A gang basically is a loosely organized group of people who interact together with one another. The group or gang has a name, usually a leader or leaders, and may have developed identifying signs-- colors, clothing, tattoos, jewelry, or hand signals. The gang often claims a territory or an area and will fight rival gangs for control of the territory. Gangs take prevalence over race, background, neighborhood, and even family. The primary age group of gang members is 14 to 20. The average is generally around 18. However, kids as young as nine are eligible for recruiting. Kids who are born into a family with a gang background, which is becoming more and more common, they are basically recruited when they are born. Gang initiation usually involves a violent beating or a "jump." The member is told that there is no way out of a gang once they have been initiated. Kids join gangs to fill their basic needs which usually are not being met at home and at school. These are respect, support, family, recognition, respect, protection, identity, belonging, money, and control.
Many gang members come from poor and/or broken homes, and they get the support and structure they need from gang life. Kids from the dangerous environment of inner cities often feel that they need to belong to a gang as a form of protection. Gang kids usually have a low self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Membership in a gang makes them feel important and recognized within their peer group. Poor kids are often enticed by the money and material items that they see gang members acquiring usually through illegal means. Many kids join because they are afraid of physical harm they might receive if they resist the gang recruiters.
It is important to remember that their gang is their family for most gang members, and this kind of bond is a hard one to break. Parents and schools need to try harder to make sure that the basic needs of these at-risk kids are met, so they won't feel the need to join a gang. Some schools and communities have joined the fight the speed of gangs in our nation by instituting programs which help build kids self-esteem, give them a healthy support system and outlet for aggression, and show them a better way of life.