The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Broker of Bloods, Crips treaty visits CSUN

Aqeela Sherrills, a CSUN alumnus, shared his message of peace and forgiveness, with a side of college-era amusements, with a Pan African Studies class on Wednesday.

Sherrills, who helped broker a peace treaty between the Bloods and the Crips in Watts in 1992, shared his life lessons with the group of around 30 students, and one seventh grader from Patrick Henry Middle School.

Professor Karin Stanford introduced Sherrills at the start of the class.

“He is considered a guiding force in the redevelopment of the Watts community,” she said, explaining that lately the activist has been known for his discussions of both music and black and Latino relationships.

In a relaxed atmosphere, the casually dressed Sherrills then shared his knowledge, saying beforehand, “My talk is going to be very, very informal.”

Sherrills first explained the geographical and racial dynamics of Watts, which is located in South Central Los Angeles.

He said approximately 86,000 people live in the community, which takes up 2.2 square miles. He said that blacks moved to Watts after World War II, in part due to segregationist attitudes in other areas of the country, including parts of Southern California.

“They weren’t really allowed to live in too many places in Los Angeles,” Sherrills said.

He is the youngest of 10 kids, the first of which was born when his mother was 14.

“We grew up in extremely humble circumstances,” he said.

Currently, he said, the racial makeup of Watts is 65 percent Latino and 35 percent black, but black culture and community is still a dominating force.

“Most of (Watts’ Latinos) don’t speak Spanish, (they) say n—-r just like we do,” he casually said.

In 1979, Sherrills said he first heard about a significant killing in Watts, which created a rift in the neighborhood. Railroad tracks in the community seemed to separate the Bloods and the Crips, and while Sherrills did not say in his talk which faction he sympathized with, several Internet profiles of him report that he was a member of the Crips.

“I told myself at one time I would never be a part of gangs, (that they were) stupid,” he said.

Even now, he said, gangs are hardly a core problem. Rather, they are a result of much deeper issues.

“Gang violence is not a problem. It is only (a part) of a bigger problem of low self-esteem and a spiritual disconnect,” Sherrills said.

He said in the 1980s violence and drug use escalated in Watts, due to both rising hostility between the two gangs and a very low employment rate. He said drugs were a coping mechanism for some people.

In 1984, when Sherrills was in the ninth grade, his life changed when a friend died. The Bloods and Crips were segregated on the campus, and his friend was shot due to gang tensions. After that, Sherrills said, he and his friends were intent on getting revenge and making themselves heard, a desire that they tried to achieve through doing things like fighting and shooting guns into the air at their school.

Eventually, Sherrills ended up at CSUN, where he started as an engineering major in 1987.

While at CSUN, one confession seemed to change his life.

He found out that a woman he had been dating was pregnant, but he was dating someone else on the side. He was on academic probation, and did not have much money to pay for another child (he said that in all he has fathered eight children).

He said his attitude at the time was, “Whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing, I need to (do) it now, because I’m about to go off the deep end.”

He apologized for two-timing the women and, in his apology, revealed that he had been molested as a boy, an incident that he had tried to keep hidden.

“When you don’t have the language and courage to deal, you” take it out on someone else, he told the class.

After he revealed the private information, he became more involved in the black community at CSUN, in part by becoming vice president of the Black Student Union, but was disappointed by the lack of commitment his peers showed the organization and its endeavors.

“I would rather go home (to Watts) and help uneducated people, rather than stay on campus and work with miseducated people,” he said.

So that was exactly what Sherrills decided to do.

He did not talk much about the treaty itself, but suffice it to say, his work created a difference in Watts, though he told the class it was not an easy task.

“It’s one thing to create a peace treaty and another to sustain it,” he said. “We knew it was something we had to do to restore balance in the” communications between the two gangs.

Since the creation of the treaty, life for Sherrills has not been particularly easy, as he has lost his wife to cancer and his 18-year-old son to a senseless killing in 2004. He said he wants to meet his son’s killer, but not to take revenge.

“One day, I would like to meet this young man. ? You kill for two reasons: fear and a callous heart,” Sherrills said. “I want to ask him (when he got) a callous heart.”

Sherrills said the world needs to move toward joy and forgiveness rather than using anger in the form of violence to work out problems.

“We need a movement that’s based on human lives being saved,” he said. “We suffer from a lack of inspiration in our heart that prevents us from seeking joy.”

He urged students to show real emotions, saying, “That’s where the real movement lies. ? The experience is not who we are. It only informs who we become.”

He said gangsta rap has evolved since the early 1990s, and not in a good way.

“I believe so-called gangsta rap has been pigeonholed,” he said. “Early on it was a political movement, but today it’s literally about exploitation. Someone benefits from it.”

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