WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Rival gang leaders are putting aside their differences and pouring themselves into a project that has the potential to decrease violence in Wilmington, called TRU Colors Brewing.
WECT's Ashlea Kosikowski has been following the start-up business and interviewing the members of the TRU Colors team. Watch for her special reports Sunday on WECT News at 6 and Tuesday on WECT News at 11.
It started with the murder of a teenager on Castle Street.
When Shane Simpson was killed in a gang-related shooting in 2015, entrepreneur George Taylor (National Speed, Untappd, JOMO) began to look into Wilmington's gangs and ways to stop the violence.
"At the time, I had no idea the gangs even existed in Wilmington," Taylor said. "I started looking into it and found out that it had something to do with this Bloods group that I knew nothing about."
Taylor said he called District Attorney Ben David, who put Taylor in touch with the Wilmington Police Department and New Hanover County Sheriff's Office Gang Task Force.
He asked to be introduced to some of Wilmington's gang leaders.
"That was in February of last year," Taylor said. "I spent the next eight months hanging out with these guys, trying to understand what is driving them, what was driving the violence and what opportunities there were to maybe have an impact."
Taylor said he found there are many misconceptions about the gangs and their members.
"I began to believe that it was much more of an economic issue than it was racial or social and that's where we had the idea: 'What if we could create a business and hire gang members, as absurd as that might sound?'" Taylor said.
The idea started to take shape and today, TRU Colors Brewing has nine gang leaders on the payroll. The men are from different sects of the Bloods, Crips and Gangster Disciples. Their goal is to open a brewery that will employ other gang members, giving them job and growth opportunities.
Cory Wrisborne was one of the first hires.
"Opportunity is the greatest equalizer," Wrisborne said. "Whenever we were all given the opportunity, I think we were able to look past where you were from or different things that made us different and look at a common goal that all of us want to achieve."
The nine men first went through a six-week boot camp called the Hero Project that started in June. It focused on business skills, life skills, brewing beer and brewery operations.
Part of the program was to get the gang leaders to agree to stop the violence from the top down. Taylor said that's been a success.
"The really important part to us was, 'Do you have influence over the hundreds of gang members who are underneath you guys?'" he said. "So, the deal was, in order for us to succeed and have this brewery, you have to learn, you have to be disciplined, but you also have to show me you have control so no shots fired from the moment you come on. As long as I'm paying you, no shots fired in your group. We weren't really sure what was going to happen but since then, there hasn't been a shot fired by our group…by anyone in our group or any of their members."
Now, they're in the next phase of the program, which includes weekly challenges, like skydiving, and giving back to the community through volunteering their time.
Meantime, they're coordinating plans for the brewery.