Kenneth Hardin: A gang dedicated to positive change
With the escalating crime levels here, several months ago I got fed up and decided to join a street gang. Now, before you angrily clog up the online comments section, it’s not that type of gang. This gang is about making a positive difference in the Salisbury community. I’m a Nightcrawler. No, I don’t wear a fancy black suit, don a cape or have cool toys like Batman. The only weapons I have to combat the crime and societal ills that plague our city are a purpose, presence and prayer.
I’m not alone out there taking on the villains. Each week, there are typically 30 other superheroes walking in the shadows of dimly lit streets working to restore hope and pride into the community. Participation in this homegrown mobile Justice League has been as large as the 120 prayer and praise warriors who took over the streets of Spencer two Fridays ago, marching down to the home of the double murder victims and holding vigil. We were about 70 strong on the East End back in July walking the same route Marquis Feamster took the night a bullet erased his existence. We’ve been as small as the 15 who came to China Grove to pray for healing after the schoolteacher prescription drug incident. We understand numbers don’t make up the mission; people do, so we forge ahead with those who choose to come out.
The mission of the Nightcrawlers is simple: “To bring hope, to bring life, to bring light, to bring healing, and simply, a turnaround to the community.” Politics and titles are off limits as we accomplish more by putting that energy into such proven outcomes as instilling a sense of value in the neighborhoods and the individuals we encounter, promoting nonjudgmental/unconditional love, helping people make better choices, stopping potential crime and violence, giving people alternatives when talking and praying with them, increasing cultural and social awareness by connecting people across different socioeconomic, age, gender and cultural lines and building lasting friendships amongst those in our group.
The founder, Pastor Timothy L. Bates, makes no apologies nor does he try to hide the fact that he once engaged in a life as a street corner pharmaceutical sales entrepreneur. He purposely chose Fridays at 10 p.m. because he recalled that being the day and time he participated in his past nefarious ways. During a session last week, as the group of 30 stood in front of the home of the most recent shooting murder on Victory Street, he recounted in detail how just 20 yards away, he had stood on the corner as a younger man and sold drugs for 12- hour stints at a time. After an arrest, he reformed his ways, gave his life to the Lord and decided he wanted to start a new gang in Salisbury.
The Nightcrawler name was selected by his sister Wanda, as she recognized it as the best fishing bait, and equally effective as fishers of men. The name stood, and over the past three years, the family has watched their vision grow from three to four family members going out to local housing projects to talk with kids into a community giant praised by the Salisbury Police chief, the sheriff and political leaders from Salisbury, Spencer and East Spencer. Police Officers on patrol have even exited their patrol cars and joined impromptu prayer circles.
The Nightcrawlers have been met with criticism and skepticism from those who’ve questioned why the group would develop such a close working relationship with law enforcement and whether a difference can be made with just prayer, song and conversation. Pastor Bates is a lot more diplomatic than I because my response has been, “Well, tell me what you’re doing to fight for change and show me how that’s working out.”
The goal and focus of the group is not enforcement, but instead intervention and prevention. A large presence, compassionate conversation and a strong prayer has resulted in halting drug deals at the entrance to Brookview Apartments, stopping a potential street brawl at the apartments adjacent to Knox Middle School, helping many intoxicated residents make it home safely and recently re-routing youths who were looking to potentially engage in criminal activity at Salisbury High School last Friday night well after the game had ended and the stadium lights had dimmed.
The superheroes I proudly serve with weekly can’t be placed in a single descriptive category. It’s been great to see Muslims stand in solidarity with Christians, the mature in age stand with the children, the absence of gender differentiation and the varying skin color hues be rendered irrelevant as everyone is focused on bringing love and healing to the streets.
Someone asked me once if I was ever afraid to be out in the same places where murders and other crimes have occurred. I would be more afraid to be sitting at home on Friday night and not be out trying to make a difference. So, what are you doing each Friday night between 10 p.m. and midnight? I’m happy mine are spent participating in a positive gang on the streets of Salisbury.
Kenneth Hardin lives in Salisbury.