30 years ago Aqeela Sherrills facilitated the peace between Los Angeles’ gangs. Today, his work is redefining public safety as we know it.
In 1989, I lost 13 friends to the gang war raging through Los Angeles. When I say war, I mean war!
Between 1983 and 2003, there were over 20,000 gang-related deaths in L.A. County and that number didn’t include those permanently maimed or incarcerated for the rest of their lives due to their participation.
Both kids and parents suffered from traumatic stress, hypervigilance, and vicarious trauma. I never questioned the violence I witnessed growing up in the Jordan Downs Housing Projects in Watts because ultimately, I would have to question the violence I experienced in my own home — I just didn’t have the language to articulate why this was happening or the courage to confront the perpetrators.
After having a transformative experience, I read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and James Baldwin’s “Evidence of Things Not Seen.” I felt moved to do something about the violence in my neighborhood and I decided that I had to do something to stop the killing.
Starting with my brother Daude and a group of friends from Jordan Downs, we began marching into the four major housing projects in Watts speaking with our formal rivals, asking the question, “Who’s winning the war we are waging against ourselves?.