Paul Parker once swore by the blue worn by the gang he ran with.
He spent 10 years with X Blocc, a Crips gang on the outskirts of the Old West End.
Parker picked up felonies and prison time all because the flashy lifestyle he saw on the streets appealed to a kid who couldn’t keep his grades high enough to stick with any school sports teams.
A few years ago, he decided the gang culture just wasn’t worth it.
Parker, 28, again picked up boxing and began “perfecting my craft.” He coaches the sport at North Toledo’s Glass City Boxing gym, mentoring local children.
He is one of a handful of people leading the charge against gang violence in his hometown.
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Parker will push the message further during the Fight Against Gang Violence, a series of Saturday night fights at the Frederick Douglass Center on Indiana Avenue.
“The message is to bring awareness toward gang activity and show people the urgency,” Parker said. “We need to start bringing forth positive programming and activities so when these kids get older, they don’t go that route. It can die down if we do something now.”
Being in the Glass City Boxing gym is about more than personal growth. Parker is teaching the sport to young people, working them hard, and wearing them out so that when they leave, they’re too tired to think about hanging out on the streets and running with gangs.
“I love boxing because when I was younger, I used to have anger problems, and now I come to the gym and take it out on the bag,” said Devon Hands, 11, of Toledo.
Saturday’s boxing matches start at 7:30 p.m., doors open at 7. Admission costs $10 for adults and $5 for children older than 5.
Money raised at the fights will fund an Aug. 25 anti-gang violence rally that starts with a two-mile walk along North Detroit Avenue from Central Avenue to Indiana Avenue.
When he stepped back from the streets, Mr. Parker saw the influence of gangs growing. Young black men dying for the red, blue, and black.
“We would go and meet opposing gangs, have fights, and that would be the end of it. One person out of the 10 might carry a gun, and most of the time you use it to shoot in the air to scare the other people away,” Parker said. “Now it’s to the point where it’s so serious you got all 10 holding a gun, and they’re not shooting in the air anymore.”
Parker is now in a unique position: He’s not much older than many of the men and women who are in gangs, and he has been in their position.
His association with X Blocc started when he was 13 or 14 by just saying he was from the neighborhood. The youngest of four brothers, Parker was the only one who didn’t meet the academic requirements for school athletics.
“I would start to venture out and see what exactly takes place, and I kind of looked up to it,” Parker said. “They had all the things I wanted. I wanted the nice clothes, I wanted the girls, I wanted respect, I wanted nice cars, and I wanted money. These guys had those things so it kind of intrigued me and lured me in.”
In 2007, Parker was sentenced to 26 months in prison after being found guilty of possession of crack cocaine and failure to comply with the order of a police officer.
About the time he was released, he separated himself from the gangs. Boxing and the two-mile rally are only the start to reducing gang violence, which Parker says can be eradicated if other people step up and take action.
“Until everyone wants to get involved, until violence spills over into other communities and suburbs and they see that gang violence doesn’t just affect the African-American community, when the violence spills over, the people in power will see the urgency of it,” Parker said. “Until then it’s just young black men and black women killing each other.”
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.