Sherrod Britton and Shabaka Addae Guillory

Georgia Peace Education Program Director, Tim Franzen, shares the story of Shabaka Addae Guillory, a 20-year-old who joined the Crips at age 14, and Sherrod Britton, a 29-year-old Blood member. According to Franzen, the two became best friends during an impromptu freestyle rap session at Occupy Atlanta.

“I saw him in the park, saw his colors,” Guillory told Franzen. “There was no mean mug or rivalry because we realized that what’s happening here is so much bigger then gang rivalry.”

Sherrod said he felt a deep connection to the message and process of Occupy Atlanta.” I stayed for the common cause, speaking for the people. I feel strongly that we have the right to jobs, health care, and affordable higher education.”

Franzen, who called the new friendship “one of the beautiful byproducts of this new movement…”  says it is one of the “transformative experiences that has arisen as a result of so many different people from different walks of life occupying a space together for a common cause.”

The desire among gang members to fight for social justice may seem antithetical to outside observers, but the story of these two “thugs” perfectly reflects the spoken word message “The OG” voices to  “The CEO” in the poem Dignity, a piece that is performed from the point of view of a gang member in a scene in my novel Skin Deep:

DIGNITY (The OG Addresses The CEO)

If I had my dignity
I would not yell street obscenities
to assert my dominion
in my streets

or paint my name in block letters
to remind you
this is my block

If I had my dignity
I would not sell anything
I could not sell without lies
or steal anything I could not buy

If I had my dignity
I would not feel the need
to threaten you physically
or challenge your right to survive

If I had my dignity

But you conspired to remove it from me

at three

I knew even then
there was something
not quite white
about the color of my skin

And G.I. Joe and Ken?

they knew too
and they screamed it loud and clear
so all the little brothas in my neighborhood
could hear:

“Hey boy,
if you try hard
you could be somebody

you could pump gas
fix cars
or bag groceries
Hell, if you try REAL hard
you could even become president


And then…
you convinced me to measure my VALUE
by my material things.

And when I came up short,
my E N T R E P R E N U R I A L S P I R I T
kicked in

My first BMW was black


as black as I could get

to affirm that I had bought into
the huge social lie
that you ARE what you HAVE

And when I step back and ponder
(yeah, I said ponder, it means THINK LONG)

I find similarities in our occupations

Me behind my nine
You behind your nine to five

and I wonder if you yell street obscenities
to assert your dominion
on Wall Street

or if you paint your name in block letters on your high-rise
to remind me
this is your high-rise

and I wonder if in Central America
you have sold anything
you could not sell without lies

or if in Africa
you have stolen anything
you could not buy

and facing me here eye-to-eye
I wonder if you feel the need to threaten me physically
or challenge my right to survive

…and now I realize…

if you had your dignity
you would not have taken mine

©1999 Kathleen Cross

From the novel Skin Deep by Kathleen Cross