Gangs Are A Cry For Community
The City of Los Angeles has now become the official “gang capitol” of the world. North Hills, a community in the Northeast San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles, is one of the twelve worst gang neighborhoods in the city, and is a frequent site of gang related violence and murder. It is here that Cloud and Fire has reached out to youth since 1999.
Why do youth join gangs? James Diego Vigil, a well-known gang researcher, set out to tackle this subject. In his well-known book, Barrio Gangs, Vigil tackles the subject of why some youth join gangs while others in the same communities prove resilient enough to stay away from gang life. After reviewing a number of factors, Vigil ultimately identified the single greatest predictor of whether a young person will join a gang.
Unbelievably, the difference is whether the family eats dinner together! Youth from cohesive family units where togetherness was emphasized had a much lower incidence of gang-joining. In contrast, youth from homes where the family unit was disjointed and spent little quality time together had a much greater likelihood of gang involvement.
Vigil’s findings tell us that youth need community, family, and a sense of strong values imparted from adults. Yet, many parents in poor Latino communities are struggling to survive. They may work long hours and multiple jobs to keep up with the cost of living in Los Angeles. Due to circumstances, these parents may not be able to be at home with their children. So Cloud and Fire becomes a special kind of “extended family” that wraps arms of love around youth in gang communities and helps provide the love, support, and values that will prevent them from joining gangs.