Former gang member reaches teens through sports

Oxford Street reunion ignites team spirit
Former gang member reaches teens through sports
By Bobbi Booker
Tribune Staff Writer

The street gangs that proliferated in North Central Philadelphia in the ’70s had a huge impact on residents and left a mammoth legacy. Many of these gangs were enormous and meticulously organized. Today, as political leaders and residents tackle the murder epidemic, one former gang member says the solution is easy: sports.

“We may be able to stop some of the violence that is going on in the city if we focus on a lot of physical things like baseball, basketball boxing and all the sports where there’s physical contact with our youth,” said Fred “Herk” Jenkins.

Jenkins and some of his fellow former gang members organize an annual reunion in what was formally enemy territory. Tomorrow, the highlight of their community picnic will be the baseball games featuring “Old Heads vs. The Young Bucks.” Although the longtime Oxford Street area resident has only recently learned the sport of baseball, he sees its overall benefit to the neighborhood youth he counsels at the Athletic Recreation Center.

“Baseball is a way to build neighborhood unity and decrease violence among the youth,” said Jenkins, 50. “I’ve come to find out it is one of the best sport you can have when dealing with kids personality-wise because they have to be patient; they got to hold their frustration in and they got to perform and deal with the ups and downs of the game without lashing out.”

As a young teen, Jenkins was a member of the Oxford Street gang, one of nearly a dozen area gangs surrounding the Athletic Recreation Center at 26th and Master streets. Eventually, the sports programs at the center appealed to Jenkins more than his gang clique.

“I started in the recreation center first as a gang member causing trouble, then as a student of amateur boxing,” recalled Jenkins.

Jenkins went on to coach a couple of world boxing champions including Olympian David Reed, Zahir Rahim, Charlie “Choo Choo” Brown and “Rockin’” Rodney Moore.

“I basically raised all these guys and a whole lot of other kids who come out of this recreation center,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins says many of the former gang members have mellowed over the years and have all committed to a sense of personal and community responsibility.

“When you read the newspaper you only read what’s negative that’s going on in that area. For one negative thing in our area, there’s a hundred good things that’s going on,” said Jenkins. “There’s a whole lot of champions in our community that nobody talks about. “


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