03/10/13 — Former drug dealer speaks at social worker conference at MOC

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Former drug dealer speaks at social worker conference at MOC

By Josh
Published in News on March 10, 2013 1:50 AM

At the age of 14, Reginald Brown couldn't find the support he needed from his family, so he turned to where he could find it -- in the gangs of eastern Raleigh.

Now, at 27, Brown, a three-time felon, has turned away from that past life of violence and selling drugs.

"I feel like I spent so much time tearing down the community, I'm here to give something back," Brown said.

Brown now works with at-risk youth at a boxing gym in Raleigh, called the Second Round Gym. He also travels around North Carolina speaking for Communities in Schools of North Carolina.

On Friday, he spoke at the State of the Child Conference at Mount Olive College, talking with a small crowd of social workers.

The conference served as a number of roles for social workers, educators and non-profits dealing with those under 18.

With a $25 registration fee, the conference worked as cheap training for departments and organizations with shrinking budgets.

"Most departments don't have money for training," said Jennifer Short, a counselor with the Division of Juvenile Justice. "This is the stuff that helps the population that you serve."

With over 300 attendees, it also served as a place for networking.

"We meet somebody and then call them three months later -- "Hey, I met you at the conference," said Courtney Boyette of Eastpointe.

And with brochures aplenty trading hands, it works as a tool finding the cracks between social agencies.

"That's what happens in these hallways," said Jeffrey Fussell, an Eastpointe social worker. "At these kind of conferences, you meet these people doing these neat things."

The conference has been taking place in Mount Olive for the last 12 years, and for attendees, it's also a place to reconnect with friends located counties away.

"It's kind of become a family reunion." said Colleen Kosinski. Ms. Kosinski, Ms. Short, Ms. Boyette and Fussell all work on the planning committee for the annual conference.

The workshops for the conference explored a number of subjects interesting to the professional social worker such as motivational interviewing, the problem of child sexual abuse, team building, drug abuse trends affecting youth, autism, child advocacy, teen pregnancy and understanding Hispanic/Latino culture.

One of the more popular workshops centered around Brown and his past experiences running for a gang in Raleigh.

Brown's childhood was spent in a house with an abusive mother and a father who wasn't actually his father. Looking for support at the age of 9, he found a gang, who accepted him. By 14, his fellow gang members decided to test his resolve by "pushing a line on him." The ritual involved 10 young men punching and kicking Brown repeatedly.

As a teenager, Brown treated his gang life like it was his job and often escalated a situation when he saw rival gang members.

That life led to criminal sentences and time in jail, but it also brought a sense of belonging and family in a world that Brown said treated him unfairly.

He eventually realized that the life he led and the skills he gained on the street could be moved to less criminal outlets.

"An executive on a board is the same as a drug dealer. We just have different ways of expressing it," he said.

Brown still considers himself a member of his gang as support to other members, he said, but he works on the right side of the law. He currently works part-time at McDonald's -- one of the few jobs a three-time felon can grab -- and makes a pittance compared to what he could be making while selling drugs.

Brown admits that it's hard to stay straight with the allure of a $1,000 daily paycheck made selling marijuana, but his three-year-old daughter and his boxing career keeps him away from a life that was hurting others.

It's a choice he made, Brown said. "If you carry yourself like a thug, you will be treated like a thug. If you carry yourself like a respected you man you will be treated like one," he said. "But it's still a choice at the end of the day."

And that lesson -- that he had a choice -- is what social workers have to impress fully on those who may walk the same path that Brown left.

"You have to be a part of their lives. You can talk, talk, talk but you have to show them," he said.