In Middle English, the word ‘gang’ is defined as ‘set of things or people that go together’ according to dictionary.com. That definition isn’t that far off when describing the fraternity among gang members, who join together to form their own groups in the absence of father figures and role models. Perhaps then, it isn’t surprising when gang members vouch for each other, saying “We’re family” and “This is us, free to die.”
Impact Hub Boston (IHB)’s monthly series ‘Movies That Matter’ featured the documentary ‘This Ain’t Normal’ in May, bringing awareness about an important, but often ignored topic – gangs in Boston. The independent feature-length documentary, produced by KreateBuzz and directed by Rudy Hypolite, explored gang members’ roles within their communities in an effort to identify key social factors and relationships that define their lives – with each other, as well as within their individual family units.
Often, the members come from families that do not have a father figure and so they depend on each other, forming an extreme sense of camaraderie and dedication to their band of brothers. Their firsthand stories are heart wrenching, and while providing a glimpse into the social causes that give rise to the formation of gangs, these stories also highlight the important work done by StreetSafe Boston social workers, who provide interventions and a safe space for the members to be their own individuals.
While featuring gang members, the documentary also examines the effects of gang violence on their lives and their communities when their energies are misdirected towards violence. Prominently featured is the life of Daquan “Bop” Peters, whose mom spent most of her life in and out of jail. Daquan, the oldest of four brothers, tries to lead a life outside of the gang by producing rap music, but gets pulled back into gang violence over and over again. The cyclical nature of gang life and its repercussions is highlighted in his Mom’s lament: “I feel like his life is a repeat of my life.”
‘This Ain’t Normal’ Screening at IHB
IHB member Justin Kang and Executive Director of City Awake Sheena Collier worked tirelessly over the course of two months to bring the event to IHB. The screening and the panel session that followed was an independent project that they adopted after having seen the documentary earlier this year.
Justin said that he was “moved by the content and how voice was given to the young members in the documentary – showing how they were affected. It demonstrated the empathy that we need to show when trying to understand gang violence. Especially with the focus on Boston, we thought we could elevate this and we could connect this with the District Attorney election; so we reached out to all five candidates and were able to have them participate.”
Sheena Collier, a friend of IHB, has experience working in a number of the featured communities. “The first time that I saw the documentary, it struck me and it reminded me of the young people like them [those in the movie] whom I’ve known. It was narrated from their own perspectives.” She continued, “If they had other choices, they would make them.”
The documentary screening was followed by a lively discussion with a panel of candidates running for the Boston District Attorney position:
- Rachael Rollins, a former state Assistant District Attorney and a federal Assistant U.S. Attorney
- Shannon McAuliffe, former Director at Roca – an organization that disrupts the cycle of poverty and incarceration
- Linda Champion, Assistant District Attorney and educator who herself broke the cycle of family violence and poverty
- Evandro Carvalho, Assistant District Attorney and a State Representative for the Dorchester and Roxbury communities
Each candidate spoke about her/his experience dealing with gang violence and the actions that s/he will take if elected to the DA’s office. The proposals included changing the culture of gang-related prosecutions, understanding the victims and their circumstances, studying the factors that lead to a life of violence, and dedicating resources that will allow young people to break out of the holds of gang life.
Regarding how the public could help, Justin added that “the influence of the District Attorney in how they would prosecute and heal is important. The best thing would be for people to stay informed and engaged and to vote this coming September.” Justin also encourages the public to connect with KreateBuzz for screening the film.
For an insightful Q&A with director Rudy Hypolite about his motivation for making the documentary, check out our related blog post Director’s Perspective on ‘This Ain’t Normal’.
IHB-Based Organizations for Youth
Noting the importance of guiding our young men and women during their formative and teen years, a number of organizations have sprung up in the city and its surrounding areas. One of them is SparkShare – an IHB-based organization whose mission is to ‘help young people activate to make changes’ within their communities and in their own lives. By providing partnerships and networks that will allow young people to lead the charge, SparkShare helps youth with connections to develop community-level social impact ideas into meaningful solutions that they own.