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Students hear hard-hitting realities of gang culture

ByJill Lundberg2

Jan 29, 2020 #education

A hard-hitting and thought-provoking presentation left students at Stokesley School and Sixth Form College in no doubt about the dangers of gang culture.

The initiative was spearheaded by Stokesley Rotary Club who, following a meeting with the police about the increase of gang crime in cities like London and Birmingham, decided to do something about raising awareness with young people, kindly offering to fund a project for Stokesley School. Sheldon Thomas, founder of Gangsline, was recommended, due to his unrivalled expertise in this field and powerful delivery.

Sheldon spoke with first-hand experience, having been a gang member from age 11 to 21 from the mid 70’s.   He pitched age-appropriate insights into the gang scene to all students from Years 7 to 13, alerting them to grooming and initiation into gangs, the make-up of a gang member, female sexual exploitation and the dangers of drugs.

The presentation was clear, anyone can be a target for a gang, no matter what race, age or social background.  Sheldon highlighted the many ways gang members attract young people using different mediums and language. He explained how students can recognise these approaches and, most importantly, how they can protect themselves from them.

Chris Simpson, Associate Principal at Stokesley School, commented: ”Sadly, young people are exposed to news about gang culture on a daily basis across a wide range of media. Whilst these gangs tend to operate in some cities, it is vitally important that our students are made fully aware of the dangers of gang crime and what it can lead to.”

Sheldon captivated the students’ attention, prompting pertinent question and answer sessions. At the end of the presentations, students had a greater understanding of building resilience and raising awareness around the dangers of gang culture, appreciating it’s not just the individual involved in a gang that is in danger, it puts the whole family network at risk.

PC Sam Geraghty added: “This initiative is about education and prevention and we are keen to support anything that educates about the dangers of gang culture. Although currently we do not have some of the issues we see happening round our major cities, I believe we need to proactively prevent. I think it is brilliant that the Rotary are supporting our young people and the school are actively trying to protect their students from the negative outside influences they face.”

Sheldon left the gang culture after he narrowly missed being shot and out of his 25-strong gang, nine were killed and three are in mental institutions.  This prompted a complete change in attitude for Sheldon who went on to gain a degree in Marketing and Statistics. In 1989, he had the opportunity to go to America to meet civil rights activist Jesse Jackson. This was a trigger, and with the support of his wife, he set up Gangsline to maximise his own experiences for the benefit of others. He is hailed as a leading expert in gang culture and an advisor to the Home Office and New Scotland Yard.

He is regularly interviewed by TV and the media and, alongside his work with young people, he is a highly-regarded training provider to police forces, teachers and health professionals

Ann Keene, Stokesley Rotary Club Chair of New Generation, said: “Stokesley Rotary were delighted to be able to facilitate the bringing of Gangsline to Stokesley School.  Having listened to Sheldon’s presentation, it has more than met my expectation. It was powerful and the silence in the hall showed how well the students were listening to his message. I feel this has been a very worthwhile event and hope that senior schools in other areas will follow this example.”

Sheldon, founder of Gangsline, concluded: “In order to save the next generation from gang culture, we have to be proactive, preventative, understanding that we are in a culture of social media, absent fathers and a broken society.  In order to fix this we need to address morals, values and family cohesion.”

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