Seth is an imate in a federal prison. Though convicted of a crime, he has turned himself around and writes for various publications from prison. Years ago, he interviewed T. Rodgers from prison and the following is the interview that was printed:
The Crips, Latin Kings, Gangster Disciples, Mexican Mafia, Hells Angels and the Bloods- gangs in America are rampant and gang activity doesn’t just happen in big cities. The blueprints for bangin’ have infested smaller towns and spread across the nation. The ideology has transgressed ethnic, racial and geographical boundaries. Gangbangers exist in the inner cities, the suburbs and in rural areas all over the USA. They have become a trend and gang mentality is accepted, in pop culture to a large degree. As law enforcement battles the gang crisis and Congress enacts gang legislature to combat street gangs like MS-13 one man in South Central LA, gangbanger ground zero, has taken on the burden of the struggle to stop the violence single handedly with Sidewalk U.
Sidewalk University is an LA based street school that works to give people the tools to make something of themselves and their lives. Through its classes in S.E.L.F. (Survival Education for Life and Family) the school empowers disenfranchised youth, ex-convicts and gangbangers looking to leave the life. Sidewalk U is in the business of taking the positive message of hope back to where it’s needed the streets. Started by ex-blood member, T. Rodgers, the community based consulting company which grew into a strategy and organizing agency deals with gang intervention and prevention in South Central and across the nation. It provides services such as workshops and seminars for the community and teaches the employees and members of organizations such as the Federal, State, County and City government agencies, churches and school districts about gangs.
T. Rodgers says he started Sidewalk U “because there was a need to show the world that there is good in me, to help those that was in need. No one could do a program like we could do a program from the inside out.” The self-proclaimed “Gangologist” with a PhD in “mack-a-matics” and a Masters degree in “Streetology” from Side Walk University started the school in 1975 when he was still bangin’. “I knew I couldn’t do this (bangin’) forever. There’s another side of me, one that is good and just and peaceful and loving. So Sidewalk sprung out of what I always wanted to be. If I can have a life taken surely I can save a life.”
The idea of Sidewalk U is “to save lives,” T. says. “To give understanding, to give opportunities. There’s more to life than bangin’ and slangin’ and there’s more to me than just my set. About his former life T. says, “When you’re put in the position when you control a thing, you have power.” He goes on. “Power corrupts. It becomes addictive. We as bangers all we want is respect. Gangbanging is a disease and we have to treat it like a disease. ”
Rodgers was born and raised in the Southside slums of 47th street in Chicago, but as a young man moved to the Westside of Los Angeles, California known as the jungle. He started a chapter of the Black P Stone Nation in his new home and the gang, centered at Jefferson Park, evolved into one of the largest and most notorious blood sets in LA. They were 500 members deep with five different parks under their control when an explosive confrontation occurred in 1970, which catapulted T. Rodgers to the position of “The Leader” in what society labeled a “street gang.” Right after that T. made the “ten most wanted” gang leaders list in South Central LA. “I’ve been shot four times, stabbed twice, had more fights than Mike Tyson,” T. says. And he first realized his life changing abilities when he proved pivotal in negotiating a peace treaty between the Black P Stones and Harlem Avenue Crips in the ‘70s. His unique transformation from nation leader to community advocate is based on years of experience in the heart of the gang lifestyle and Sidewalk U is the ultimate result.
“Gangs have become a trend,” T. says. “Bangin’ has consumed pop culture, people look at it as a fab. The fact is gang mentality is accepted in pop culture.” And with the Snoop Dogs and The Games flashing gang colors, T. is right on the money. “My hope is to change the person as I change myself. This change helps put anger in perspective and move away from the violence.” Of bangers he says, “If he doesn’t stand for something, he’ll fall for anything.” And T. describes gangs “as a cancer we can’t stop. Bangin’ is about unity, love and respect, but on the flip side its about violence, heartbreak and death.” Rodgers dedication has led to many changes in people’s ways of thinking, their negative affiliations and their ability to become a whole person and a contributing member of society. The knowledge of how to implement changes in the minds and actions of gang members and in members of the community comes from his own real life transformation.
Rodgers refers to himself as a gangologist and he disdains the so called establishment gang experts, “there is no creature called a gang expert.” T. says. “That creature does not exist.” Rodgers uses his extensive understanding and knowledge of gangs and street life to assist communities with conflict management, rumor control and problem solving involving ex-prisoners, gangbangers and drug users. He’s provided numerous workshops seminars and technical assistance to Police Departments, Correctional Facilities, Unified School District and local businesses.
“I save, change lives and give hope,” T. says. “If a gang gives me two minutes-a minute and a half even- I can usually talk ’em out of it or into anything I want. Just give me that minute and a half. I don’t convince them to do nothing, I give them my life experience. I show them what happened to me or what I should do.” He says gangbangers treat him “with much respect as an OG” and that “you can only stop controllable crime.” And Rodgers does this “one person at a time.” He uses a dramatic approach, which has a very positive affect on the learning process. He doesn’t front, he gives it raw, “Death- that’s the ultimate reward for gangbangin’. It’s the highest honor, the purple heart- to die for my set, for this piece of dirt that ain’t even mine.”
Rodgers can travel anywhere in the country and create an atmosphere of armistice. His very presence triggers automatic attention and is an indicator of the respect that he commands. The LA Weekly said that “T combines the rhetoric of a pavement preacher with the ardor of a fundamentalist preacher.” And Rodgers who once used these skills to build an infamous blood set for the Black P Stone Nation is now using these same skills to stop the violence. His S.E.L.F. program at Sidewalk U attacks a wide variety of issues from gang violence and crime, to domestic abuse to modern day slavery. Besides finding runaways and building peace treaties Rodgers has also trained law enforcement, prison guards and school authorities on how to deal with gang violence. He’s worked extensively as an organizer, consultant, outreach worker and youth director for various summits and programs such as Organized Gang’s for Peace, Say Yes, Community Can Do and Amer-I-Can with football legend Jim Brown and other notables. He’s acted in and worked as technical advisor for TV shows and movies like, -Colors, 21 Jump Street, Nasty Boys and Hunter. And he’s appeared on CBS Reports, NBC News, CNN, 48 Hours and Geraldo. He’s also received numerous certificates of appreciation, merit and recognition from the California Legislature, LA County Government, and LA School Districts for his efforts. Rodgers has been providing services across the United States for almost 30 years and has been a trailblazer in the art of empowering individuals with the necessary tools to become SELF significant, thereby lowering negative activity in the community and lowering recidivism.
“I’m very grateful for what God has given me,” T. says. “The people need to be made aware. Sidewalk U gives a voice to the uneducated culturally ignorant people that are strongly opinionated. We teach to give and get respect, to live and let live, and to try and live in peace.” T. says he started all this for “my baby boy. To give him a better life and to raise him right, T spends all his time nowadays, “saying thanks to God, answering the phones, getting the mail, answering my forum and e-mails, getting someone in school, getting someone out of jail, getting someone a job, talking to a kids parents, working on my book, reading books to my grandkids and helping the community.”
For his efforts Rodgers seems like a ghetto superman, but he says he’s only “a grandfather, a father, a husband, a man and a servant of god and the people.” With SideWalk U he offers 6-8 weeks courses in SELF and he also is available for seminars and consultations. He gives lectures and seeks to inform and educate. He also has two books out- THE 50 MOST ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT GANGS, which provides realistic, straightforward answers to some of the most vital questions that deal with who, what, where, when, how and why of gang activity and its causes, and LIES MY HOMEBOYS TOLD ME, which is for bloods about bloods- the truth about the history. By working to stop the violence Rodgers works to empower the youth and stop gangbanging, because like he says, “The best revenge is to live well.”