WILMINGTON — Gang violence is an unfortunate reality in cities across the country, from large cities like New York to smaller cities like Wilmington the impact of gangs is far-reaching –– but what can be done to stop it?
Wilmington businessman and entrepreneur George Taylor has spent the past two years working with gang members in the community in the hopes of curbing gun violence through his company Tru Colors, a brewing company hoping to make a positive social impact in communities across the country.
According to the Tru Colors website, “In 2017, 11 rival gang members came together to form TRU Colors Brewing and put a stop to the ongoing gang violence. Made up of active Bloods, Crips, and Growth & Development (formerly Gangster Disciples), we fight day in and day out to change the perception of gang culture and create a safer world.”
Tru Colors has a new location on Gordon Road planned for the base of its operations and has already secured a deal for national distribution of its product, according to Taylor. Active gang members make up a portion of the company, which is not a non-profit: Taylor’s aim is to sell beer — and help end gang violence in the process.
Port City Daily caught up with Taylor to try and understand the company’s goals and some of the challenges it will face.
We had heard that the brewery had changed plans a little bit – can you tell us about plans for the brewery in Wilmington?
Taylor: I guess what you’re saying is that there is no bar or tasting room and that is true. Our main goal with the brewery is to get big fast and we have the opportunity to get our beer across the US by the end of next year. That’s our goal because it gives us a much bigger platform.
I guess maybe if we changed course it’s that in our first facility were not going to have a restaurant or tasting room or anything like that – other than that it is all the same.
What prompted you to start Tru Colors?
This whole thing got sparked about two-and-a-half years ago there was a 16-year-old who got killed over on Castle Street that was gang related. That was when I became interested or aware of gangs in Wilmington.
I didn’t go into it saying ‘I want to start a business with gang members’ I spent the next year or so hanging out with gang members, building trust, getting an understanding of what was driving the violence and began to believe that there was an opportunity to hire these guys and begin to give us influence over the violence.
We ran a bunch of tests in 2017, we hired a couple of active gang members into other companies of mine to see how they would do – and they succeeded – in sales in particular. In July of last year, we ran another test and we hired guys that were high status in the gangs to come in and go through a two-month boot camp.
The deal was we were going to put together this boot camp that teaches business skills, life skills, and some stuff about beer. In return show me that you can be disciplined, show up on time, you can be positive, and show me you can learn … and then show me you have influence on the streets. The way you do that is I don’t want to see one gang related shooting during this two-month period.
In every city, and Wilmington is no different, in the summer gang violence comes up because it’s hot outside and people are out of school, and [expletive] happens.
By January we believed we had an opportunity for a new business and that is where Tru Colors came from.
Is it your end goal to get people out of gangs or the gang life?
No, our first goal is to sell beer, we are a for profit company … Secondarily we have a very strong commitment to our social mission which is to unite rival gangs and stop the street violence across the country.
Were not asking anyone to step out of the gang, we don’t want them to. We are redefining street life maybe, we do obviously expect that none of our employees are doing anything illegal – at all.
We do expect them to go back into the streets and back into their gangs and share with them what they have learned and what the opportunities can be.
There have been a couple of recent arrests of Tru Colors’ employees, what do you have to say about that?
It depends on who you are talking about, most recently we had three guys that were arrested. They were all current, or at the time current Tru Colors employees.
Obviously, we’re disappointed, irritated, it’s embarrassing but this stuff happens occasionally.
Do you fear for your own safety?
No. No, today, in fact, I have relationships with gang members at very high levels at a national level so we don’t have concerns like that.
How to you prevent rival gang members from bringing “gang beef” to work?
First of all, they don’t. The members we have – and we have 20 some gang members who are employees, maybe 30… and within that group are all the leaders of the gangs in Wilmington.
So, it just doesn’t happen. (The gang leaders) have already signed on to uniting rival gangs and stopping the street violence. although most of (this summer’s) shootings have nothing to do with gang beef.
Maybe in the last six months, I’ve seen it once or twice where I’ve seen a beef come into the office. And all we do is sit it down. Every week we have gang intervention meetings, in Wilmington and other cities as well, so if there’s [expletive] on the streets it’s going to be brought up and we’re going to deal with it.
You know I’m a big proponent of fist fights. That works really well for me. Anything, frankly, other than weapons. So we deal with it on the streets.
You do occasionally have a shooting that might involve someone who is gang affiliated or associated in some way with a gang, but I’m trying to remember — I don’t remember in the last year one retaliation where that’s occurred. It was settled outside of the normal mechanism, it was settled with something other than a gun.
Is it possible to be in a gang and commit no criminal activity?
In my experience in the gang, I’ve been with them two-and-a-half years I know them well … In my experience, certainly in Wilmington, maybe about 25-percent of gang members do illegal stuff – occasionally.
The rest of them are in high schools, they work at Food Lion or McDonalds or they aren’t working at all. But by far, I’ve never seen a situation, even in Chicago where the majority of gang members are involved in illegal stuff.
Do you feel you have a good relationship with law enforcement?
We do, I have nothing but respect for law enforcement … to me there is sort of a three legged stool: there is the law enforcement, that is doing a great job dealing with the crimes. There is the District Attorney who is doing a good job enforcing it with big numbers … and then there is Tru Colors which offers another opportunity to build a future.
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