Learning new things about San Diego’s very old problem

Eric King, a youth mentor, at Martin Luther King Park. King was once an active gang member before he decided to tell his community's youth not to follow in his footsteps. Photo credit: Jennifer Bowman.

It’s known for its regular number of gang slayings and violent landmarks such as the “Four Corners of Death.” Lincoln Park reps the green. Skyline reps the red.

In southeast San Diego, gang activity is a part of life. Many local residents throughout the county hold the same stereotypical view — violence is the only thing the city’s southeastern neighborhoods can offer.

But as a resident of the area until I was 10 years old, I had a hunch that wasn’t true. So when I was assigned by my multimedia news class at San Diego State University to create an audio slideshow on a certain “lifestyle,” I turned to Eric King.

King fit the description of what so many think is true. He hailed from the O’Farrell community as an active gang member. But after seeing multiple friends die, he decided to change his life. He is now a father and a youth mentor working to keep others from following in his footsteps and entering the area’s prominent gang life.

I interviewed King on a windy February day at Martin Luther King Park, located on Skyline Avenue and within less than a mile from Imperial Avenue.

Even as a former resident of the area, I learned many things about the area’s gang life from King. One of them was that many of these children from opposing gang lines know each other — often times, very well. Some grew up together, some played organized sports with each other and some were even cousins, he said. Another interesting point King revealed to me was that gang life in southeastern San Diego isn’t like the movies — it’s not as hard as you may think to get out of the gang. If a member wished to leave the gang, King said, and truly stopped participating, fellow members would respect his or her decision.

King shed light on a different lifestyle so rarely highlighted in southeastern San Diego: an active, tight-knit community dedicated to keeping its children out of the gang life. It seems that even southeastern San Diego residents itself is trying to kick its gang reputation to the curb. King is one of them.

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