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Gang member turned pastor speaks in Lake Charles

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LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) -

"New Steps Reentry for Youths" is an organization that fights for youths caught up in the cycle of incarceration.

Under that group is "The Gatekeepers Men Story Circle Group," which holds monthly meetings.

The Gatekeepers group brings together a panel of young males, many of whom have been down the road of drugs, gangs and incarceration.

And they speak to others about what it takes to break the cycle. Tuesday's meeting also had a motivational speaker by the name of Rev. Charles Banks – a gang member turned pastor.

Banks went to Arkansas State University on an academic scholarship, but one day, lost his way.

"I'm a two-time loser in prison, Arkansas Most Wanted. I was a gang member for 12 years, I was affiliated with the gangs in Little Rock called the Crips, OGC, Original Gangster Crip," explained Banks.

Banks also sold drugs, cooking meth for 10 years. And he said it took losing everything to turn around.

"You don't have no friends, you don't have no homeboys. Your homeboys say they your homeboys but when you lose everything, where your friends at? I had a rough life, but God saved me and gave me a chance," said Banks.

And he's using that second chance to preach and speak to groups like this.

Connie Walton Lewis, the founder of New Steps Reentry for Youths, said, "it's a membership based organization and it's statewide, for children coming out of the system and that have been in the cycle of incarceration and recidivism."

Tuesday's meeting, called The Gatekeepers A Men Story Circle Group, falls under that organization and brings in speakers – including local young men. And who better to speak than someone who's been down that road?

"I messed my life up at 17, I mean I went through the stages through juvenile but at 17 I messed my record up by just doing crazy stuff on the streets you know and now I learned from it and I'm trying to better the community and the children so they won't go down the path I went through," said Gatekeeper Jamyrik Walton.

The group focuses on young men between the ages of 15 and 17.

"But if anybody else comes and says they need help we would definitely help them," added Lewis.

Tuesday was the group's third meeting, and at each one, Lewis said they continue to grow.

But most importantly, Banks had this advice: "It doesn't matter if you're a convicted felon. You can have what you want to have. Gang members go two places: the penitentiary and the cemetery. Do not let your scars determine your dreams."

The Gatekeepers Men Story Circle Group meets every second Tuesday of the month. For meeting information, call Connie Walton Lewis at 337-438-1856.

Rev. Charles Banks, founder of Drugs & Gang Awareness Prevention Program, can be reached at 337-344-9345 or dgapp@hotmail.com.

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