beat up a man and stole his bike. I thought it was a very childish thing to do, but he believes it was for the good of the gang. He nearly killed the man and he’s been in and out of jail for the past few years. Their brother is trying to get him a lawyer to reduce his sentence. I think they should just let him stay in jail; he deserves it. He does nothing good for the family. He steals from them, fights them, and causes damage to the house. It almost embarrasses me to know their brother.

In Fresno, despite what some people will argue, race is a very important issue. A lot of the people who come here from other countries start or join gangs so they don’t feel alone and helpless. Sometimes the gangs get out of hand and turn to doing some violent things just to survive.
-Jaleesa, 20


Left Frozen
To watch my people dissolve
may I inquire on what is the cause?
Genocide on your own race,
some risk a gun in their face
or behind the trigger who hit him up,
a hard problem to figure out.
How he could have chosen
instead of a called being stuck in
time left frozen another fool f
ace down behold his time is
passing quickly, few commence to
duck when rounds hit him,
night in his eyes they no longer
glisten another boy gone in a
second it’s senseless, now a question
what is this crap to hell with let me
carry out your death sentence
and belly up to faulty friends
some events soon taste of living
one in the belly now refrain from shivering
at God’s doorstep I will deliver him.
-Marcus, 19


A Family Affair
There are a lot of or different meanings for gangs. It could be a group of friends doing bad things for street fame. Or a family thing you have to do even if you don’t want to. Many people have been killed by a gang or hurt by them. Gangs are mainly people who have nothing better to do with their life but mess with people. Everyone knows someone in a gang or is in a gang themselves. The world is changing so much and if it continues like this, it will lead to destruction.

I personally think gangs are stupid but I have to back it up even if I have a future. I have to do what my family wants me to do. Blood is thicker than water. My advice to the people dealing with the same situation, don’t let it get to you. You are your own person and you do the things you choose to better your future.
-Renee, 15


All Over Nothing
My view on gangs reflects my own life story. I grew up knowing and living with gang members. And sometimes everyday is a struggle. You just have to pay attention to what is going on around you. Try to handle the situation in a smart way. Joining a gang, different people have different reasons, such as being forced to, for protection, or maybe they are in need of some kind of family. Everyone has their reasons and they are all still human beings.

I don’t know why my family and friends do it but I hope one day they all change. In my dreams, a color is just a color, a street is just a street. There is no need for all of this violence, death, and injured people…all over nothing.
-Sirena, 15


Gangs are not really a good idea when it comes to protection. I believe it’s only a way to get yourself into more trouble. People turn to gangs when they are running scared or need reinforcement to do things. I believe when they roll together in gangs, they think they have more confidence and will power. Peer pressure is also a big issue with gangs because if you see other people do it, you want to do it too to look cool like them.

Honestly, there is no need for gangs. It will not bring peace to the world if we all have our own gangs and start killing each other. This destruction will only escalate until the very last person dies, which I find hard to believe. For instance, if you kill a gang member, the gang will come for revenge. So in conclusion, there is no settlement in gangs unless you disassociate.
-Dasen, 18


A Better Choice
I’ll say right now I’m too scared to live as a rebel. That lifestyle is way too much work and doesn’t fit in with my schedule. As far as I am concerned, I care more about my family, friends and if I’m alive, than my reputation. My affiliation with gang members has been cut because I’m deathly afraid to get hurt.

I grew up with many people who have now joined gangs and I haven’t talked to them ever since they joined. I can only say my friendly “hellos” but I can never carry out a conversation. Basically I’m a good girl if you think about it. I have an innocent childish charm, which is probably the reason why I’m not interested in being in a gang. It’s just not how I roll.
-Victoria, 16


Silver Lining
The issue of gangs has been in my life for as long as I can remember. There have been lots of good and bad things that have been in and out of my life because of gangs. I’m not in a gang but gangs have definitely affected me in so many interesting ways.

There are so many bad things that happen because of gangs that people fail to see any good. There’s always a different viewpoint. Sometimes from the outside looking in, gang members are intimidating violent people who disrupt peace.

From my point of view, some aren’t too bad. Growing up, I’ve met many gang members and some of them were the coolest people. When I’m around them, they make me feel safe. Some are very supportive and encourage me to do better. They remind me to choose a better life than they did. I’m not saying that the things they may have done are good, but what I’m saying is for every bad, there’s always a good that comes in disguise. Some gang members are just like a cloud with a silver lining.
-Arena, 17

The kNOw Youth Media
The kNOw works to support and equip young people with the journalism and advocacy skills they need to tell their stories and the stories of their communities.

In 2006, over 25 youth began participating in weekly after-school writing workshops where they congregated in the hallway of a two-story building in West Fresno and learned the essentials of creating media and telling their stories. The group evolved over the next five years and is now proudly recognized as The kNOw Youth Media.

Through our program, we create opportunities for our youth participants, who in turn create long-term positive change in their communities. Our approach weaves youth development and youth media innovation to produce our biannual youth publication, multimedia projects, and community forums.

The kNOw began as a project of New America Media, which was the country’s first and largest national collaboration and advocate of 2000 ethnic news organizations. In 2018 The kNOw became a project of Youth Leadership Institute.

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