The move from elementary school to middle school can be tough. It's in the middle-school years that gang activity becomes visible. Most kids want no part of gangs, but the drive-by shooting death last week of a 17-year-old in West Hills after he "insulted" a gang member points up the fine line that younger kids feel they need to walk. Teacher and writer MARY REESE BOYKIN talked with middle-school boys and one high-school student about how they avoid gang involvement. TERRANCE JOSEPH
Grade 7, Audubon Middle School/
Magnet Center, Los Angeles
I don't hang around gangbangers and people who do things that are worthless in the long run. I don't wear extra-baggy pants or curse or talk loud. When you act like that, people think you are tough and everybody wants to be tougher.
I'm always trying to create inventions: a flying car--it almost worked--a light-bulb retriever and a sailing skateboard.
One day at school, I was taking a rest from a basketball game when I was asked, "Do you want to be put on?" That means that they beat you up and then you are in the gang. I said, "Oh, look behind you!" When he turned around, I ran off and went back to my basketball game.
Grade 7, Audubon Middle School/
Magnet Center, Los Angeles
I am friendly with everyone, but I don't go places with anyone who is a gangbanger.
I go to the Challengers Boys' and Girls' Club after school, since my mom does not want me to be home alone. They have many activities. I like to go to the class called Smart Moves that teach us to use the "broken record." If someone asks us to join a gang, they teach us to say "no, no, no, no, no." They teach us another technique called the "cold shoulder"--just to walk away. I tried that once, and the gang recruiter left me alone. They also teach us to give an excuse to get away from the recruiter. Say something like, "I have to go home," or "It's time to eat dinner."
What I am about is making good grades--I have all A's--so that one day I can become an engineer.
Grade 8, Marcus Garvey Junior High School, Los Angeles
One day, my friend and I were walking down the street when a group of gangbangers approached us and asked, "Do you want to be from our gang?" We said no.
They said, "You need somebody to cover your back?"
I said, "No, I don't want to be involved in gangs."
They are not for me. I want to be somebody--a basketball player or a contractor. Once you're in a gang, you'll always be in a gang. You can't get out.
But at Marcus Garvey, I get so much homework that I don't even get to go outside. When I do, I play basketball.
Grade 7, Crozier Middle School,
How to avoid gangs? Don't dress like a gangbanger. Don't throw signs. Stay in your own business, and if they approach you, walk away.
I was walking down the street going to school when my cousin's friends asked me and him, "Do you want to be in a gang?"
I said, "No, thank you."
They asked why. I said, "Because my family is depending on me to stay out of gangs and to stay in school and set a good example for my younger brother and sister." They didn't say anything else. I took the long way to school that day so I wouldn't be walking the way they were.
ROGER SMITH III
Grade 6, Palms Middle School, Los Angeles
One day, when I was going to the store with my friend, a gang member threatened us. He was going to beat us up if we were from another gang.
At school, they tried to get me in a gang because my friends are in a gang. I don't want to get in a gang because too much happens. I could get kicked out of school, even out of the district.
If I see a gang member approaching, I try to go the opposite way. My parents tell me: "Don't get involved with that stuff; it's stupid!"
I think it is the way I act, the way I talk, the way I dress that makes them approach me. Say I have on extra-baggy pants--they think I am from a gang. Sometimes I wear red or blue. I had a fight when I walked to my younger brother's school because they thought I was a gang member.
My parents involve me in lots of sports. I play football, basketball, shotput and discus and sometimes run the 100-meter dash. These activities keep me out of trouble because as one season ends, another comes through. I want to go to college and one day become a professional football player.
Grade 8, Crozier Middle School,
One way to avoid gangs is not to wear certain colors, like black or blue, because someone may confuse you with a gang member.
Getting in gangs is too risky. They make you do bad things. You shouldn't hang around gangbangers, because sometimes people in another gang may think that you are a member of a gang because of the people you hang around.
Grade 8, Crozier Middle School, Inglewood
I was walking home from school and a gang member came to me and asked, "Where're you from?"
I answered, "Nowhere." Then I turned around and left.
I think that even though we disrespect what gangbangers do, we shouldn't disrespect them by saying things like "You're a punk; you do bad stuff," because that causes more trouble.
When you are not in a gang, your mother can trust you, and she will let you go places that you want.
Grade 12, Inglewood High School
There is no way around it: You are going to get approached to join a gang, but you can make your own decision.
I had no interest in joining a gang because, in my opinion, being in a gang is not cool. It may sound interesting, you may get money, you may get artificial respect, but all of this is short-lived. You can end up getting locked up.
My parents divorced when I was 9, but just like my mom, my dad was always there for me. He instilled in me to stay in school, don't get involved in gangs or drugs, don't make him a granddad before his time. I have followed this advice.
I grew up with three close friends who are older. They got caught up in the moment, started living for the moment. I am the only one of us to graduate from high school.
When you are approached about a gang, tell them you are not from anywhere. Then stay that way. Get involved in something positive, like sports. I did. In August I am going to Fresno State.