11/22/10 — Gang conference draws local interest

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Gang conference draws local interest

By Staff Reports
Published in News on November 22, 2010 3:29 PM

Former gang members and ex-drug dealers told their stories of loss and recovery to more than 1,000 young peopleduring a three-day conference last week in an effort to combat the growth of gangs and drug use among young people in Goldsboro and Wayne County.

Organizers said it was the largest turnout for the Drug Dealer/Gang Member Redemption Conference in its four-year history. The conference was sponsored by the Stop the Funeral Initiative and involved pastors from a number of local churches as well as law enforcement officials and counselors.

Mickael Stephens, a church pastor, was one of the many organizers of the conference.

Stephens said the conference was designed to reach out to young people from their early teens through their 20s.

At that age there is still hope that bad habits can be turned around, he said.

"When you are dealing with this age group their values are still being developed and they are open to making positive changes in their life," Stephens said. "They are not cemented in a course of action they are going to take for their entire life."

On Friday, the last day of the conference, about 40 people from the county Day Reporting Center received special recognition from the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina Chapter of the NAACP, and other organizers of the conference.

Tyrin Jones, 25, attended all three days of the conference and said the conference had a positive influence on him.

"They put a lot of positives in my mind. I was on the negative, ready to give up and they gave me a positive attitude. I have that now, and I think I am going to keep that," he said.

Jones said the speakers and the exchanges with other young people at the conference gave him a chance to look at his life, and begin assessing where he has been, where he is and where he wants to go.

He warned other young people of the trap drugs set.

"Drug gaming is not where you want to be," he said. "If you are in it, you need to get out because it isn't going to last for long. There are only two places you're going to end up, and that is dead or in jail. I was in that game. I did all that. These three days made me realize what was more important."

Jones said faith and prayer were a significant part of his experience during the conference. They empower you, he said.

"It is never too late to make a change. Anything is possible if you put God first," he said.

Mario Simmons, 22, also said he was strongly affected by the presentations and discussions that went on during the event.

"I learned I have to think differently if I want to make progress. I had the wrong mindset," Simmons said.

He said that the speakers talked about how to turn situations in his life from being negatives into positives.

"I am having a hard time right now, but it was inspirational," Simmons said. "I feel like I can change my life around. I now know that I should surround myself around positive energy and positive people," he said.