Why one Chattanooga woman decided against joining a gang
Sherry Parker explained what it's like to avoid joining a gang in Chattanooga.
Terry Parker was 23 when he was shot and killed in 2013 by members of a rival gang.
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -
Whether to join a gang is a decision many Chattanooga teens must make at an early age.
Many choose their colors before graduating middle school.
Some will be shot before leaving high school.
Others will be murdered before starting a family.
Sherry Parker, 26, grew up in the Harriet Tubman neighborhood in East Chattanooga. She had the option to become a gang member but she chose otherwise.
"I had every reason to join a gang,” Parker said. “Mom on dope, dad on dope, rape, got put in state custody, starved, getting beat when my dad couldn't get high. I had the right people at the right time. That’s all I had. We don’t have that no more, it’s like they gave up on us,” she said.
Editor’s Note: Channel 3 offered Sherry Parker the opportunity for complete anonymity. But after a two-hour candid interview, Parker thought her story was better told with a name and a face. She’s agreed to put her name in print and her face on television in hopes people will better understand the struggles of life in the inner-city and why some people choose to join a gang.
Parker said the only reason she never joined a gang is because the right people got ahold of her at the right age. She said she had mentors who genuinely cared and who felt her pain.
“Most of the people who join gangs they had a broken home, they starved. They join these gangs and they're looking for love,” Parker said. “So now they're out in the streets and once they're in the streets, they get to shooting or whatever cause they're angry, they're hurt and they're longing for something.”
Parker and her older brother Terry grew up in a broken home. While she was able to avoid joining a gang, her brother took a different direction. Parker said her brother’s decision to join a gang is likely why he’s dead today.
LIFE AFTER HER BROTHER’S MURDER
Sherry Parker’s life forever changed the evening of January 28, 2013. Her 23-year-old brother Terry Parker, Jr. was shot and killed while walking down Grove Street outside College Hill Courts.
Two members of a rival gang were charged in the murder but never convicted. The charges were dismissed after witnesses refused to testify. Parker said her brother had been in a gang but was not active when he was killed.
Terry left behind four biological children and a girl who he was helping to raise. Sherry Parker now has full custody of two of those children and takes care of the other three almost every weekend. In addition to those kids, she’s also raising a 6-year-old son of her own.
“My kids right now, every day they probably think the world is just perfect,” she said. “But I still go in my restroom, I still shut the door and I still cry.”
Parker was only 22 when she vowed to help raise her brother’s kids. Now she’s devoted to keeping them out of the gang lifestyle that she never chose.
“That’s the main reason why I didn’t [join a gang] because I had people who showed me life outside the bricks.”
There are more than 1,300 validated or associated gang members in the city, according to the police department.
Parker keeps a prayer for positivity on the background of her phone. Part of it reads: “May the light within me serve as a beacon for those that need it.”
She said she doesn’t think her 6-year-old son will join a gang despite the obvious temptations he might one day face from his peers at school. Still, the possibility is in the back of her head.
“He’s his own person,” she said. “Every day I try to make sure he knows that. I try to help him. You get what you put in.”
WHAT CHATTANOOGA CAN DO
Parker asks that people on the outside looking in get to know them and don’t judge so harshly on past mistakes. Parker said once someone picks up a misdemeanor or felony, it’s difficult to rebound and get a job. She said that’s creating a domino effect in some of the lower-income Chattanooga neighborhoods.
“I just really think that they just really need to sit down and hear us out and get to know us. Point blank. Period,” she said. “How can you speak on gangs when you don’t really know why they gangbanging? Or you don’t know what drove them to do what they did?”
Parker said another domino fell when the Harriet Tubman public housing units were demolished in 2014. She said opportunities for kids to stay busy and off the streets was taken away with the housing.
"But honestly though, if they try and rebuild the community how it once was, like give us hope. Give our hope back. Like what the kids have after school? They go to the center for a couple hours and they back in real life. Back in real life. Back at home, in the four walls. And if they have a center nearby. And if not, what's left? The streets? The alley? What? I think it saved most of my generation having that. We were once those kids. And we had people that really came from the soul, it was beyond the heart, it was the soul. And it saved the village. We don't have that anymore,” Parker said.
Just last week, Mayor Andy Berke announced the city will build a brand new Youth and Family Development Center in Avondale that’s double the size of the current one. It’ll be located just down the street from the old Tubman homes where Parker grew up.
Parker said she hopes to hear of more additions to inner-city neighborhoods that might give children access to mentors or safe places to hang out.