Gang expert offers advice on ending violence
Young people need a voice and economic power to deter them from gang lifestyles, an expert in helping communities affected by gangs and terrorism said yesterday.
Mason West III, a pastor with the Building Communities First Ministry in Georgia and former Bermuda Institute teacher, warned that youth were more likely to join gangs if they felt they did not have a purpose.
Mr West said: “I find that youth are attracted to something like that when they feel like they have no voice or economic power anywhere else. To deal with that, you give them that voice and that economic power through different types of programming.”
Mr West, who lived in Bermuda from 2002 to 2005, said gangs on the island at the time appeared to be driven by territorial issues.
“Having a territory you could call your own was important and people getting permission to come into your territory or you protecting that territory seemed to be the basis of it all.”
He explained that gangs could also be the result of isolation and economic marginalisation.
He said: “Where you just have youth looking for purpose and anything that will give them that purpose, they will gravitate towards that.”
Mr West explained that when he taught at the Bermuda Institute, he developed the Talented Tenth leadership programme with a colleague to “motivate young men to reach their potential, to identify their talents, determine what marketable skills they could develop from those talents and then give them projects to do”.
He said: “That was the birth of the Emerging Leadership Programme that we developed and that started here in Bermuda. Then I started doing that in America, in England and now in Belgium.”
Mr West, who will be the guest speaker at the Black and Gold Ball hosted by the Epsilon Theta Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated on Saturday, said he realised it was key for the youth to buy into their own development.
He added: “I learnt if we could get young people to engage in some sort of introspection, where they identify their talents, and they determine what skills they can use with these talents, and then we give them the opportunity in their community — that formula right there has worked here. It has worked in England. It has worked in Brussels.
“It’s done a lot and it’s not something that is difficult, it just takes an investment of time and resources.”
Mr West, who is based in Atlanta, has worked with cities, schools, and governments to tackle concerns about radicalisation or gang-related problems.
He explained: “My specialisation is collaboration and capacity building, especially in the development of youth and helping them to influence their peers, their government, their economy as agents of change.”
Mr West founded the Mason West Group specialising in academic and community-based leadership programmes in 2005. He is also the executive director of charity Nation Builders Conference, which was founded last year.
He explained that his programmes focus on prevention, intervention and treatment.
Mr West said that as part of the intervention services, they set up an alternative sentencing programme in Atlanta, where the court refers young people to their programmes instead of sending them to jail.
Mr West said his programmes could be effective in Bermuda and added that he would be “perfectly open” to bringing them to the island.
He added: “You have a government that would be open to it. You already have programmes running here that would be an incubator for it. I think it would work well.”