Ray Winans, a former member of the Head Banger Bloods set in Detroit, couldn’t foresee the life he leads now, as a local peacemaker. At the age of 15, Winans was convicted for manslaughter after beating Chester Brownes to death with a hammer. After his release at the age of 18, he made recurring trips to the slammer until 2009. At this point, six years ago, Winans decided to change his life. I told God, ‘I am willing to get a job and not hurt anybody anymore,’” he said, according to Afro. “In 2010, I gave my life to Christ and started working in a local grocery store. The news spread like wildfire and gang members were coming to the store to see for themselves.”
Determined to make a change in his hometown, Winans co-founded a gun violence cessation initiative called Keeping Them Alive, with his wife, Shaelon, in 2012. Through their organization, Winans (now a 37-year-old father of five) “mediates among gangs, police and federal prosecutors while encouraging young Black men to end their lives of crime and hand their guns over to officials.” The initiative is fueled by his own money, donations and a $100,000 grant they obtained by from the Knight Foundation’s Black Male Engagement project, in 2013.
“I never thought I would ever work with the police and it changed my whole view of law enforcement,” Winans told Urban News Service. “Now I’m working with friends in gangs and their children in gangs.”
Winans has his work cut out for him. Afro reports:
Homicide is the leading cause of death among American Black men between the ages of 15 and 34, the Centers for Disease Control reports. And only 50 percent of Black youth feel confident they will live to age 35, according to the American Sociological Association and the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
Furthermore, last year, The D saw 295 homicides and 1,035 non-fatal shootings, making it America’s most dangerous city in 2015, according to FBI crime stats. The gangsters trust Winans, due to shared backgrounds, and enjoys a “highly unusual relationship, but very effective,” relationship with law enforcement, according to Detroit PD gang intelligence unit head, Sgt. Edward Brannock. “I’ve called on Ray in high-stress situations,” revealed Brannock. “We’ve been on shootings together. He’s pulled gang members out of school and helped us locate an AR-15 assault rifle and a 9mm Glock that a suspect was hiding in a dope house. And he’s helped me close cases.”
Winans’ story should serve as inspiration to anyone looking for a new, more fruitful existence. It shows that your background is truly the past, and your present is whatever you make it.