“I’m living peacefully now”: Gang member changes course from violence and validation to peace and passion

"Take another path--show them another way. I'm not an expert at anything but I am an expert on what not to do."
Updated: Oct. 5, 2022 at 9:11 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Anthony Brumm, also known as Shaka Ali Bey, knows the area of 11th and Orange Sts. well. These days he spends time there trying to change their reputation.

“I used to call this alley ‘Death Row’,” Brumm says.

Brumm, a validated gang member — a member of the Bloods — now works for Port City United, a New Hanover County Department created to find solutions to gun violence. 11th and Orange is where a lot of things went down, including young people now remembered with memorials on just about every block where they took their final breaths. Brumm recalls the names of some of those young people gunned down in that area.

“Shamir Green, Titus Vaughn, LaVar Riley, Savior Cromartie, Vincent Blake,” he recalled.

It was in that same area Brumm almost took his final breath. A car pulled up and someone opened fire, hitting him five times.

“I just knew they were going to start shooting,” Brumm said. “It’s a sense you get.”

That was in 2019. He survived, but he could have died. A major artery was severed and he spent almost a month in the hospital.

Ironically, it was during that time that Brumm, recently released from prison, was starting to rethink his gangsta life, which started years ago for the 32-year-old.

“My friends had started a gang when we were like 13,” Brumm said. “That was our introduction into that life, but we were kinda like a bunch of friends going around fighting kids from other neighborhoods — stuff like that. Nothing crazy. Just a group of friends doing what kids do.”

But there was more to it. He wanted to belong.

“I grew up in foster care. My mom died when I was like two years old and I didn’t know my father until I was a grown man. Growing up in foster care, I grew up with a lot of people who didn’t look like me. And so, in the back of my head, I always knew like this isn’t really where I belong. Everybody who joins a gang for the most part, they are looking for something to belong to whether its negative or positive.”

By the time he got to high school, he was ready to up his gangsta game.

“I was about 16 when I got into like heavy gang activity, I guess you would say. I’ve never killed anybody or anything like that, but I have engaged in some activities that I’m not so proud of now. I’ve been in and out of the county jail a few times and I did about 15 months in state prison in North Carolina.”

It was in prison he heard about a new brewery hiring gang members.

“Somebody who I knew from the streets was on the news and he was a Tru Colors employee at the time. So, I actually called home from prison and started asking questions and that’s when they told me they started a brewery and hired gang members with a mission to stop gun violence.”

Shortly after he was released from prison, Brumm was hired at Tru Colors Brewery — a place he calls his turning point.

“I learned a lot through Tru Colors,” Brumm says. “I learned a lot about finances and credit — things I wasn’t really focused on before because I didn’t think I would ever really need to use them. But I started learning a lot of things about how to thrive in society as a man, as a citizen. And those are the things I think our people are missing.”

He started with Tru Colors in January of 2019. Then, it was November of that year, he was shot five times standing outside a grocery store at 11th and Orange. He had just finished up some community work for Tru Colors.

“Actually, just got done with a turkey drive earlier that day. We gave out 300 turkeys that whole weekend. Later on that day we were all out chillin’ — Friday night. Doing what fellas do on a Friday night and a car just came by and started shooting.”

Two of his friends were also shot. All three survived.

Brumm wanted the gun violence to stop. He felt like he had served his purpose with Tru Colors and decided to venture out. That’s when he went to work for Port City United, a county agency that hires gang members and others with a connection to high crime areas. These days he spends time working in those high crime communities, talking with young people considering joining a gang.

“Take another path, show them another way,” he said. “I’m not an expert at anything but I am an expert on what not to do.”

He’s very passionate about the programs and the mission at PCU.

“Educational programs like career readiness,” Brumm said. “Like NC Works helps pay for people to go to school to learn how to drive trucks or what other kind of trade you might want to learn — things like that that I didn’t know about when I was out here running around crazy, you know what I’m saying. These are the things we can take back to the people in the community who may have an interest in those things but never knew anything about how to get into it.”

To be clear, Brumm remains true to his gang membership. He says there are hundreds of examples that prove not all gang members are killers and thugs.

“So everybody calls us gangstas or gang members so we just want to change what that means. Instead of us being out here going to jail and dying all the time, we’re going to stay free, We’re going to stay alive—go against the grain. I think it don’t get no more gangsta than that,” he said.

He’d like to get rid of the stigma attached to all gang members. While he readily admits the statics suggests many of the homicides in the City of Wilmington have gang members involved, he says its not always a case of retaliation or gangs versus gangs.

“A lot of times its personal. A lot of times its over a female,” he said.

Brumm’s focus now is his peace and raising his young son.

“If you study what I do, if you see me out in the community every day interacting with my people, you’re not going to say ‘oh that’s a gang member out there.’ That’s a man who cares about his community and the people in it.”

No one was ever arrested in the shooting that could have killed Brumm. He says he has no idea who shot him but doesn’t give it a lot of thought. He’s too busy enjoying his peace.

“God blessed me to keep me here so if it’s my time, it’s my time. And when it’s my time, I know I can go peacefully knowing that I’ve been doing everything I can to help my people. And I’m alright with that.”