WKNO continues its series “Gangs in the City.” The Mathis twins have survived gang life on the mean streets of North Memphis, but just barely. Now, the twins are 28, but when they were younger they used to terrorize their neighborhood. Now they spend their days inside high schools and community centers showing young people that gang life is a one-way street to nowhere.
The Mathis twins, who were abused by their father, started getting involved in gang life at a young age. “At the age of 10 is when we got active, just doing little runs here and there,” Bryan explains. “They call it putting in work, but at our age we didn’t look at it as putting in work, because these were people we grew up with, male figures, people we call our uncles. Before letting us know what we was fully a part of, [they] just kinda had us doing minor things like that. Like make a little dope run here in exchange and bring the money back, and they would give us money off that.”
Bryan’s twin Brandon says, “They’re no longer recruiting 15 and 16 year olds.” Brandon continues, “Because at the time from 12 to 16, a teenager has made up their mind what they’re going to do, what they want to do, or what they settle to do. But a third grader, second grader, first grader, their developing skills are very fresh. So if you can get them at that age, they can grow up into it.”
Listen to the full interview of Bryan and Brandon’s journey into and out of gang life:
Brandon says they recruit children in first, second and third grade because they’re easy to scare. “You picture you got 15 boys that are going to jump you. Now, you can take the whoopin’ one time or you can take it every day. What you gonna do? Your mom cannot move you to a whole other city, whole other state. I mean you will want to. But in a situation like that, the child has to make a decision. Yo, I’m just gonna roll with ‘em or get rolled over, so they start rolling with ‘em.”
The twins rolled with ‘em and quickly achieved rank, making them leaders within the ranks of the Neighborhood Crips 1 - 11. Bryan says their involvement peaked in the late 1990s and into the early 2000s. Then one night at the skating rink in Raleigh, everything changed.
Bryan was told by nine of his peers that they had a gun and not to worry because they had his back. Later in the evening, he got into a fight. And then the guy he was fighting with started shooting, not only toward Bryan but in the direction of two girls, 7 and 9.
Bryan was fearless. He moved the girls out of the way and started running toward the shooter, “‘cause in my mind,” Bryan said, “I’m thinking, wow, I just had nine people tell me that if a situation like this go down that they had my back.”
But he was wrong. Instead, they took off running. Bryan got shot and wondered, “What if I got shot in the head or the chest?”
And Brandon took action. He went looking for his gun to take out the shooter, but by the time he got to it, they were gone. But he says he still fired shots to let them know “we have guns, too.”
That night deeply affected the twins. At this time, they’re 16. Bryan could have died, and Brandon could have been locked up for murder had he gotten to his gun sooner.
So they decided to go and talk with the leaders of their gang, but they did so with the guidance of God. Bryan says he spoke to them from his heart, and told them he had no problem with the gang per se. He just wanted to see what else was out there, because the gang didn’t save him.
“In me talking to them, they looked at me and they looked at my brother. They said that we have seen so many people die, so many people in this neighborhood that could’ve made it. He told us to promise him that we would do something with our lives.” Bryan continues, “He said, ‘Little Homie, but when you make it, don’t just make it for us. Make it for the hood, make it for those…I want to be able to say, I helped someone else make it.”
Production assistance by Elizabeth Hollingsworth