Kevin Wilkins remembers the summer day long ago when he stared down a member of The Valley, a notorious gang that inhabited the streets of North Philadelphia in the ’60s and ’70s.
He was around 16 at the time. The gang tested him and his peers from his North Philly neighborhood by beating them. It was a way to see if they were truly tough enough for the life ahead. Wilkins remembered his beating not being too bad.
With shadows of his previous life written into his body — a tattoo of a panther on his right arm, a lion on his left — the former gang member does not wish to reveal his true name.
I first met Wilkins a few years ago at the Honickman Learning Center and Comcast Technology Labs, an extension of the nonprofit Project HOME. Wilkins was a frequent visitor, stopping by to collect fliers about upcoming programs.
North Philadelphia, where Wilkins and I both live, has gone through a lot of changes over the years, Wilkins says. A lot of the respect and value in life has been lost.
“You really didn’t have a choice back then,” Wilkins told me when we started our conversation from his home gym. “I was raised by great parents who showed me nothing but love, but I went astray.”
After Saint Elizabeth’s Elementary School, Wilkins went to Roman Catholic High School for Boys, where he maintained good grades. He says he doesn’t think he was a troubled kid; he was just easily influenced.
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Dominique “Peak” Johnson is a North Philadelphia journalists and blogger. He is one of the founding editors and writers of the North Philly Metropolis and blogger for The Huffington Post. Click here to learn more about Peak.