When Laron Douglas was incarcerated in the Grafton Correctional Institution in Lorain County, he started making big plans. What began with a Bible study led to some meaningful reflection on his own upbringing and environment that landed him in prison. His course of action to reach youth in similar circumstances? The ReNOUNce DeNOUNce Gang Intervention Program.
Created in 2010 while Douglas was still incarcerated, ReNOUNce DeNOUNce was designed to support males and females, ages 12-17, in gangs or at risk of joining a gang with extensive, hands-on programming. Douglas graduated more than 200 men before coming home from the Grafton Correctional Institution in 2014 and has continued growing the program and serving as a community resource ever since.
So, what’s in a name?
“The inspiration behind the name comes from the thought process of ‘Why do most get in trouble or have behavioral issues? It’s because of a NOUN which is described as a person, place, or thing,’” says Douglas. “So, if we can get the youth to stay away from negative people, places, and things, then most youth can start their lives toward success.”
Douglas split his childhood between Chicago and East Cleveland, where his personal gang activity began. His life experiences fuel the 10-week ReNOUNce DeNOUNce program, including “exclusive details and stories about his high-ranking affiliation in one of the most notorious gangs out of Chicago, being shot by rival gang members, and doing 22 years in prison.”
With a firm belief that “if you start with the correction of the cognitive mind, then you can make the correct decisions,” Douglas was determined to give back in the topic he knew best: the gang lifestyle. Today, his programs have reached more than 1,000 youth in the classroom and thousands more through outreach efforts and outdoor events.
Douglas’ partner in business and life is his wife, Pastor Angela Douglas, who serves as the program administrator, teacher, and consultant and who has been there from the very beginning.
“We initially started the program in East Cleveland where [Laron] started all his gang activity and the lifestyle that comes with it,” says Pastor Douglas. “[He] wanted to give back to the city that he helped to destroy.”
The program has since expanded to Cleveland and surrounding suburbs to reach as many youth as possible. ReNOUNce DeNOUNce receives referrals through Juvenile Court, probation officers, and judges and also recruits individuals at their outdoor events. For so many, the program has provided a necessary change in trajectory.
“They learn that who they think are their rival gang members are not who they thought they were,” Douglas says. “The courses are filled with instruction on rational versus irrational decision making, bullying, peer pressure, anger, making good choices and decisions in their life, empathy, and much more. We also have guest speakers, have exposure trips such as a funeral home, prisons, and even fun trips for the participants as well.”
Douglas’ life lessons continue to serve a greater purpose with each program graduate’s own story to tell.
“Many of the participants who may not have been able to graduate from high school have graduated,” Douglas says. “We have participants who have successfully attended Job Corp and now are employed. We have participants who have attended trade schools such as barber college and are now cutting hair. We also deem successes in obtaining a driver’s license and having employment because many were just hanging out in the street and causing mischief, but now, they have reached another plateau of focus.”
Unfortunately, the pandemic has created major challenges in ReNOUNce DeNOUNce’s normal operations of in-person interactions. While much of the world has shifted online, many of the program participants live in low socio-economic circumstances without access to Zoom and other virtual platforms. However, that hasn’t stopped the Douglas duo from maintaining a consistent presence.
“We must do a lot of one-on-one interaction and outdoor events. Also, the focus has been on helping with social service needs during the pandemic, and now that it is winter, we are going out and handing out hot chocolate, giving out hats, gloves, and scarves and just being there for the community,” Douglas says.
ReNOUNce DeNOUNce is in great need of financial support to continue providing social services for youth and their families through the pandemic. As the organization prepares to resume normal operations post-COVID, they are seeking volunteers and a van to continue transporting youth participants. To learn more about ReNOUNce DeNOUNce programming and how to support their mission, please visit their website here.