'Bigger, better things than gang life,' former gang members say

by: Gina Esposito Updated:

As suspected gang members sit behind bars in the Mecklenburg County Jail, community leaders are in Charlotte neighborhoods trying to connect with young men.

Kirby Anthony is the pastor at 5R Church in Charlotte. He said it took strong role models in the military and faith to turn his life around after spending time in a gang.

He saw his own brother murdered.

"To actually look down in a casket and to see a loved one to know you will never be to hug, kiss them again, it really touches your heart," said Anthony.

Anthony said it hurt him to see some many young people arrested, Thursday.

[GANG ARREST COVERAGE: FBI arrests 3 more United Blood Nation gang members, 7 still at large]

Some United Blood Gang members are facing murder, robbery and drug charges. 

"When you do things out in the streets you get a record, and sometimes society doesn't always forgive," said Anthony.           

He said it will take a long time for those communities and families to recover.

(WEB EXTRA: "It's never too late to turn your life around.")

Anthony said there is still time to save others, and Shelton Marris agrees.

Marris is a former gang leader who also changed his life. This year, he started Dream Team for Peace.

His team focused on how to prevent violence in communities, support families.             

Marris said gangs have changed over the years.

"It’s not like it was back in the cut, back in the times when we were doing it. It was more serious, now it’s just a game. It’s just an imitation," he said.

Marris said he encourages young people to go to college and get a job.

"It’s not worth it. There are better, bigger and better things than gang life," he said

(WEB EXTRA: "It's not worth it.")

Rayshaun Green is part of Dream Team for Peace.

He said music has too big of an influence, which is one thing they are trying to change.

"I'm a musician so that's what my focus is. The focus needs to be the change in music, a change in media. That's going to change the people. We can be fed 10 toes down but if they are being fed nonsense all the time, then they are not going to be able to have the ability to see us when we are here', Green said.

The group hopes that by sharing their stories, they can help other make better choices.

On Friday, they plan to do just that.

"Somebody that Shelton and I love very dearly, we are going to rescue him," Green said.

The group is holding a community gathering June 10 as part of their message to stop the violence.

Before Channel 9 interviewed the former gang members, a young woman asked the group for money so she could get a ride to the doctor.

The men gave her $5 and held her hand in a prayer circle at the 7-Eleven on Graham Street.

The woman cried, then was hugged as she thanked them.

The group said this is something they do every day, help others.

(EMOTIONAL MOMENT: Former gang members hold a prayer circle for a woman in need)