“I don’t think I’m a bad guy. I think I’m a good guy who did bad things.”
Marcell Wilson is an ex-gang leader “of a very large gang in the city in the early nineties to mid-2000s.”
He’s since turned his life around.
“There wasn’t one eureka moment” he said, from outside the Alexandra Park community centre where he spends his days growing the One by One Movement, which he co-founded.
It’s a new advocacy group to fight gun and gang violence.
“We’re a group of ex-gang leaders, former Neo-Nazis [and] former extremists that have come together to try and show some solidarity that on our side we can get together and make positive changes,” Wilson said.
With 2018 being the worst year for homicides in Toronto, Wilson felt the One by One Movement was especially needed.
“Ninety-five murders in our city makes it the worst year we’ve ever had when it comes to gun violence so we really need to step up our efforts and try to quell some of the things that are going on,” he said. “We’ve used a cookie cutter type system when it comes to social engagement and it hasn’t worked.”
“A lot of people have fallen through the gaps. So as people with lived experience, we can connect with these people on a human level, on a personal level, we understand their plight, we understand their struggle.”
Kiley Fleming is very familiar with the struggle and the violence, having grown up in downtown’s Alexandra Park.
The community has a history of gang activity and Fleming has devoted her adult life to helping steer young people away from it.
“What we try and do is create spaces and programs to engage those young people at eight years old so at eighteen they hear our voices or they come to us when they’re pressed with a hard decision about do I pick up the gun or what do I do?” Fleming said.
As a front-line worker, Fleming said she can see a direct link between the gun violence and poverty.
“We have to look at the root issues of it and where you see the packs of violence happening, are in lower income communities like ours across the city. The root of all that is poverty,” she said.
Marcell Wilson believes the way to reach individuals is by understanding that “things that work for this member may not work for this member.”
He said it’s about taking bits and pieces from various programs and creating “a mosaic.”
The One by One Movement is holding a charity boxing match on Dec. 29 to help raise funds and to introduce the group’s philosophy to the community.
“I think a lot of these young guys don’t realize the future that they’re laying out not just for themselves but for all the people that love them and people around them that may not be involved in any type of criminality.”
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