The tattoos on his body still identify him as a member of the Five-Deuce Broadway Crips. His homeboys in South-Central Los Angeles know him as Cue Bone. Police computers show that he served three years for manslaughter.
But all that will be forgiven next week when Charles Rachal boards a plane for Washington, D.C., where a complementary hotel room and tuxedo await his arrival as one of 50 "Faces of Hope" invited to Bill Clinton's presidential inauguration.
"He looked at me as who I really am and not just the stereotyped image," Rachal, one of the organizers of last spring's gang truce, said Tuesday. "To me, that's fresh."
Rachal will make his journey east with Leon Gullett, a former Blood, who helps him run a small outreach program at the Community Youth Gang Services office near 60th Street and Western Avenue. They will be joined by Zoila Terrazas, an apartment manager from South-Central, who has been praised for chasing gang members from her building.
Besides receiving tickets to the inaugural ball, the three are the only California residents invited to a private luncheon for 50 "outstanding individuals." The hosts will be Clinton and his wife, Hillary, and Vice President-elect Al Gore and his wife.
The new presidential team "asked people whose personal stories have touched and inspired them as they campaigned across America to be included in the reunion as their personal guests," according to a press release from Clinton's organization.
Rachal, 28, whose last name is misspelled in that same press release, met the President-elect in September at a rally at the Maxine Waters Employment Preparation Center, where Clinton unveiled details of his urban aid and redevelopment plan.
During a private meeting, Rachal told Clinton of his work to keep the peace in South-Central, bring economic investment to the community and restore hope among a generation of youths whom he believes society has written off. Afterward, Clinton asked Rachal and Gullett to join him at the podium as he addressed supporters. "Me and Leon was, like, talking with him face to face," Rachal said. "I know he has a job that requires a lot more than most of us, but he was just a human being, no different from anybody else. He didn't hide behind the suit or tie or any of those other images."
Rachal emerged as a leader of the truce movement in the days after the riots, forming a coalition of representatives from eight gangs along the Broadway corridor that was later dubbed South-Central Blackness. Community Youth Gang Services, the gang intervention and prevention agency funded by the city and county, scraped up enough funds to pay them between $6.50 and $8.50 an hour for their peacemaking efforts until the money ran out in August.
"They are an example of what can happen when young people want to change their lifestyle and there's somebody reaching out to them, providing them with some realistic opportunities and some hope," said Ed Turley, an agency director. "All we need is some resources and these people will come forward."
Along with Rachal and Gullett, Clinton's team cited Terrazas as a "one-woman community enforcer" for her attempts to chase gang members from the apartment complex she manages. Though the gangs burned her truck, said a press release, "Terrazas continues to fight for safe living for her tenants and proudly states that gang problems in her building have disappeared." She could not be reached for comment.
Others on the guest list include an advocate for the homeless from New York, an unemployed steel worker from Pennsylvania, the principal of a grade school in a low-income area of Chicago, an AIDS activist from Massachusetts who is HIV-positive, the mother of a disabled girl from Cleveland and an American Indian mental health worker from Montana.
All of them will receive lodging, transportation and tuxedos and gowns for the Inaugural Ball, courtesy of the Clinton organization.
"I've never done anything like this before," Rachal said. "I'm just going to take a lot of pictures."