Harlem Youth Marines steers kids from gang violence
JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Amsterdam News Staff | 5/9/2013, 12:07 p.m.
With names like Cash Money Brothers, Broad Day Shooters, Make It Happen Boyz, Addicted to Green, Da Broadway Bullies and From Da Zoo, gangs are swarming Harlem's streets with police precincts reporting nearly 30 youth crews in northern Manhattan. Not one to be intimidated, Col. Gregory Collins wants to save the young people of Harlem from the gangs and the death and violence they bring.
Collins has spent most of his life with the National Guard at the historic 369th Harlem Armory. He came to the Armory in 1978, when he was 14. He is a commander and an officer in the guard. He founded the cadet program, Harlem Youth Marines, in 1982 as a way to save young men and women from the dangers of the streets by using structure, discipline and love to teach valuable life lessons and offer a much-needed sense of family. This valuable program will be displaced as the Armory is slated to undergo some 20 months of renovations. Collins talked to the AmNews about his beloved cadet program and his concern for the fate of his kids.
"We do something positive for the youth and we support our veterans in whatever they need. We've done details for the military National Guard. We are part of that family. Everything about us is about discipline and precision drill. They look to us to carry out some of the functions and to show that they are supporting what we do. They request us to be pallbearers," he said.
"I am very much concerned because of what happened to Ackeem Green, my stepson. Last June 3, he was shot and killed in the basketball court at 129th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. while playing basketball. He was 25 and had been with the program since he was 15. He was a mentor and part of the honor guard," he said.
Green's death has made Collins more determined than ever. He recently attended a meeting at the State Office Building in Harlem to discuss the gang violence. The gangs are once again taking over the neighborhood. Goodfellas was responsible for the death of Green.
"It's gotten worse," Collins said. "It's about turf, colors, nonsense. We are a gang-prevention program. Every time I think about what happened to Ackeem, it bothers me because we can do more. We want to do more, but nobody is paying attention to us," he said.
"Every community should have a cadet program. I think people are not educated enough as to what cadet programs are all about. Yes, young men and women are influenced, and if they decide to join the military, that's the decision they make. We're not about recruiting kids to go into the military. We're about structure and discipline. Whichever career path they choose after they finish high school, that's on them. A lot of them do choose to go into the military and have been very successful. The majority of our cadets go into law enforcement," Collins said.