Former Memphis gang member turned pastor tackling gang violence
TJ Johnson says he is a new man, he used to be in a gang.
“Don't let the suit fool you, I've got the tattoos, left arm, right arm, the whole chest. I have been through that, I've been on 10 years parole,” said TJ Johnson, CEO, Wake Up Youth Foundation.
He said it was God that turned his life around. Today he educates non-profits on how they can interact with kids at risk in hopes of keeping them in school and out of gangs.
“Those five key components are prevention, intervention, law enforcement, faith base, and community awareness,” said Johnson.
Friday he spoke with the staff at Chattanooga Sports Ministries, the non-profit reaches at risk youth through sports. Johnson educated the staff about gang symbols, colors, and tactics that are used to reach kids.
“We're thankful for him and Front Porch Alliance for giving us the resources to be able to do this,” said Hannah Griggs, Executive Director, Chattanooga Sports Ministries.
Johnson also shared his message with the kids at Chattanooga Sports Ministries works to reach. For senior Joshua Jackson, Johnson's story was one he plans to share with friends who have been approached by gangs.
“I could talk to some of the guys that are in the gangs, and tell them to stop right now because either death, or you could just go down a horrible path,” said Joshua Jackson, Student.
Johnson says his story can only go so far. He says it takes an entire community to address gang violence.
“We going to have to get with the school board, with the councilmen, because all of this is a big part of the safety of Chattanooga” said Johnson.
Johnson left the gang life in 2001. He started sharing his story in 2003. As a part of his work with Front Porch Alliance.
He'll be in Chattanooga for another week speaking to youth, city leaders, and non-profit groups before heading back to Memphis.