Ten year old Elvis pleaded with me once he got in my car.

“Please, can we go over two blocks to see if my brother is ok? Two East Siders were threatening him.”

“Is your brother in a gang?” I asked.

“Yeah, he’s West Side, but he’s on probation.”

“Elvis, I don’t want to get involved in gang stuff and I want you to avoid it as well.”

“But if we go over, they won’t fight him if I’m there.”

“Why will it matter to a gang if you are there?”

12 year old, Anthony chimed in, “It’s called disrespecting. They won’t fight you if your younger brother is there.”

So, I pulled around and we went looking for his brother, Sergio. We didn’t find him. It turned out he took shelter in a friend’s house. I was stunned by this conversation with the Anthony and Elvis, both of whom I’m a mentor to through the Fighting Back mentor program.

We talked about gangs and I started to get a glimpse in how much my mentees have to overcome. Even though we both live in the some town, we live in different worlds.

“I don’t like gangs, I don’t want my brother to die,” Elvis said out of the blue near the end of our conversation. Imagine living in a world filled with stupid, arbitrary gang rules like “disrespecting” and a gang culture that rules the neighborhood.

In the end, there was no real pithy advice I gave them or anything that I could say that would be life altering for them. But I was able to be there for them and show that someone cares for them. And I can keep encouraging them to choose the right path and choose life and not death. For me this is my role as a mentor and for Anthony and Elvis it may keep them out of gangs and give them a chance. At least this is my hope.