Gun-related homicides hit Black and Latino communities in North Texas hardest. Can that change?

Some community groups are trying to make a difference by intervening with “violence interruption.”

By Kailey Broussard, KERAFebruary 22, 2023 10:15 am, ,

From KERA:

Felton Jenkins sees himself in the youths he encounters through community work.

He watched his mother become addicted to drugs when he was 9. By the time he turned 12, he had become a gangster and a father. He sold drugs in order to afford groceries and rent.

Jenkins said his life could have played out differently if someone had helped him. Now, through community organizations and programs, he wants youths to get the kind of help he didn’t receive.

“I didn’t want that life. I’m gonna be honest, that was not my dream or my goal,” he said. “I believe in my heart it’s not the goals of these 12- or 13-year-olds out here now. It’s not their goal, but they don’t have another choice, and that’s what hurts.”

Jenkins and other community leaders around North Texas want to reverse the gun violence that hits Black and Latino communities hardest. Their approach: build and use relationships to stop conflicts before they turn deadly.

Black and Latino victims accounted for almost 90% of homicides involving a gun in Dallas, Tarrant and Collin counties during the first half of 2022, according to a KERA News analysis. And victims of color continued to be disproportionately represented in gun-related homicides throughout 2022.

Jenkins said children have even more access to guns now than they did during Jenkins’ 25 years as a gang member in South Fort Worth.

“They’re 13, 14 years old and they’re saying they’re OGs (“original gangsters”) in the community,” Jenkins said. “We never had that back in our day.”

Jenkins has worked with his community since his 2011 release from jail — first on murder charges that were dismissed, then on organized crime charges, according to Tarrant County records.

He’s the founder of G.A.N.G. Banging for Christ, a nonprofit that works in the community. Jenkins also leads the Boys2Men program at Morningside Middle School. The program offers support and services that students may not have access to at home.

“We are able to help them get haircuts. We are able to help them get coats. We are able to allow people to talk … to the boys about mental health issues, whatever peer pressure they’re going through,” Jenkins said.

Community organizers like Jenkins try to be mediators when tempers flare. They want to stop violence before happens. But there’s a risk. He said the rising number of guns in communities has made him more cautious when young people on the streets.

“It’s harder now to win some of these young men over with all of these guns because, in their head, you can’t tell them nothing,” Jenkins said.

Antong Lucky is a former gang member who heads Urban Specialists, a Dallas-based organization that tries to stop violence on the streets. It’s in cities across the country. He said he’s become more mindful of the “tightrope” that people walk in the debate about guns in Texas.

“We try to walk in the middle. We understand the 2nd Amendment, but we also understand that the violence and the access to guns in our community, in young people ending up with guns in their hands, it’s an issue that we need to address,” Lucky said.


(KERA analyzed data on deaths ruled as homicides in Dallas, Tarrant and Collin counties for the first six months of 2022. It found that Black and Latino accounted for a significant majority of gun-related homicides. Victims of color continued to be disproportionately represented through the rest of the year.)

Dallas County
Total gun-related victims: 146
Black victims: 89 (61%)
Latino victims: 45 (31%)

Tarrant County
Total gun-related victims: 64
Black victims: 34 (53%)
Latino victims: 16 (25%)

Collin County
Total gun-related victims: 7
Black victims: 4 (57%)
Latino victims: 3 (43%)

Community ‘thermostats’

Such programs use models that are similar to the approach popularized by Cure Violence, a global program that tries to reduce conflict with “violence interrupters”—people who, because of their community status and/or past gang involvement—can draw from their own lived experiences and utilize the relationships they already have in the community.

Cure Violence approaches violent crime like it’s a disease that can be prevented or contained with early intervention.

Violence interruption usually doesn’t involve police. Instead, people try to address the root of systemic issues before they metastasize into violent incidents.

The City of Dallas launched a violence interrupters program with Dallas Cred, a branch of the national organization Youth Advocate Programs, in 2021. The Dallas Cred program enlists people who are considered “credible messengers” — that is, trusted people in communities. They reach out to people who need social services or legal help. And they also keep an eye out for other things that could help reduce crime — like telling the city about broken streetlights.

Fred Fogg, who oversees YAP programs, said the Dallas Cred program has decreased violent crime in their four focus areas by 22% since launching in 2021. Those areas are around the intersections of Loop 12 and Jim Miller Road, Camp Wisdom Road and Gannon Lane, Webb Chapel Road and Lombardy Lane, and Overton Boulevard and Illinois Avenue.

“Oftentimes it’s easy to see when violence happens, right? You can see the police report, you can see the crime data, the crime statistics. What we don’t often see is when peace happens,” Fogg said.

The organization tracks impact by measuring resolved conflicts and the number of referrals to legal, job and social services. Its members include people who have “cred” — or credibility — within the community,” Fogg said.

Antong Lucky’s Urban Specialists runs a training academy for former gang members. He considers former gang members like himself as “thermostats” for their communities who can help reduce gun violence and gang activity.

“They have proximity and they have closeness to those who perpetuate or those who commit the kind of violence that we’re seeing around the country,” Lucky said.

Lucky’s mentor was Bishop Omar Jahwar, who founded the Kingdom Worship and Restoration Church in Dallas. Jahwar also found Urban Specialists in 1997 to address violence in urban communities.

Jahwar and his group successfully brokered the first gang truce in Dallas between the Crips and the Bloods in 2000. Urban Specialists has since expanded to Atlanta and Baton Rouge.

Lucky met Jahwar after leaving jail in 2000. Jahwar died in 2021 from complications due to COVID-19.

Over the years, Lucky has Urban Specialists help gang members abandon a life of violence. He’s even seen a gang member who was shot make peace with the person who shot him.

“The magic happened when they sat at the table and together and they were able to forgive each other,” Lucky says.

‘Consistency’ in the approach

Lucky says he’s heartened by the way people who’ve come through his program have changed. Despite the name, they don’t have to be a former gang member to register for classes — they just need to want change. The program has more than 1,000 alumni and most work in North Texas.

Terry Mayo is one of those alumni. He now runs his own outreach program through the A.C.T.I.O.N. Network.

Mayo played professional baseball and collegiate and professional football. He founded his group on the notion that everybody needs a coach and a team to hold them accountable.

“If you jump offsides, they throw a flag on the play and you move back five yards,” Mayo said. “In football, if someone throws a punch and you retaliate, then you are the one who is penalized …. We use those principles of sports to be able to deliver it to the streets the way you can understand it.”

The group’s name is an acronym for the principles it promotes: Accountability, Commitment, Teamwork, Integrity, Optimism and Nobility. The A.C.T.I.O.N. Network works with other organizations in Dallas neighborhoods like Oak Cliff and Pleasant Grove, and in surrounding cities like Lancaster and Duncanville.

Mayo said he wants city leaders to recognize how nonprofits like his are helping their communities. But he says a lot more needs to be done and cities need to jump in.

Groups like his, Mayo said, can’t do it all alone — and it hurts him to see young men and women “that you pour so much into” still end up dead on the streets.

But he’s still hopeful. And Lucky shares in that hope.

“People who have been in a comatose state are coming out of their state, saying ‘We’re going to take back our community, we’re going to be responsible for our community, we’re going to help, we’re going to do what we need,” Lucky said.

If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation here. Your gift helps pay for everything you find on and KERA. Thanks for donating today.