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Central Ohio Gangs Recruit Kids

Updated: Wednesday, September 25 2013, 12:34 PM EDT
COLUMBUS (Steve Levine/Ken Hines) -- Kids in grade school are now being recruited by central Ohio street gangs.

"I guess I was bored and wanted acceptance," said Bryan Clark, now known as the rapper Natty Boi. "I didn't have that father figure in my life, my mom raised me, she was working all the time -- that put us in the street."

Clark is not alone, dozens of kids as young as 11-years-old are drawn to the gang life when there is no strong parental figure or family life at home.

They were another family I didn't have at home, said ex-gang member Sean Stevenson, who ended up behind bars after becoming a leader of his Columbus gang.

Stevenson is now working the other side of the street, opening a bookstore on the East Side where gang members can gather to escape the violence.

"This is a neutral zone, so people know not to bring any of that violence or foolishness here," Stevenson said.

Gangs often target kids with low self-esteem, striving for attention from their parents and friends, according to experts.

"If a parent doesn't take that time and they are too busy, your kids feel alone, they are going to resort to big homie or big brothers on the streets," former gang member Blacque Ceasar said.

Clark is now using his music to fight back on behalf of at-risk kids, letting them know the glamorous life of a gang-banger never ends with a happy ending.

"This lifestyle doesn't last forever; you will eventually end up in jail," he said.

Retired Columbus Commander Kent Schafer identified the following warning signs that may be visible in children involved with gangs:

- Change in dress, habits, demeanor
- Change in circle of friends
- Increase in secrecy regarding activities
- Decreased academic performance or school attendance
- Gang symbols on books, clothes, etc.
- Unexplained increase in cash or possessions
- Presence of drug paraphernalia
- Presence of weapons
- Graffiti on home, car

Schafer offered the following advice to parents concerned about their child's possible involvement with gangs:

- Talk to your child about gangs/drugs at an early age
- Keep your child engaged in healthy, age-appropriate activities
- Closely monitor your child's friends/activities
- Monitor your child's use of social media
- Examine your child's room, books, cars, etc. for signs of gang activity
- Inform school resource officer, counselor of suspected gang involvementCentral Ohio Gangs Recruit Kids

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