Gang members work construction jobs through TRU Colors Brewing Company apprenticeship program

TRU Colors Brewing Company is putting more gang members to work through its apprenticeship program. (Source: TRU Colors)
TRU Colors Brewing Company is putting more gang members to work through its apprenticeship program. (Source: TRU Colors)
TRU Colors apprentice Keavon Murphy on a construction site. (Source: WECT)
TRU Colors apprentice Keavon Murphy on a construction site. (Source: WECT)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - TRU Colors Brewing Company is putting more gang members to work through its apprenticeship program.

We first told you about plans for TRU Colors Brewing Company, a brewery that employs active gang members, last year.

When Shane Simpson was killed in a gang-related shooting in 2015, George Taylor, an entrepreneur in Wilmington (National Speed, Untappd), began to look into Wilmington's gangs and ways to stop the violence. His idea formed into TRU Colors Brewing Co, which launched last year with gang members from the Bloods, Crips and Gangster Disciples on the payroll.

The brewery isn't expected to open until later this year. Still, the company is bringing on even more men and offering them a second chance if they work for it.

Daiquan Jacobs is one of the apprentices working construction as part of the program.

We met him on a chilly April morning at a Monteith Construction site in northern New Hanover County. He was using a jackhammer on cement, surrounded by the steel beams that are the foundation of a new bank.

Only a few months ago, Jacobs was surrounded by something else — the walls of a federal prison. He was released in January after serving time for drug and gun crimes.

"Life's a learning experience," Jacobs said. "I've learned from my mistakes."

Those mistakes started when the baby-faced 21-year-old was in his teens. He was arrested for attempted murder at age 17.

Jacobs said going to prison helped him turn his life around.

"People look at going to prison as a bad thing, but for me, it was actually a good thing," he said. "I learned a lot, a lot of things that you won't learn out here or in any school. It made me who I am today: a better person."

Trying to be a better person is what led him to the Tru Colors apprenticeship program. He heard about it while in prison and knew right away he wanted to get involved.

Now, he's one of 20 TRU Colors apprentices.

Several construction companies partnered with TRU Colors to offer the men positions on job sites.

Before being placed, TRU Colors apprentices are put through a month-long training course, which teaches them life and business skills.

Johnnathun Smith, one of the original TRU Colors hires, now runs the apprenticeship program.

It's a perfect opportunity for Smith, who, when we first met him late last year, told us he got involved with TRU Colors to help lift his fellow gang members up.

"The violence has to stop," Smith, who goes by Beezy, said during our first interview. "You were never going to progress in life if you just stick to violence. It's either death or jail. That's the way I see it, so why not work and become something that you never thought you could be?"

Smith said in addition to the month-long training course, apprentices are also required to work out and do yoga during that first month.

Then, they're placed on job sites.

"We give you guys who we vetted," Smith said. "They've been through a nice process where we figure out who they are, whether or not they're ready for change, whether or not they're ready to adapt to new things. All these guys have been through that and successfully made it to the next step."

The program is a gateway to a full-time position with TRU Colors.

After months of manual labor, the apprentices are able to apply for a job with TRU Colors.

"It feels good to see the same people just like me get an opportunity and take advantage of it," Smith said.

It's an opportunity Keavon Murphy is taking advantage of as well.

"Every day I try to learn something new out here," he said.

Murphy grew up in Creekwood, where he joined a gang called GD. His apprenticeship has him back in the community, helping with construction on new apartment buildings.

"I'm doing good," Murphy said. "I love it out here. Last week, I forgot to even go on break because I was trying to get something done."

Murphy said he surprisingly enjoyed learning yoga.

"I do it at home just to stretch my muscles when I get off work," he said. "You'll get sore out here."

He said the month-long course prepared him for manual labor.

"In the office, they got us physically and mentally ready for this site and everybody is willing to learn new things out here," Murphy said. "We're just not as bad as everybody thinks we are. That's the first thing Kelly, the project manager here, said: 'I don't care what you've done in the past as long as you can be on time and get the job done.'"

Back at Jacobs' job, his superintendent, Justin Russo, talked about his job performance.

"(He's) working too hard, if that's such a thing," he said. "He's just killing it."

Russo admits he was a bit skeptical when he first heard Monteith Construction signed on to bring on apprentices, but now, he's sold.

"A lot of these gang members are just young kids who didn't have an opportunity and all they need is an opportunity to shine," Russo said. "They're obviously very smart and talented individuals and we just needed to give them a platform."

It's a platform Jacobs says will keep him on the right path.

He said the only way he's going back to prison is as a motivational speaker.

"There's definitely hope for you all here," Jacobs said when discussing what he would tell prisoners. "You do not have to turn back to the streets. You can find a job. All you have to do is try and apply yourself and apply your knowledge and learn all the trades they offer in prison so you can come out here and put it to use."

As Jacobs hammers away at his construction job, he isn't just building a bank, he's building a stronger future.

What's next?

TRU Colors is still looking for a space for its brewery.

Meantime, the company hopes more builders will sign on to partner with the program.

TRU Colors pays the apprentices' salaries. Construction companies just have to offer a place and some guidance to the workers.

For more information, click here.

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