A former gang leader and an academic researcher team up to bring about change in a struggling community.
The project emerged from the efforts of “Big Mike” Cummings, a former drug dealer and gang member working to try to keep the peace in Watts, South Los Angeles. Seeking to create a support group for fathers living in the Jordan Downs housing project, Cummings reached out to gang expert and crisis interventionist Leap (Jumped In: What Gangs Taught Me about Violence, Drugs, Love, and Redemption, 2012). A self-described “anthropologist with a perpetual identity crisis,” her 20-plus years teaching at UCLA’s School of Public Affairs, along with her reputation for a willingness to get involved at the grass-roots level, made her indispensable for the project. This book combines sociology, tough-love prescriptions, evidence of genuine growth (and the growing pains that come with it) and an eyes-wide-open account of men struggling to be better. Despite years of experience researching gangs from a sociological perspective, Leap discovered that gang culture always has surprises in store. Her concern about a smart, gentle young man living in Jordan Downs proved to be off-base; since he is smart and attends school, the local gangbangers leave him alone. The author explores the mix of admiration and distrust that the men in the group have for Big Mike. She marvels at their gradual shift from using the group time as a sounding board for airing multiple grievances to beginning to collaborate on how to mentor younger men who are trying to make sense of their teenage lives. Repeatedly, the men have been challenged to see things differently while also showing Leap that some of her ideas about what constitutes “better” do not always match up with the hopes of the group.
Provides unique insights into a community intent on moving forward.