How George Floyd's death inspired these former gang members to help the local neighborhood

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Suzette Hackney, USA TODAY
·5 min read
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National columnist Suzette Hackney is in Minneapolis for the trial of Derek Chauvin, reporting on the people, the scene and the mood.

MINNEAPOLIS – Just steps from where George Floyd took his final breath, a group of former gang members are holed up in a house-turned-office, watching the trial of the man accused of murdering him. They're invested in the outcome; they're invested in their community.

Since Floyd's death in May and the civil unrest that followed, members of a local nonprofit called Agape Movement Co. have stepped in to provide security, to provide mentorship and to provide guidance for nonviolent conflict resolution in this south Minneapolis neighborhood.

They're focused on the boys and men who run with the Bloods affiliate – known as the Rolling 30's – those who sometimes stand on street corners slinging dope and those responsible for what Minneapolis police say has been an increase in crime in the area. They're focused on them because many of them used to be them.

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Members of the Agape Movement Co. inside of the Agape house stationed at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, MN. Harrison Hill/USA Today
Members of the Agape Movement Co. inside of the Agape house stationed at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, MN. Harrison Hill/USA Today

Their official mission is to bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement. They want police officers who patrol their streets to have an understanding of the people who live there. When they meet twice a day, they talk about how many men in the neighborhood, particularly Black men, feel disenfranchised because of the lack of economic and employment opportunities.

"Most of us were out there in gangs, doing street stuff," Marquis Bowie, one of the nonprofit’s co-founders, told me. "So I would say we're trying to be, in my opinion, I believe we're trying to be a resource center for the community, put the unity in community and just build up our neighborhood.

"We're actually just out here trying to be some positive role models in the neighborhood."

Gangs activity aside, the group has also helped distribute food to needy neighbors, sponsored young people who are looking for jobs and facilitated mental health and trauma counseling for those struggling to process Floyd's death and those who were in crisis even before he died. As testimony in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin continues downtown, the circle of roughly 25 men is wrapping their arms around their community.

They're motivated by one word: love. "Agape" is an ancient Greek term that means brotherly love or unconditional love. It's needed now more than ever.

Bowie, 45, describes the pain the neighborhood is experiencing because of the COVID-19 pandemic and Floyd's death as "trauma on top of trauma." The intersection at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue – called George Floyd Square – has been blocked by concrete barricades and makeshift checkpoints since Floyd died.

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Various items in the memorial at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, MN." Harrison Hill/USA Today
Various items in the memorial at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, MN." Harrison Hill/USA Today

Agape members work in shifts, coming and going as their real jobs allow. Most of them grew up in the neighborhood. Some of them, including Bowie, went to prison and returned to the community where they were raised. The organization has been around in various forms of youth outreach for nearly 30 years, but Floyd's death spurred renewed action.

"You have to keep coming, you have to keep showing up, you have to keep being in their face," Agape member Corey Byrd, 51, said of the young men they are hoping to drag from the streets and into jobs. "The guys on the block are just like a bunch of big, grown kids. There's something that's been missing in their lives. We always tell them: 'We don't want to be security. We don't want to be the police. But we do want to secure our neighborhood and police our neighborhood.'"

To that end, Agape members train mostly young people to participate in nightly community patrols instead of being lured into criminal activity after dark. Are they reaching everyone? Of course not. But as I continue to spend time in Minneapolis, I see the positives that community members are trying to wrestle from the tragedy of Floyd's death.

Bowie says he knows the traps. He grew up with a single mother who became addicted to drugs. She dated a drug dealer. As a child, Bowie was neglected and able to come and go as he pleased. "I basically grew up in a drug house," he said.

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"Most of us were out there in gangs, doing street stuff," says Marquis Bowie, a co-founder of local nonprofit called Agape Movement Co. Now, he says, "we're trying to be a resource center for the community, put the unity in community and just build up our neighborhood."
"Most of us were out there in gangs, doing street stuff," says Marquis Bowie, a co-founder of local nonprofit called Agape Movement Co. Now, he says, "we're trying to be a resource center for the community, put the unity in community and just build up our neighborhood."

After 12 years in prison on federal drug conspiracy charges, he wanted something different. He came home, got a job at Family Dollar and started reaching out to those he saw walking in his former shoes. Last year, Floyd's death became a wake-up call and a rallying cry for a neighborhood already entrenched in the drug trade; a neighborhood already overpoliced.

"We're trying to be like big brothers, fathers, uncles, and just help build our community," he said. "I was responsible for some of the foolishness that went on around here. So now I want to be part of helping it get better."

National columnist Suzette Hackney is a member of USA TODAY’S Editorial Board. Contact her at shackney@usatoday.com or on Twitter: @suzyscribe

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Group turns George Floyd's death into movement to help at-risk, needy