A recent NCPC training conference call on gangs sponsored by the Community Capacity Development Office attempted to answer the question, "Why Do Kids Join Gangs?" Oscar (Ossco) Bolton, founder of a Kansas City, MO, gang prevention organization gave his insights and he should know: Bolton was a former gang leader and helped recruit scores of youth into his gang. Nowadays, Bolton uses his influence for good and works with thousands of youth annually in the Kansas City area and provides positive alternatives to gangs through his organization— P.O.S.S.E. (Peers Organized to Support Student Excellence). Since a drive-by shooting claimed the life of his 11-month old nephew in 1993, Bolton has made it his mission to save youth from lives of gang crime and to capitalize on the potential in all youth to become leaders and solid contributors to the community.
Bolton said that there are three factors that encourage youth participation in gangs: (1) a sense of familial acceptance and being part of something bigger than themselves, (2) survival and protection, and (3) financial gain. He said gang recruiters were successful because they spent time with the youth, "out talked" them and their positive adult figures, and, finally, became big brothers and father figures to the youth.
In his P.O.S.S.E. program, Mr. Bolton provides youth with a specific mission and ensures that they know that they are the agents of change. He begins by declaring to the youth that there is an emergency in their community and that they have to form a posse to become the agents of the changes that are needed. Training sessions on conflict resolution, communication, team building, decision making, life skills, and peer mentoring and service are the necessary components that make the program work. In the conference call, Mr. Bolton also underscored the importance of changing adult attitudes towards youth as well. When a teacher or other adult in a youth's life can begin to see the youth in a different, positive light, their attitude toward the young person and their expectations of him or her can change as well.
Bolton's program is open to boys and girls in Kansas City schools. For more information on gangs, search NCPC.org for "gang" to find helpful resources including Gang Fact Sheets for Youth and adults and educators.