Last year, 300 Gangstas, a radically pragmatic collective of organizers and reformed gang members, gave out about 100 donated turkeys to families in need on Monument Street, all the while also hosting a block party, dropping plenty of knowledge, and clothing and feeding the homeless, and this year they’ll do it again.
“Our goal is basically to inspire,” says Ray Lugar, 300 Gangstas’ head of entertainment and a veteran rapper, posted up with 300 Gangstas co-founder PFK Boom at the park on St. Paul and Lafayette streets. “We want you to get involved in your own transformation and we use ourselves as an example.”
“The movement is important: By me knowing you, you knowing me, all these collectives can grow,” Boom says. “If we all throw $10 out and someone who has $50 can pull that out for someone who doesn’t have $10, then you can get it, they can get it, and we can get it.”
This year’s turkey giveaway will take place at Latrobe Homes public housing on Nov. 18. The event is an extension of the work 300 Gangstas began during the Baltimore Uprising, when they were founded as major players in the much-publicized “gang truce” and as a corrective to many of the opportunists who swooped in to cash-in on the unrest.
“When the so-called riots—the uprising, really—happened, that was an opportunity for people to come get this money and that’s why 300 Gangstas stepped out on the frontline so people didn’t get it twisted, because these people weren’t out here when the problems were here—they were only here when the cameras were here,” Lugar says. “The Freddie Gray situation was comprehensive but there are kids and people in those communities still dealing with it now and they were dealing with it before then too.”
Indeed, a whole bunch of social justice-oriented groups have fallen by the wayside or collapsed post-uprising. 300 Men, the anti-gun violence campaign which predated the uprising (the name 300 Gangstas, by the way, is a churlish response to 300 Men’s respectability politics) has been mostly silent over the past two years despite praise from police and other city officials, and initiatives such as former mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s One Baltimore shuttered last year with little evidence it did much of anything beyond pay some people’s salaries.
“All money isn’t good money…We don’t take any money that we don’t put into the movement,” Boom says. “You know what ‘GANGSTAS’ mean? Gathering All Nations Gaining Salvation Through Advancing Society.”
He rests on the phrase “all nations” for a moment and then repeats.
“All nations. White, black, yellow, green, Christian, Blood, Crip, BGF, ex-addict, whoever actually want to help,” he says.
These are 300 Gangstas’ people, and these are the people who can get things done.
“The guys and girls we go after are the ones that people throw away—the ones that people feel are lost,” Lugar adds. “We see their potential. They just need someone to stop in and show them some love.”
“It takes the people who are afflicted and conflicted to understand the realness,” Boom says.
Boom was one of the afflicted. He was charged with murder in 1993 and spent years in solitary confinement until he was found not guilty in 1995. Out of that experience came a commitment to helping others, a focus on changing how ex-felons are treated, and a hyper-cogent rage that motivates him. He’s a masterful talker—like an amalgamation of H. Rap Brown, 2Pac, and Bernie Mac—and a bold, unafraid organizer. Just a few days after Freddie Gray’s death, in the early days of the uprising, Boom helped marshall a large protest of mostly teens from Gilmor Homes to downtown and back. It wasn’t his march; it was set up by Pastor Westley West—a figure then criticized for chasing cameras—but Boom knew they needed someone who knew how to march and stepped in.
Since the uprising, 300 Gangstas has stuck around. Its core dozen or so members—including co-founder Big Wolfe, a Blood no longer in the life; and Bonez, also a Blood and a writer, educator, and prognosticator of yoga—pop up wherever needed. 300 was present with the Fruits Of Islam for overnight events during Baltimore Ceasefire and for Tent City, the 10-day homeless encampment and protest in front of City Hall.
“What we did at Tent City was we provided security,” Boom says. “But my kids’ mother and daughter was also feeding them spaghetti for the first few days too—the city wasn’t providing any of that.”
“The volunteers there stayed the night, that experience was a representation of what 300 Gangstas was about: You had people from different walks down there to support Tent City. They were about the sacrifice, man,” Lugar says. “We were there for them, it was more than security.”
The longview is proper, cop-free community policing. It’s through reaching people on their level and realistically that change can happen—it has almost nothing to do with the city or the state or any elected officials. Wolfe has declared that his goal is to put a 300 Gangstas chapter (or as he’d write it “khapter”) in cities around the country.
“It’s about people taking ownership,” Lugar says. “We want to build that. Right now we have to be the faces of it, but it’s not about 300 Gangstas. We need to show when it’s not us, when it’s all the people doing the work. And we want to inspire people our age as well. ‘Just let it go, the times is different,’ people say. You can’t complain about how times is different, you played a role in accepting: Terms change, but we gonna have to change.”
“It’s crazy how certain things didn’t change but then you look at the unrest and a new generation, most of these kids are from the Sheila Dixon era, so they see someone who stole gift cards,” Boom says. “And now they got Pugh, and when she talks they hear their mom or their dad and shit—”
“You all right ma?” Lugar shouts across the street, interrupting Boom.
A woman in a walker is wheezing, struggling to move up the slight incline of Lafayette Street.
Lugar dashes across the street to check on her— there are more important things than this interview, than talking. There’s action.
She just lives up the street and needs some help getting there, Lugar tells Boom.
“I got you ma,” Lugar says, crouched down, his hand on her back.