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      Self-improvement group takes aim at roots of gang violence

      A new group is taking steps to reduce gang violence in Toledo through the guidance and personal experiences of those who escaped their own criminal past.

      The Self Improvement Workshop Series was born after organizers Ben Hester Jr., Waymon Farmer, and Washington Muhammad saw a need to reverse the gang violence plaguing Toledo communities. Hester and Farmer, who facilitated the meeting, were first to admit to their former life of crime.

      "I apologize for my inequities and my past wrong-doings in this community," said Farmer. "I'm here to instill change and give something back that I've taken."

      Several youths in attendance at Tuesday's "Gang Violence and its American Roots" meeting at the East Toledo Family Center confirmed their affiliation with gang activity. Some were as young as 14 years old, who claimed to have already been involved in gang violence.

      The SIWS facilitates community outreach by striving to restore trust, and promoting positive work ethics, responsibility, and personal growth. Leaders also attempt to connect to youths by recounting their own experiences in gang life.

      "When I got shot ten times, man you sit in the hospital with tubes in your nose, tubes in your mouth, tubes everywhere, and then you see your lifeline beeping," said former gang member Tito Ward. He continued, "Gang life ain't where it's at, seriously."

      The SIWS will continue to promote its motto "Pay it Forward, Pass the Torch," at future meetings. The "Boots on the Ground" discussion will take place on February 5th from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the East Toledo Family Center.

      How can the community as a whole help youths involved in gang life? Let us know on our Facebook fanpage .